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SERIES PREVIEW: Wichita Weekend

Friday, February 19th
SERIES PREVIEW: Wichita Weekend

The Idaho Steelheads will make their first ever visit to Wichita on Saturday night, the first game of a two-game set with the Wichita Thunder and the first game of a three-game road trip that will also take the Steelheads to Tulsa early next week. The Steelheads will look to rebound from a Wednesday night loss to the Rapid City Rush, a team the Steelheads are much more familiar with but who have had a very similar track record as Wichita dating back to mid-December.

The Thunder sit last in the ECHL standings with ten wins (five fewer than any other team in the league) and 30 points (10 points fewer). The Thunder are the only team in the ECHL yet to reach the 100 goals mark, with 98, and their 178 goals against are ten more than the next worst defense.

The Thunder have one win in their last 18 contests. As difficult a record as that is, a few more fortunate bounces of the puck could have us looking at the Thunder quite differently. Wichita is 1-11-6 over their last 18 games with four of those losses coming in overtime. The Thunder are 1-5 in the 3-on-3 this season.

While the Thunder have had a hard time slowing down goal scorers, the Steelheads will look to get theirs going again in this series after going without a goal in the last 126:49. Their last goal scored was Andrew Carroll’s tally late in the third period against Utah last Friday. Idaho’s 1-0 win in Utah the next night came courtesy of a shootout tally.

While the Steelheads hope to spark their offense, there has been little problem for the team defensively. Idaho has held opponents to two goals or fewer in nine of their last ten games. The Steelheads are 10-3-0 in their last 13 games and have not lost back-to-back contests since being swept by Atlanta all the way back in early November.

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

The Steelheads hope to get more goal production over the weekend form their top-tier scorers like Jefferson Dahl and Rob Linsmayer, each without a goal in the last six games, but they know that’s a matter of time. Another player to keep an eye one is Joe Basaraba, without a goal in his last eight but very much involved in the offensive attack. Basaraba has two goals and six points in 12 games since coming off his lengthy stay on Injured Reserve. Even when he’s not finding the back of the net, his vertical speed game has created opportunities for others around him. On Wednesday night when the Steelheads struggled to generate much of anything offensively, Basaraba registered six shots on goal.

THUNDER TO WATCH

Steelheads got a small taste of Kale Kerbashian earlier this season with the Rapid City Rush. Injuries kept Kerbashian sidelined for much of the first half of the year, putting up ten points in just 17 games with the Rush, but the trade to Wichita seems to have reignited his game. Kerbashian has netted 16 points in 18 games for the offensively-thin Thunder, including points in ten of his first 12 games. Though he is without a point in his last three games, Kerbashian is a threat in low-scoring contests and the Steelheads will certainly have an eye on him.

KEY MATCHUP

Wednesday’s game against Rapid City made the point that the Steelheads will be better off if they can find a way to get on the board early. The Rush were a minus-30 in the first period this season but were able to grind their way through a scoreless first, shortening the game and making it more difficult for Idaho to get its legs going. Wichita struggles defensively pretty evenly throughout the game, but from a Steelheads perspective the first period will matter in both games. Idaho needs to regain their scoring confidence after a few lean evenings, in addition to earning four points to keep pace in the race for the West Division lead. The Thunder present a good opponent to regain points and scoring confidence, and the Steelheads need to take advantage of that right away and establish the swagger that has made their defense so imposing. When the Steelheads get on the board early and dictate the game with their forecheck, it’s a steep hill for the opposition to climb, particularly those that are at the bottom-half of the standings.

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