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Preview: Going After Grizzlies

Tuesday, January 31st
Preview: Going After Grizzlies

After opening the season with four consecutive contests, the Steelheads and rival Utah Grizzlies did not see much of each other during the first half of the ECHL season. They’ll have a lot more meetings in February, with six of Idaho’s next nine contests coming against the Grizzlies. That starts with a three-game series this week at CenturyLink Arena.

The Grizzlies have posed a challenge to the Steelheads this season, with Idaho going 1-2-2 against Utah and falling in a shootout in their lone meeting since the season-opening series. That was a comeback shootout win for the Grizzlies at Maverik Center on January 16th, a game Idaho at one point led 4-1.

The Grizzlies have played much better hockey of late, winners of four in a row and going 8-2-1 since New Year’s Day to climb back above the .500 mark and within nine points of the final playoff spot in the division.

Linemates Ralph Cuddemi and Erik Bradford have been driving forces in Utah’s mid-season resurgence. Bradford has two goals and five assists during his current six-game points streak, and five goals and 16 points in his last 12 contests. Cuddemi has been the finisher, scoring 12 goals in the last 11 games with five multi-goal games during that time. Michael Pelech has three goals and nine points in his last eight games.

Defenseman Tim Daly has been a bright spot for Utah with a standout sophomore season. After collecting just two assists in 26 games last season with Norfolk and the Grizzlies, Daly has notched eight goals and 31 points in 42 games this season. Daly is ranked fifth among ECHL defensemen in scoring. Ryan Faragher gets the bulk of the workload in nets, fresh off signing a new one-year NHL contract with the Anaheim Ducks on January 27th.

The Steelheads look to snap a three-game winless streak and will look to rookie Will Merchant to help them get there. Merchant scored a goal in each of Idaho’s last two games in Alaska and has seven goals and 15 points in his last 13 games. Merchant ranks ninth among rookies in scoring.

Kyle Jean’s short-handed goal to help force overtime on Saturday night was his second goal in three games. It was also his second short-handed goal this season, giving him four in the past two seasons with the Steelheads.

The Steelheads will be pleased to be back on home ice, where they have been one of the league’s best teams this season. Idaho is 15-5-2 this year at CenturyLink Arena, their 32 points the fourth-most by a team on home ice in the ECHL this year.

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

The Steelheads goaltending tandem of Branden Komm and Philippe Desrosiers will look to lock down the Steelheads crease against Faragher, who is having a statistical down season in Utah but still has the ability to take over games. Komm has appeared in five consecutive games for Idaho, dominant in Tulsa but taking all three losing decisions in Alaska that included an overtime loss on Saturday and a loss in a relief appearance of Desrosiers on Friday. The Grizzlies have been able to put up offense against Idaho this year, averaging 4.4 goals per game in the five meetings. Komm is 7-1-1 this season at CenturyLink Arena with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

GRIZZLY TO WATCHJohn Puskar has had a nice offensive season for the Grizzlies, but he’s been a force against the Steelheads. Puskar has 16 goals and 30 points in 38 games this season, essentially doubling his production from last year, and nearly one-third of his production has come against Idaho with five goals and nine points in five games. That includes two goals and an assist in the last meeting between the teams, when Puskar helped push Utah back from a three-goal deficit midway through the game.KEY MATCHUP

Steelheads-Grizzlies has been another series this season in which no lead is safe. The Steelheads twice had to fight off Utah advances in the home-opener before pulling away for an 8-4 win, and the following night overcame a three-goal deficit in the third period before losing in overtime. It was the Grizzlies overcoming a three-goal deficit and tying the game late in the last meeting between the teams, with the Grizzlies winning that contest in a shootout. The Steelheads had their share of struggles holding leads in Alaska last weekend as well, and they will need a full 60-minute effort against the Grizzlies to get back in the win column.

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