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SERIES PREVIEW: Turning Up Aces

Friday, January 22nd
SERIES PREVIEW: Turning Up Aces

The Idaho Steelheads make their second trip to Anchorage this season for three games in three days against the Alaska Aces. The teams last met way back in October, Idaho’s first road trip of the season, when the Steelheads earned their only shootout win of the year before dropping the series’ final two games.

Since then, it has been a tale of two seasons for Idaho with struggles in the first half of the campaign and a surge since early December. The Aces have largely struggled, which has them in last place in the West Division, but they have played some of their best hockey of late. They have points in their last seven games (5-0-2) and are just four points behind the Steelheads with a game in hand.

The Steelheads continue to play good hockey, though they would certainly like to boost their scoring numbers. Idaho is 3-3-0 in six January games but have scored just eight goals in those games. They can hope to find more opportunities on Sullivan Arena’s larger Olympic ice surface and against an Aces team that surrenders 3.13 goals per game, ranking 20th in the league. At the same time, the Aces have gotten accustomed to keeping it close, playing in eight consecutive one-goal games.

Tim Coffman leads Alaska with 30 points, but it’s a forward who wasn’t with the Aces when the Steelheads last visited that has hit the ground running since arriving in Anchorage. Peter Sivak, who started the year with Fort Wayne, has five goals and 20 points in 17 games.

This Steelheads and Aces will face off six times in the next two weeks.

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

Rob Linsmayer has goals in two straight games and continues to lead the Steelheads with 35 points. Linsmayer has points in ten of Idaho’s last 12 games (6-9-15) and his style of play can certainly help Idaho find the back of the net this weekend. While the fourth-year pro does play a physical style in the offensive zone that is less significant on the big ice, the real key to Linsmayer’s success is puck-possession in the offensive zone and his cycle work with linemates Jefferson Dahl and Emil Molin. If the Steelheads win the races to loose pucks in the offensive zone, Linsmayer will have plenty of room to work with to play the role of set-up man, something he has done better than any other Steelhead this season. Linsmayer’s game below the face-off dots makes him particularly dangerous this week. ACE TO WATCH

William Wrenn is tied for second in the ECHL among defensemen in scoring and is certainly a player the Steelheads will want to monitor. The former had three assists in the first series between these teams, and though he only has two goals on the season, his league leading (among defensemen) 24 assists make him dangerous. The Aces created offense off the dump-and-chase when these teams last met, but they also had success using the points and driving the net. The extra real estate on an Olympic ice sheet will give a team more opportunities to spread the ice and get their points involved, and the Aces will try to get the puck to Wrenn as often as they can, especially on the power play. He has seven assists in eight January games.

KEY MATCHUP

The Steelheads will want to be ‘seamless’ this week, particularly on the penalty kill. The Aces have the league’s fourth ranked power play, with Collin Valcourt and Stephen Perfetto both netting six power play tallies this season. The Steelhead penalty kill has been just as solid in January, giving up just two power play goals in six games and working at 92.3 percent. The Steelheads will need to close off the open lanes that Olympic ice can create, particularly the ‘soft spots’ in coverage in the high slot that the Tulsa Oilers tried to exploit often last weekend. The Steelheads’ ability to collapse between the circles and block shots was critical to their success in their Friday win against Tulsa, and it will be important again at Sullivan Arena. No matter how big the ice is, the Aces will still eventually need to come to the middle of the ice eventually to score. If the Steelheads can consolidate to the middle of the ice, especially on the penalty kill, they will be in a good position to shut down the Aces attack.

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