Just eight games remain for the Idaho Steelheads before they begin yet another playoff run, but that final leg of the schedule is packed with divisional opponents. That includes four games against the Colorado Eagles, the first two of which will be played this weekend at CenturyLink Arena.
The Steelheads will look to extend the league’s longest active home points streak, currently sitting at seven games thanks to Idaho’s 5-0-2 stretch against Utah, Alaska and Rapid City. This will be the Steelheads’ first meeting with the Eagles since the first week of January, a three-game series also played in Boise. Idaho is 3-2-1 this year against Colorado.
The Steelheads took three of an available four points against Rapid City last weekend, winning handily on Friday night but falling in a shootout on Saturday, failing to hold a lead after two periods for just the fourth time all season. With the three points, Idaho extended its lead atop the West Division to five points over Utah, a lead that is now four points heading into Friday night action with the Steelheads holding a game in hand.
Joe Basaraba carries a seven game points streak into this weekend’s games, one game shy of the Steelheads’ longest points streak this season when Kyle Jean notched a point in eight straight games from December 11th to December 30th. Basaraba has five goals and nine points during the seven-game streak, as well as eight goals and 18 points in the past 12 games.
The Eagles have hit a bit of a rough patch as they try to solidify their spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. Colorado sits seventh in the Western Conference, but just two points clear of the post-season bubble. The Eagles are just 2-3-2 in the last seven games and they will play seven of their final nine games away from home, where they are just 11-18-0 this year. Their only two remaining home games will come against Idaho at the start of April.
The Eagles are the rough and tumble team of the ECHL, their 1274 penalty minutes 174 more than the next most penalized team. Despite that gritty edge, they still put up offense. The Eagles rank sixth in the ECHL with 3.08 goals scored per game. Much of that offense comes from the players racking up penalty minutes. Jesse Mychan ranks fourth on the team with 154 penalty minutes but first on the roster with 27 goals. Darryl Bootland, with over 3,000 penalty minutes in his pro career, has 34 points on the season.
The Eagles also feature two of the league’s stronger offensive defensemen, with Adrian Veideman (16 goals, 39 points) and Jake Marto (eight goals, 34 points). That’s not counting Collin Bowman, who had 36 points from the blue line in 46 games before being loaned to AHL Rochester.
In the last series between these teams, Jack Campbell started all three games for Idaho, capping the series with a 1-0 win for Idaho’s first shutout of the season.
The weekend matchup could be a potential playoff preview with some slight shuffling in the weeks ahead, with Colorado in seventh place but just four points out of sixth and Idaho sitting in third place but just two points back of second place.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Colorado offers an interesting matchup situation for Head Coach Neil Graham. Trent Daavettila will likely form a scoring unit with Kyle Kramer, while ‘Bash Brothers” Jesse Mychan and Darryl Bootland will likely see time together on a second line. The Steelheads will want a shutdown pair on the silky Daavettila line, likely drawing Corbin Baldwin and Shawn Boutin. That means we can expect Zach Bell to see a lot of Mychan and Bootland. Not only will Bell need to play solid defense against a capable scoring line, but Bell will also be expected to provide the Steelheads’ pushback to keep the Eagles tough guys from taking advantage. The Steelheads acquired the well-rounded Bell for games just like this, and he will be a key defender in grounding the Eagles’ attack.
EAGLE TO WATCH
Trent Daavettila is having an exceptional season in Colorado, so much so that he might find his name mixed into some MVP conversations at the end of the year. The seven-year ECHL veteran and fourth year Eagle has 67 points this year for the Eagles in 62 games, along with a plus-26 rating. Both figures lead the team. With nine games remaining, Trent’s career high of 80 points in a season is still within reach. Daavettila has a goal and five assists in six contests against Idaho this year.
With a lot of penalties comes a lot of penalty kills, and the Eagles have been shorthanded more than any other team in the ECHL. They’ve certainly handled it well, ranking ninth in the league on the kill. Still the Steelheads kill has been most impressive of late, shutting down 37 of their last 39 shorthanded situations. More important for Idaho will be the continued execution of the power play, which has scored in two of the last three contests. The Eagles are going to take penalties, and it will be up to the Steelheads to take advantage of those opportunities and to avoid getting sucked into altercations that will negate those power plays. The Steelheads are confident in their game at 5-on-5, but if the Eagles shoot themselves in the foot the Steelheads will need to make them pay.