It’s becoming a rather familiar scenario for the second half of this season, the Steelheads and the Utah Grizzlies squaring off with the top spot in the West Division up for grabs.
On January 8th the Grizzlies took the ice at CenturyLink Arena to start a two-game series just three points ahead of Idaho. On February 12th, the Grizzlies kicked off another two-game set with the Steelheads, this time with just a one point lead. The Steelheads would take both of those games.
This weekend, it’s the Steelheads looking back at the Grizzlies with a two point lead in the Division. While the Grizzlies do have two games in hand on Idaho, the Steelheads can make that figure irrelevant if they can manage their third two-game sweep of Utah this season. The Steelheads are 8-2-0 against their divisional rival this year.
The Steelheads return home after a bumpy, but largely successful, road trip through the Central Division. The Steelheads took three of an available four points from the Wichita Thunder after an overtime loss on Saturday and an overtime winner by Carson McMillan on Sunday. Tuesday they fought off a feisty Tulsa Oilers team at BOK Center.
The Grizzlies are coming off consecutive losses on home ice to the Atlanta Gladiators, but they have had plenty of time to recuperate with five off days prior to Friday night’s contest. Friday night will be the Grizzlies first game on the road after finishing a five-game home stand.
Utah has had two losing streaks of three games or more this season, both of them extended by losses to the Steelheads. Idaho has outscored the Grizzlies 29-18 this season, twice beating Utah in 1-0 shutout fashion.
While Utah has gotten good production from newcomer Ryan Hayes, their two leading scorers have struggled to find the net. Charles Sarault has not scored a goal in eight games, while Alex Krushelnyski has not scored in his last ten.
The Steelheads are getting pretty even scoring production across their lines. Carson McMillan has nine goals over Idaho’s last 13 games, and Andre Morrissette has eight points in the last nine contests. Joe Basaraba is in the midst of a three-game points streak with two goals and six points.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
We always preface meetings between these two teams as potential goaltending battles, and again this week considerations in the crease will be very important. The last meeting between these two teams was a goaltending duel for the ages, with Utah’s Ryan Faragher and Idaho’s Jack Campbell combining for 81 saves in what would eventually be a 1-0 shootout win for the Steelheads. Faragher was returned to Utah by AHL San Diego this week and will be available again for the Grizzlies, while Campbell’s recall Wednesday takes him out of the equation. The Steelhead crease can be the difference maker, whether with Branden Komm or Philippe Desrosiers. Komm is 2-1-0 as a Steelhead, while Desrosiers has already earned a 5-0-0 record against Utah this season.
GRIZZLY TO WATCH
The Steelheads have gotten better as the season has moved along at shutting down Utah scoring threat Alex Krushelnyski, who has just one assist in the past four meetings with Idaho. The Steelheads did a pretty decent job against the Grizzlies newest scoring threat, Ryan Hayes, when he made his Grizzlies debut during the last Steelheads-Grizzlies series. That doesn’t mean Hayes wasn’t giving Idaho all it could handle, launching ten shots on net over the two games. Since then, Hayes has three goals and five points in four games for Utah.
Idaho earned a grind-it-out win Tuesday in Tulsa that they certainly should be proud of, but they will without question want to tighten up their third period game against the Grizzlies this week. The Steelheads surrendered third period leads in each of their last three games, finding a way to win in overtime Sunday and with a last-minute Rob Linsmayer tally on Tuesday. The Steelheads won’t want to be playing that kind of back-and-forth final frame with the Grizzlies, especially when third period control has meant so much to the Steelheads during this season series. The Steelheads have outscored the Grizzlies 12-4 in third periods this season.