For the second time this season, the Steelheads head to Loveland for a battle with the Colorado Eagles. This time, they roll into Budweiser Event Center as a first-place team, leading the Mountain Division by one point over the Aces and two over the Eagles. The Steelheads won both of their games on their prior visit to Colorado and will gear up for three more on this swing.
The Steelheads are coming off back-to-back wins over the Aces this past weekend, both games going beyond regulation with an overtime win on Friday and a shootout win on Saturday. The Steelheads are 13-3-1 over the last 17 games, with special teams playing a major role. The penalty kill is on the rise, stopping 28 of 31 short-handed situations in the past nine games (90.3 percent), while the power play remains the second-best attack in the league. The Steelheads are one of three teams currently ranked in the top-10 in both power play and penalty kill percentage.
One of the more impressive accomplishments this past weekend for the Steelheads was their ability to win games against top talent with some of their own best players on the shelf. Jefferson Dahl did not play Saturday after missing most of Friday’s game due to an injury he sustained early on. Rob Linsmayer has missed the last four games as well, while Brian Nugent and Connor Chatham remain on injured reserve.
The Steelheads hope to have some of these players back in the lineup soon, and possibly this week, but a few players have certainly stepped up in their absence.
Joe Basaraba has two goals and eight points during his current six-game points streak, highlighted by his overtime winner on Friday night. He now ranks second in scoring on the Steelheads’ roster. Travis Ewanyk has recorded six goals and 11 points in his last 11 games, now leading the Steelheads with eight goals. Corbin Baldwin is a plus-5 in his last five games, while Charlie Dodero is a plus-3.
The Eagles have played good hockey since their quick start to the year, coming off a 6-2 win over the Adirondack Thunder on Saturday and going 6-3-1 over their last ten. Still, two of those wins required overtime against a scrappy Rapid City squad.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel remains Colorado’s leading scorer and tied for fifth in the league with 25 points, boosted by his hat trick on Saturday against the Thunder. Luke Salazar, who netted a goal and an assist in the first two meetings between these teams, has 22 points in 21 games.
The Eagles feature two of the top ten scorers among defensemen in Matt Register (16 points, 6th) and Jake Marto (14 points, 9th). Those players help feed the sixth-best power play in the ECHL. Colorado’s penalty kill is 15th in the ECHL, but their five short-handed goals rank second.
Teams always want to get off to a strong start, and that applies not only to games but to series. The Steelheads have struggled on Wednesday nights this year with a 1-4-0 record, while they’ve dominated on the weekends by going 12-2-2 on Friday and Saturday nights.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Caleb Herbert seems to play his best when the games get a bit rough, and games between the Steelheads and Eagles are never for the meek. Herbert is without a point over his last three games, his longest drought in a short 12-game sample size. He was not with the Steelheads when they last played the Eagles, at the time on a recall to AHL Texas. The Steelheads will need Herbert’s hard-nosed forechecking game against the Eagles, the style of play that usually gets him on the score sheet as well. He showed that flare on Saturday against Alaska, leading to seven shots on goal.
EAGLE TO WATCH
Jesse Mychan set a career-high last season with a league-leading 32 goals. Again this season he is scoring at a strong pace, his 12 goals tied for fifth in the ECHL. Mychan has done his share of damage against Idaho, netting four goals against them last season and notching a two-goal game against the Steelheads back on November 5th. Mychan has a strong release off the rush and does his damage around the net. A key for the Steelheads in slowing down Mychan will be avoiding turnovers in their own end of the ice that lead to second and third chances where Mychan is parked in front of the net.
Certainly both of these teams have their scoring threats, but it may be the members of the lower lines that make a difference for Idaho. In the first meeting between the teams, a 2-1 shootout win, the Steelheads third line and lower defense pairings contributed in a tight checking, grinding game. On the next night, a more wide-open scoring night, it was Connor Chatham’s first professional goal that gave Idaho the lead for good after they had blown a two-goal lead. The Steelheads have won hockey games already this week without some of their high-profile producers. With or without them this week, they’ll need to rely on the consistency of some of their younger bodies to keep their composure in a raucous Budweiser Events Center.