The ECHL schedule resumes this weekend with the All-Star Break coming to an end, and the Steelheads will head back on the road for a five-game journey that starts in Tulsa on Saturday night. The Tulsa Oilers sit second in the Central Division, the Steelheads will play their fourth and fifth games in Oklahoma since last December.
It’s likely that the Oilers welcomed the All-Star Break, having played 43 games already this season, three more than any other team in the ECHL. They’ve also played the most home games of any team this season, a number that will grow on Saturday with the first of two games at BOK Center. The Oilers had one of the league’s best starts to the season, getting out to a 6-0-0 start and with an 11-3-0 record after the first 14 games. Since then, the Oilers have come back to earth a bit.
Tulsa is 5-4-1 in the last ten games and has traded wins and losses over their last six contests against six different teams. While the Oilers do sit second in their division, they are nine points behind first place Toledo and four points clear of a Fort Wayne Komets team that has played seven fewer games.
After scoring 26 goals in his first full season in Tulsa and ranking second in team scoring, Phil Brewer leads them offensively this year with 10 goals and 28 points while playing in each of the team’s first 43 games. Emerson Clark has arguably been more impactful in recent games for Tulsa, scoring five goals and nine points in 11 games while also ranking second in the ECHL with 146 minutes in penalties. Adam Pleskach was a 40-goal scorer and 72-point man two years ago, but saw his production dip last season. Pleskach was having a nice season with 16 points in the first 21 games, but he has been stuck on injured reserve since the start of December.
Dennis Brown remains on the Oilers blue line nd on a similar pace as last year’s 35-point season, with a goals and 14 assists this year. He’ll have some help back there from Garrett Haar, newly acquired by the Oilers from Rapid City this week.
The Oilers will be without goaltender Jamie Phillips, tied for the league lead in wins, after his recent recall to AHL Manitoba.
The Steelheads hit the ice looking to bounce back from a regulation loss on Saturday against the Eagles and then a shootout loss to the Grizzlies in Utah. The Steelheads will be on the road for five games and ten days, their longest continuous stretch on the road this season, and hope to improve on a 7-7-3 road record.
Anthony Luciani is red-hot for Idaho with points in nine straight games and goals in six of his past seven contests. Luciani is now tied for the team-lead in scoring with Jefferson Dahl, who has seven points in his last eight outings. Mike McMurtry grabbed an assist on Luciani’s goal in Utah, giving him at least a point in every game he has played with the Steelheads (1-4-5).
Rob Linsmayer’s goal on Wednesday night was his seventh point in the last eight games. Travis Walsh is back from the ECHL All-Star weekend and would like to replicate his performance in Utah on Monday, when he notched a goal and an assist against the Grizzlies. Goaltender Branden Komm will be back with the Steelheads after being released from his professional tryout agreement with AHL Bakersfield. Philippe Desrosiers has started the last four games for Idaho.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Anthony Luciani’s offensive prowess has gotten recent attention, but Joe Basaraba’s should as well. Basaraba has seven goals in his last ten games for Idaho after netting five goals in his firs 29 contests this year. It was aroun mid-January last season when Basaraba returned from injury and turned a sluggish start to the season into one of the stronger goal-scoring second halves in the Western Conference. Skating with Ewanyk, and after a couple games reunited with speedster Andre Morrissette, Basaraba is again finding himself winning battles in fornt of the net and utilizing one of the team’s better wrist shots.
OILER TO WATCHSteelheads fans may remember the name Shawn Bates. The second-year pro was one of the final cuts from Steelheads training camp at the start of the 2015-16 campaign, spent time in the SPHL last year, and by season’s end found a role with the Oilers. This year, he’s been an even bigger part of that squad for Head Coach Jason Christie. Bates has 11 goals and 21 points this year for Tulsa, as goals in back-to-back games and three tallies in last five contests.KEY MATCHUP
This is another series where the Steelheads hope their special teams can be a major difference-maker. The Idaho power play remains second in the league, going against an Oiler penalty kill that is 23rd out of 27 teams. The Oiler power play also ranks low, sitting second-to-last in the league at 26th. While the percentages are not strong, it’s boom or bust for the Oilers on both sides of the puck for special teams. Tulsa has seven short-handed goals this season, tied for fourth in the league, but they’ve also given up eight this season, tied for the most in the league. The Steelheads will want to put pressure on the puck at all times, something Mike McMurtry and Branden Troock have done a good job of on recent penalty kills. Idaho’s power play is 2-for-12 over the last five games, with the team hoping to get more opportunities with the man advantage than they have in recent weeks. The Steelheads have had no more than three power plays in each of their last seven games.