After an optional off-day skate on Sunday afternoon, the Idaho Steelheads were back on the ice as a team on Monday morning for a brief skate ahead of Monday night’s rubber match of their three- game set with the Utah Grizzlies.
Saturday’s Halloween win at Maverik Center served as a solid momentum swing on several levels. On the one hand, it snapped a three-game losing streak for the Steelheads and got them back into the win column and back to .500 in the standings. In addition, it was a solid response for the group after a frustrating game on Friday night when they launched 48 shots on goal but couldn’t find a way to win. Saturday, after traveling all night, the Steelheads came out with fire in the first period and jumped on the Grizzlies early and often, giving them a three-goal cushion that they would protect in the third period for a 3-1 win.
With those positive vibes, Monday is still a clean slate with two more points up for grabs.
“The first seven games are already ancient history,” said Head Coach Neil Graham. “It doesn’t matter who won or lost the last game, all we can focus on is tonight. We have a ton of hockey coming up ahead and it’s important not to look too far forward. It’s a big two points on the line tonight, and that’s where our minds need to be.”
- Philippe Desrosiers’ third professional start was certainly his best, stopping 34 shots en route to his first career win. It’s relatively easy pickings to say a winning performance with only one goal against is a young player’s breakout game, but more important than the outcome was the young goaltender’s attitude throughout the afternoon. There was a sense of composure from Desrosiers, especially during multiple third period penalty kills, that kept the game under control and allowed the Steelheads to play at their own pace. It’s that kind of intriguing maturity from a 20 year-old that reminds you why the organization think so highly of Desrosiers, and why he was a second-round NHL draft pick in 2013.
“He played very well,” said Graham. “He made some key saves early in the first period that built our momentum. And once we got up by a couple of goals, I thought he was rock solid and settled in quietly. I was happy for him, that he played well.”
- Speaking of the penalty kill, it was perfect again on Saturday, killing off all seven Utah power plays. That included two separate, lengthy 5-on-3 disadvantages, one of which was in the third period with the Grizzlies pressing to get back into the game.
“It’s not something we want to rely on because we don’t want to be killing penalties, but the penalties that we have killed have given us momentum throughout the game and given us the chance to be in games,” said Assistant Coach Gord Baldwin, who noted the three 5-on-3 disadvantages the Steelheads have killed in the past three games, as well as two double-minors and a major penalty this season.
The Steelheads have been short-handed a league-high 38 times this season, forcing the Steelheads to use a wide variety of personnel on their killing units but with consistent results.
“All our forwards are killing and most of our defensemen are killing too, and that’s a testament to the guys we have on the team,” said Baldwin. “For a lot of the kill, we can talk about the X’s and the O’s but it comes down to the guys actually doing it. A lot of penalty killing is simple smart hockey and a lot of it is hard. It’s not easy to block shots and play short-handed but every guy has been killing and every guy has been doing what he needs to do.”
Baldwin mentioned the satisfaction during film review as well, that players can look beyond the statistics to see that positive results occur because they are doing the right things positionally. Still, the statistics don’t lie either. The Steelheads penalty kill now sits at 89.5 percent, good for third in the ECHL.
- Rob Linsmayer paced the Steelheads offense on Saturday with his first two goals of the season. It was Linsmayer’s third two-goal game of his pro career and his first since March 8, 2014.
“It’s always nice to put the puck in the net, and I had certainly had my chances,” said Linsmayer, who now has 21 goals in 72 games as a Steelhead. “I think when you work hard and get a greasy one, it comes a bit easier. It takes the pressure off and you can relax a bit and start making the plays you know you can make.”
“It gets the confidence going, and it’s good to see them going in.”
- The Steelheads’ game tonight will be their first Monday night game of the season. They will look to break a strong “case of the Mondays” that dates back to the start of last season. Over that stretch, the Steelheads are 0-2-2 on Monday nights. Their last game on a Monday was Game 6 of the team’s first round playoff series with these same Grizzlies last Spring.