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Preview: New Year’s Fireworks

Thursday, December 28th
Preview: New Year’s Fireworks

Fresh off the Christmas break, the Steelheads return to action this weekend for their final contests of 2017 with a pair of games against the Utah Grizzlies at Maverik Center. The Steelheads look to finish off December strong and build on an 8-4-0 record in the calendar’s final month. The Grizzlies are coming off a 2-1 loss to the Eagles, but have won four of their last seven following a nine-game winless skid.

The Steelheads sit second in the Mountain Division and in the Western Conference, still six points back of the first-place Colorado Eagles. The Grizzlies are 12 points back of the Steelheads and ten points outside the division’s final playoff spot.

Idaho took advantage of a string of four consecutive contests with the Grizzlies from December 4th to December 9th, taking three of the four games in a series that visited both Maverik Center and CenturyLink Arena for a pair. The Steelheads earned their only shutout victory of the season to cap that series, a 2-0 win in which Ryan Faragher stopped all 31 shots against his former team.

Defense and goaltending have been strengths for the Steelheads in December, the team surrendering three goals or more on only three occasions. Philippe Desrosiers has won nine of his last ten starts, his lone defeat in that stretch coming against the Grizzlies on a last-minute goal, and his 13 wins rank second in the ECHL.

Henrik Samuelsson and Jefferson Dahl both had points streaks of five games halted on Saturday. Samuelsson had racked up four goals and 11 points in that span, while Dahl had five goals and eight points along with three power play markers. The duo has combined for two goals and six points this year against the Grizzlies, with Dahl missing the last four meetings due to injury.

Cole Ully has points in each of his two games with the Steelheads since being sent down from AHL Texas last Friday. Ully scored Friday’s game-winner with a power play marker and assisted on the only Idaho goal on Saturday. Tommy Thompson has points in five of his last six games with a goal and four assists.

The Grizzlies have two lines of threatening goal- scorers despite being ranked 26th in the league in goals per game. Greger Hanson leads the team in scoring with 27 points in23 games, coming on in recent weeks with three goals and ten points in his last five outings. Ryan Walters has been a point-per-game player for the Grizzlies since he joined the team at the start of November in a trade with the Rapid City Rush. Walters has seven goals in his last 11 games and has two goals and four points in four games against Idaho.

Ryan Olsen also found his scoring touch against the Steelheads during the last series between the teams, scoring in each of the first three games of the home-and-home set.

The Grizzlies own the rights to one of the most productive rookie blue-liners in the ECHL this year in Cliff Watson, but he has been in the AHL with the Utica Comets since the beginning of the month. Since then there hasn’t been much production from the back end, with Utah defensemen accounting for just 11 assists combined and no goals in nine games.

The Steelheads have won two of three games at Maverik Center this season, and are 10-4-1 in Utah over the last three seasons. The last game between these teams in Utah finished with several fights after the final buzzer and Utah’s Travis Howe making his way onto the Idaho bench in street clothes to earn a nine-game suspension, disqualifying him from this weekend’s games.

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

Joe Faust is enjoying his hottest scoring stretch of the season, carrying a six-game points streak into Maverik Center on Friday night. Faust has scored four goals in those six games after going the first 22 games without one, including Idaho’s only tally on Saturday in Rapid City. That’s more goals than he scored in any six-game stretch last season, when he set a Steelheads ECHL record with 14 goals for the season. Faust has nine points during his streak to go along with a plus-5 rating, and he is now tied with Cody Corbett for the team lead in scoring among defensemen with 19 points.

GRIZZLY TO WATCH

Kyle Thomas was with AHL San Diego when these teams last met, but he’s now back in Utah and proving that he’s one of the most effective scorers in the ECHL. Thomas has 19 points in 17 ECHL games this season (and a goal and two points in six AHL games), and has been on a tear since returning to Utah in mid-December. In five games, Thomas has four goals and six points, along with a plus-6 rating. Thomas has not gone more than one game without a point since the first two games of the season. He has a goal and five points in three games against the Steelheads this season, the goal serving as the overtime winner at CenturyLink Arena on October 20th.

KEY MATCHUP

Can the Steelheads battery between the pipes get the better of one of the most utilized goaltenders in the ECHL? The Steelheads have gotten stellar goaltending from both Philippe Desrosiers and Ryan Faragher this season, with both ranked in the top-15 in goals-against average (Desrosiers 3rd and Faragher 14th) and both sharing a fairly equal split of the work load. In the Utah crease, Kevin Carr has already appeared in a league-leading 22 of Utah’s 30 games and played 1,293 minutes, 100 minutes more than the next closest goaltender. Angus Redmond has started just one of the last 12 games for the Grizzlies. The Steelheads goaltending duo has played to a 2.08 goals-against average in the month of December, and gave up just six goals over the last four meetings with the Grizzlies.

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