Good teams take advantage of opportunities. If the door opens a crack, a good team will kick it down. And when the Norfolk Admirals were called for a double-minor and a slashing penalty a minute apart late in the second period Wednesday night, the Steelheads used their most lethal weapon to take over the game.
The Steelheads came into the first game of their three-game set with the Admirals just a percentage point from the top spot in the ECHL’s power play rankings. At 24 percent, the Steelheads had scored a goal with the man-advantage in 11 of 13 games. Thursday morning, the Steelheads woke up in the top spot in the league thanks to a three-goal power play performance, their highest single-game total of the year.
“If teams want to take penalties on us, we want to make them pay the price,” said defenseman Charlie Dodero. “We were fortunate to come out of a lot of scrums last night with 5-on-3 power plays. When you get those you need to make sure that if you don’t score, you’re still creating momentum for your team.”
The Steelheads did both on Wednesday, scoring three power play goals in a span of 4:42 to turn a 3-2 deficit into a game the Steelheads totally controlled. While the first half of the game was anything but a sure thing for Idaho, the Steelheads power play calmed things down not only with offense, but also by helping the Steelheads to steady the pace of the game at even strength.
“When you have success on your power plays it builds momentum for the team. Even rolling back into 5-on-5 it helps a lot,” said Jefferson Dahl. “When you get one or two in, you get the confidence that you can do it and you start feeling it more. There’s a confidence to it.”
The Steelheads’ power play executed in waves, with Joe Faust scoring from the high slot and Will Merchant twice burying from in front of the net. Merchant’s first goal came on a rebound off the end boards from a Faust drive that rolled back into the crease. His second came off an end-to-end rush from Caleb Herbert, dishing to Merchant right at the top of the blue paint.
All three depended on efforts in which the Steelheads have prided themselves on the power play- getting to the net and getting shots through.
“Neil always says if you’re in the Grade-A zone it has to be a shot and it’s up to the other guys around the net to dig for rebounds and recover pucks,” said Dodero. “I think we’re doing a good job right now.”
Merchant has done a good job of working the front of the net, in particular. The rookie has scored five goals in his pro career, all on the power play. Wednesday was his first two-goal game.
“He’s so good around the net, it’s just a matter of getting the puck to him,” said Dahl, who plays with Merchant at even strength as well. “He’s been finding open spots and he’s been finishing pucks.”
“We’re just trying to keep it simple and when you do that things work out. We’re moving pucks quick, and when those pucks get free you have to get guys on them. Just controlling the puck and being in the zone the whole time wears down penalty kills.”
The Steelheads hope to keep that rolling. Idaho has scored 15 of their 48 goals this season with the man advantage, and nine different players have found the back of the net. It’s a part of the Steelheads’ attack that is helping them win games and is getting more players involved offensively.