The Idaho Steelheads make their first visit to Rapid City this week for a three-game set with the Rapid City Rush. It’s the second time through the order for the Steelheads, who have now seen every member of the West Division at least once and are readying for the Rush for the second time this season.
The Steelheads had mixed results at CenturyLink Arena when they first met the Rush to open the 2015-16 season, dominating the Rush 5-1 on opening night but not able to hold a similar lead in the following game. The Steelheads did have a 4-1 lead over Rapid City following the first period of their second game, but they wouldn’t score again as they saw the Rush chip away at that lead until Scott Brannon’s second goal of the game with .1 seconds left in regulation forced overtime. The Rush would win on a 2-on-0 rush at 2:01 of overtime, 5-4.
That was a long time ago, and now the Steelheads find themselves looking up at Rapid City in the standings after Idaho grabbed three of an available six points in Colorado while the Rush have collected at least a point in five straight games (3-0-2). The Rush hold a two-point lead over Idaho in the West Division, with three games in hand. A strong week can get the Steelheads back on track, whereas the Steelheads can also put themselves in a bigger hole by dropping points to Rapid City before they return home to host the Florida Everblades.
The Steelheads have been led by the well-documented production of the top line of Colton Beck, Rob Linsmayer, and Taylor Peters. For the Rush, it’s been more of a scoring-by-committee approach.
Leading goal-scorer Daniel O’Donoghue has five goals on the season, but has only scored in two of the past eight games (three goals) after finding the back of the net in two of the first three. Zach Cohen, who had 20 goals and 49 points last season in Europe and was a star scorer at Boston University in 2010, didn’t score in nine games to start the season. He now has four goals and five points in Rapid City’s last five games.
Winston Day Chief leads the Rush in scoring with 13 points and six assists in the past five games, but he has no goals in the last six contests. The Rush have five different players with four goals or more, but only two players with more than ten points.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
The Steelheads need offense beyond the top line, and it doesn’t hurt when some of that can come from the blue line. Zack Kamrass is making his mark on the backend for the Steelheads of late with points in five of Idaho’s last eight games (1-5-6). Kamrass plays a role in the recent uptick in power play production for Idaho as well. The rookie blue-liner is tied for first among his fellow first-years with four power play assists and tied for second with five power play points.
RUSH TO WATCH
He’s carried the bulk of the load between the pipes for Rapid City this season, and for most of the last six years. Danny Battochio owns the crease in Rapid City, holding most major franchise goaltending marks for the team after 173 games in a Rush uniform. Battochio has started nine games this season, going 6-2-1 with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. While neither of those numbers sparkle, Battochio has experience in net and has battled to earn the Rush 7 points in the standings in his last five starts. He has found a way to win this season.
The Rush won’t blow you away offensively on most nights, and the Steelheads have been trying to find new offensive options while at the same time battling their own defensive misgivings. That battle for Idaho led to more than a couple of odd-man rushes against in Colorado, most of which turned into goals for Kyle Kraemer. It’s no secret that when the Steelheads get solid goaltending, and goaltending that can bail out the rest of the squad on a play or two, they often win the game as they did Wednesday night in Colorado. When the goaltending is less than headline-worthy, the Steelheads have struggled to produce enough offensive to get them off the hook. Against a Rush team that has found success this season by playing scrappy and chipping away at opponents, Idaho needs their goaltending to be the strongest aspect of their game. The battle between the pipes will be youth vs. experience in at least two of the games, in all likelihood, and the Steelheads need Philippe Desrosiers and Maxime Lagace to take command early and inspire confidence from the goal line out.