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Steelheads Summary 10/29

Thursday, October 29th
Steelheads Summary 10/29

The Idaho Steelheads are getting back to basics this week as they prepare for a rather important early season showdown with the Utah Grizzlies, their second series against a long-time divisional rival in two weeks after the team’s three-game visit to Anchorage last weekend.

The Steelheads grabbed two of the six points up for grabs against the Aces, and this week spent a good deal of their practice time revisiting their defensive zone coverages and breakouts. While the Steelheads didn’t have much trouble scoring on their trip with eight goals in three games, it was the breakdowns in their defensive zone and some ill-timed penalties that left a lot of work for goaltenders Eric Hartzell and Philippe Desrosiers.

The issues were exacerbated by a larger Olympic ice sheet, but were still necessary to address for a team that looks to balance a solid defensive structure with a quick-transition offensive attack.

"I’m not making excuses for our guys, because we did have some breakdowns, but on the smaller ice you have a second to recover. On that big ice, you make a mistake and you’re exposed,” said Head Coach Neil Graham, who along with Assistant Coach Gord Baldwin spends hours pouring over film after every game. “It was great for us to teach and get better. We were able to look for areas to get better, because everything gets magnified on that ice.”

“We’re talking about working smart, thinking through situations, and problem solving, and we’re going to be better for it.”

And that’s why much of practice this week centered on drills that began in the defensive zone, working off of face-offs or out of the corner, to both solidify the breakout passes that can become turnovers and to focus on defensive positioning in front of the net before joining the fast-break, issues that cost the team goals in Alaska.

“The one thing we can’t do is sacrifice defense for offense,” said forward Colton Beck. “We have a quick team, an offensive team, so if we take care of our own end and everyone does their job there, we’ll get our chances.”

- The Steelheads are not happy with the number of penalties they’ve taken in the first five games, their 28 times short-handed tied for most in the ECHL. But they certainly need to be pleased with how their penalty kill has performed under that pressure, surrendering only four goals despite already killing a five minute major, two double-minors, and facing a 5-on-3 disadvantage in the first two weeks of the season.

It’s the power play that has been a bit more frustrating, with the team 2-for 20 on the season and with only one goal on its last 18 attempts. Beck has both power play tallies and preached patience.

“It’ll come. If you look at our team last year, we struggled terribly at the start of the year and that hurt our percentages,” said Beck, referring to last season’s 4-for-39 stretch that lasted into mid-November. “We had a good second half on the power play. Hopefully it doesn’t take us that long to figure it out, but I think it’s just getting reps and guys are still getting used to playing together and getting to know where guys will be on the ice.

“At the end of the day, when you’re up a man you need to out-will the man in front of you and get pucks to the net. It’s fun to score the pretty goal that everyone talks about the next day, but they all count the same. If we can bang in some garbage goals, then that’s what we need to do.”

Forward Andrew Carroll is one of the team’s two veterans and has seen a lot in his six seasons in pro hockey. His wisdom Wednesday taught that the difference between a strong power play and one that is struggling is usually a smaller gap than you realize.

“You need the reps and we’re getting them in games, but we need to shoot the puck,” said Carroll. “You get one to bounce off a shin guard and go in, and the next thing you know we’re talking about how the power play is hot again. That’s just the way it works.”

- The Steelheads learned a lot in Alaska, with errors ‘magnified’ as Graham said. They also received a reminder of another area of their game that must improve, and that is their consistency. The Steelheads battled back hard to tie the game on both Wednesday and Friday night, earning two points in Wednesday’s shootout win. But the Steelheads, who have outscored opponents 8-3 in the first period this season, don’t want to be playing catch-up in the third period after their strong starts, and that comes back to playing a complete 60-minute game.

“That first period you’re amped up and third period is that strong push to the finish line,” said Graham. “But it’s that middle part of the race that’s so important where you either maintain pace or pick up your speed. We’re going to keep working at that and keep going forward.”

The Steelheads will face a Utah team on Friday that showed some comeback moxie of their own on Saturday night, coming back from a 4-1 deficit to the Allen Americans and scoring two late third period goals to force overtime, where they eventually lost 6-5. The Steelheads would much rather continue their strong first period play, and then keep the pedal to the floor the rest of the way.

“It’s good that we’re coming out hot, because obviously that’s what you want. But in the second period, maybe we’ve had a lull and some penalty trouble that doesn’t help,” said Carroll. “But a team that’s playing a 60-minute game and sticking to their style will probably come out on top. We have things to learn and things to work on, but we’re moving forward.”

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