The Idaho Steelheads have finally returned home for the first time since November 7th, but they’ll face a familiar team from their lengthy road trip when they host the Florida Everblades on Wednesday night. The Everblades sit atop the Eastern Conference and bring one of the league’s most potent offenses to Boise. The Blades have scored nine more goals than any other team in the ECHL and their fourth ranked power play has scored 20 goals, the most of any team this season.
Florida is far from a one-trick pony, with the league’s top-ranked penalty kill at 90.8 percent and a plus-30 goal differential that ranks second in the ECHL.
The Everblades are recovering from their first loss following a three-game winning streak, losing 5-1 to the Colorado Eagles to wrap up the first leg of their six game trip to the West Division. The finale of the Eagles series finished with a bang, with both teams combining for 190 penalty minutes at Budweiser Events Center, and 152 in the game’s final 18 seconds. That game also featured a scrap between goaltenders Anthony Peters and Kris Lazaruk, and suspensions to Everblades defenseman Rob Florentino and forward Corey Cowick. Florentino’s five-game suspension will keep him out of this series, while Cowick can return to action on Friday night.
The Steelheads won’t be looking for any scraps with Philippe Desrosiers only having an emergency back-up behind him, but they’ll certainly be looking for more firepower than they had in Florida earlier in November. The Steelheads surrendered a two-goal lead in the first meeting between the teams before falling in overtime, and then were shut out the following night.
Head Coach Neil Graham has brought in some scoring talent for this series, signing forwards Kyle Jean and Jake Fallon to ECHL contracts and trading for puck-moving defenseman Zach Yuen. The Steelheads generated solid opportunities late in games against the Rapid City Rush, outshooting the Rush 41-7 in the third period across three games but having minimal answers for Rush goaltender Marek Langhamer. That task will only get tougher against Florida goaltenders Peters and Daniel Altshuller, arguably the league’s best goaltender. Altshuller’s 1.33 goals-against average, .948 save percentage, and three shutouts all lead the ECHL.
The Steelheads will hope to get back above .500 on home ice this week, while the Everblades will try to improve on their 7-4-0 road record.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Jefferson Dahl has been one of Idaho’s more consistent scorers beyond the team’s top line this year, and a solid power play producer with his last three goals all coming on the power play. While Dahl is finding the scoresheet on a pretty regular basis, he’s still showing signs of a player that has more to give. Dahl had two golden scoring opportunities on Saturday night in Rapid City that he couldn’t convert, sending one puck over an open net in the second period and just barely missing the far post with time winding down in the third period. Dahl is finding himself in the right areas of the ice with the puck on his stick. With a few bounces he can go from contributor to driving force this week. Dahl has four goals and eight points in Idaho’s six games at CenturyLink Arena this season.
EVERBLADE TO WATCH
The combination of rookie Matt Willows and Ethan Werek did a number on the Steelheads in Florida three weeks ago and they haven’t slowed down. Willows had two goals in the first game and two assists in the second contest, while Werek had two assists in each game. Both players now have points in eight of their last nine games, with Werek totaling 14 points (4-10-14) and Willows racking up 11 points (5-6-11) with three power play goals.
The Steelheads weren’t able to hold a 2-0 lead at Germain Arena, but that doesn’t make the importance of scoring first any less important. The Everblades are 7-2-0 when leading after the first period and 11-0-0 when leading after two periods. The Steelheads won’t want to play catch-up against this squad, something they’ve done often in the past month, particularly on a night when they’re facing a goaltender of Altshuller’s quality. The Steelheads only had 43 shots combined across their two games in Florida, and will want to instead channel their third-period Rapid City game into a first period attack against the Everblades. Attack early, attack often, and let the newer players like Jean and Fallon show their stuff in the offensive zone.