A short two-game swing through Utah was perfect medicine to lift the Steelheads from the season’s first losing streak, as the Steelies swept their visit to Salt Lake City with a shutdown effort on Halloween followed by a gutsy third period comeback win on Monday night. There’s no rest for these Steelheads in the month of November, and they’ll have one day to recover before kicking off a three-game home-stand with the Atlanta Gladiators to complete a stretch of six games in nine days. The Gladiators are the first Eastern Conference foe the Steelheads will face this season.
The Steelheads and Gladiators have met only four times in the past in the regular season, with all four meetings coming in the 2012-13 season and the two squads splitting those contests. The teams also met in the 2004 Conference Finals, with the Steelheads defeating the then-Gwinnett Gladiators en route to their first Kelly Cup Championship. Both current teams come into Wednesday’s game riding two-game winning streaks, with both teams imposing their will on the road. While the Steelheads climbed the standings at the expense of a divisional rival in Utah, the Gladiators took care of business in South Carolina and Greenville. Derek Nesbitt, tied for fourth in the ECHL in scoring, netted three goals and two assists in the last two games.
Steelheads fans should remember Nesbitt from the Steelheads' 2007 Kelly Cup Championship team. In his one year in Idaho, Nesbitt netted 30 goals and 81 points, as well as 18 points in 22 playoff games. His 51 assists remain a Steelheads regular season record in the ECHL era.
While Nesbitt is red hot, the Steelheads have a lot to feel confident about. Just this past week, the Steelheads were facing a tough matchup with Barry Almeida, who came to CenturyLink Arena leading the league in goals and tied for the lead in points. Three games later, Almeida had zero points and only four shots as the Steelheads won two out of three and limited the Grizzlies to two goals in six periods on home ice.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Joe Basaraba was acquired by the Steelheads in mid-October just a few days before the season-opener, but just eight games into the season he certainly appears to be right at home. Basaraba is in the midst of a four-game points streak, with five assists during that time. Basaraba’s six assists lead the Steelheads and are one shy of the league lead.
While Basaraba is yet to find the back of the net in a Steelheads sweater, he’s been far from just a set-up man. Basaraba was one of the Steelheads’ most effective forwards in Utah, driving the offense off the rush and dominating on the forecheck to create opportunities. The 2010 Florida Panthers draft pick has been involved in everything offensively for Idaho, firing 13 shots on goal in the past three games. If anything, Basaraba is producing while at the same time being one of the team’s more snake-bitten forwards. That makes him a dangerous man to watch.
GLADIATOR TO WATCH
The Steelheads may have stifled Almeida last week, but secondary scorer Matt Berry did beat the Steelheads for three goals in three games. Secondary scoring options have had success against the Steelheads this season, but that doesn’t give the Gladiators an easy winning strategy with Nesbitt being the only player on the roster with more than two goals. Only one other player, Brock Higgs, has more than one goal, and his total is two.
Still, Nesbitt is having success offensively and while part of the Steelheads mission to stop him will be direct, that’s not the whole battle. The Steelheads will look to head Nesbitt off at the pass, literally.
Thomas Frazee and Garry Nunn each have seven assists on the season, and combined they have earned six assists on Nesbitt’s five goals. They’ve also assisted on the same goal on two occasions. The Steelheads will give Nesbitt his due attention, and likely Corbin Baldwin will see a good deal of Nesbitt in the defensive zone. Above and beyond that one player, the Steelheads ability to bottle up Frazee and Nunn will help to suffocate the Gladiator attack.
The Steelheads penalty kill has been without question the strongest element of their game, but one of the better accomplishments in Idaho’s Monday night win was that they only put that penalty kill to work one time. The Steelheads penalty kill ranks third in the league, but the Steelheads also have the second-most goals scored at 5-on-5 in the ECHL. The Gladiators have only scored nine even strength goals this season.
A lineup with 12 different goal scorers ordinarily indicates a deep lineup, but when ten of them have only one goal it is more indicative of a top-heavy offense reliant on its 21.4% power play. If the Steelheads stay at 5-on-5 and continue to play disciplined in the defensive zone, they can disarm the Gladiators.