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SERIES PREVIEW: Continue the climb against Utah

Thursday, January 7th
SERIES PREVIEW: Continue the climb against Utah

The Steelheads' five-day break from game play comes to an end when the Steelheads travel to Maverik Center for a two game set with the Utah Grizzlies, the Steelheads’ fourth and fifth meetings with the West Division leaders in the past 25 days. The Steelheads are 8-1-1 in their past ten games while the Grizzlies are just 5-5-0 in their past ten and are coming off a Wednesday night loss to the Rapid City Rush.

At the start of this 5-in-25 stretch, when the teams met on December 16th at CenturyLink Arena, the Steelheads were 9-14-4, sitting outside the playoff picture and fourth in the West Division. When the puck drops on Friday night, the Steelheads will find themselves just three points back of the Grizzlies, who hold three games in hand. It’s been a tremendous surge for Idaho that could conceivably see them sitting first in the division in terms of points by the end of the weekend.

The Steelheads have won five in a row over the Grizzlies, including three straight at Maverik Center. Kyle Jean has two goals and seven points in three games against the Grizzlies. Rob Linsmayer has points in all six meetings this season between the teams (4-6-10), while Emil Molin has scored four goals this season against Utah and three of them at Maverik Center.

The Steelheads will, in all likelihood, be without goaltender Philippe Desrosiers, who is currently playing with the AHL’s Texas Stars. Desrosiers earned the win in each of the Steelheads' last five wins over Utah, posting a 1.45 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage for Idaho in that span. The Steelheads will go with Jack Campbell, coming off a 28 save 1-0 shutout of the Colorado Eagles in his last start, the Steelheads’ first shutout of the season.

It appears the Grizzlies may not have one of their top performers this weekend, as second-leading scorer Alex Krushelnyski was recalled by AHL Hartford on Wednesday afternoon. Krushelnyski has 14 goals this season and has scored two goals and three assists against Idaho. Matt Berry, Utah’s leading scorer with 14 goals and 30 points, will be available. He has four goals against Idaho this season.

The Steelheads beat Utah goaltender Ryan Faragher for seven goals over the teams’ last two meetings, at the time just his second and third regulation losses of the season. Faragher now stands at 13-4-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.

STEELHEADS TO WATCH

Keep your eyes on Shawn Boutin, whose play continues to climb as his responsibilities climb as well. Boutin’s offense is starting to show, with three points in his last seven games, but it’s his defensive game that is making him an impact player. Boutin is a plus-8 over his past eight games. After dropping to minus-9 at one point this season, Boutin is now a plus-1 for the year and has been one of Idaho’s best defenders and penalty killers of late. Boutin will see a healthy dose of Matt Berry and Ryan Walters this weekend, and the Steelheads need him to maintain his smooth-skating play of late.

GRIZZLY TO WATCH

Speaking of Ryan Walters, his offensive burden increases for Utah without Krushelnyski. Walters has eight points in his last eight games, but he has been held mostly quiet this year by the Steelheads with just a goal and two assists. The Steelheads have had their hands full with Berry and Krushelnyski in recent meetings, but now can shift more of a focus to keeping Walters in check and away from Jack Campbell, particularly on the power play.

KEY MATCHUP

After a 13 goal barrage on December 16th, the last two games have been a story of Ryan Faragher’s struggles and Philippe Desrosiers’ dominance. This weekend will highlight goaltending once again, as the Steelheads expect more of Faragher and the Grizzlies get their first look of the season at Campbell. Neither of these teams have been shy launching pucks on net in any game of this season series, but in the past two meetings it was Faragher who seemed to struggle tracking pucks and controlling rebounds. Campbell is coming off a solid shutout performance in which he had no such problems. These are two goaltenders with significant pedigrees staring down a chance to grab first place in the West Division. No better place to pick a battle this weekend than between the pipes.

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