The Steelheads return home to CenturyLink Arena to open their 2017 schedule with a three-game series against the Alaska Aces. It’s an important week for Idaho, trailing the Aces by two points in the standings and having played two more games than Alaska. The Steelheads look to leap over the Aces in the standings and build off their recent three-win road trip.
The Steelheads and Aces met for three games in Boise a month ago, going 2-1-0 against the Aces and taking the series’ final two games in overtime and in the shootout. The Steelheads head into Wednesday’s matchup coming off another overtime-winner, Will Merchant’s eighth of the season to defeat the Rush on New Year’s Eve.
Travis Ewanyk has been leading the way offensively for the Steelheads, currently riding a four-game points streak and finding the sheet in seven of his last eight games. Ewanyk has five goals and 12 points in that span, and linemates Kyle Jean and Joe Basaraba are heating up as well. Jean has a goal and six assists in his last eight games, and Basaraba has two goals and six points in his last six outings.
On the blue line, Joe Faust has made an instant impact upon his return from AHL Texas, scoring the tying goal and assisting on the overtime winner. Faust has three goals and six points in his last six games for Idaho. Among his fellow blue liners, Travis Walsh is newly named to the 2017 ECHL All-Star Team. Charlie Dodero will play his 200th professional game on Wednesday night.
The Aces have won three of their last four games, including two straight over Colorado. They are 9-3-3 on the road this season, their 21 points away from home tied for fourth in the ECHL.
Steelheads fans saw what Peter Sivak can do during the last series in Boise. The league’s second-ranked scorer this season has a league-leading 24 goals this season and 45 points, as well as three goals and six points in the last four games. During the Aces’ last visit to Idaho, Sivak was without teammate Stephen Perfetto, who was in AHL San Antonio. Perfetto is now back in the fold with 36 points in 24 games and three goals in his last two outings.
Some of Alaska’s other scoring weapons have cooled off in December. Tim Coffman scored two goals on Sunday, but had just one in his previous 13 contests. Former-NHLer Tim Wallace is in the midst of a nine-game goal-scoring drought, with just one goal in his last 16 games. Justin Breton is finding last year’s scoring touch again, netting five goals and nine points in the last ten games.
Goaltender Kevin Carr has been the go-to guy in net this season for Alaska, but has seen his numbers dip in recent weeks. Carr has given up four goals or more in four of his last six starts. Lukas Hafner got each of the last two starts for the Aces against Colorado, winning both.
Wednesday’s game will feature a battle between Idaho’s second-ranked power play and Alaska’s second-ranked penalty kill. Idaho is 4-for-17 on the power play during the last four games. The Aces have killed off 34 of 35 penalties over the last eight games.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Will Merchant has been a regular contributor offensively for the Steelheads in his first pro season, but saw himself in a bit of a quiet stretch prior to Saturday with no points in five games. That streak was resoundingly snapped in Rapid City with Merchant’s first career overtime winner, a power play goal that boosted his total to a team-leading six on the season. Merchant is at his best when he’s finishing off rebounds in front of the net, and the Steelheads will need him to be a presence their to have success against an Aces team that gives up the fifth-fewest goals per game.
ACE TO WATCH
Peter Sivak is certainly the most important Ace for Idaho to shut down. Sivak took over the first meeting of the season between these teams, scoring twice in the third period to help turn a 2-2 tie into a 5-3 Alaska win. Sivak has five multi-goal games this season and will be a starter for this year’s ECHL All-Star Game. Sivak is also a shooting machine, his 144 shots on goal ranked third in the ECHL.
The Steelheads always want to score first, but that task is even more important against some teams than others. The Steelhead ability to come from behind has been well-documented recently, with thei New Year’s Eve effort improving their record to 5-7-1 when trailing after two periods. The Aces have done a better job protecting leads this year, the only team in the league not to lose in regulation in a game in which they’ve scored the first goal (13-0-4). The Aces are also 14-1-4 in games they lead after 40 minutes, meaning the Steelheads will want to put themselves in a good position in the first period against a team that gets good goaltending and has two of the league’s best offensive producers in Sivak and Perfetto.