The Steelheads’ schedule resumes this weekend with their first games on the 2018 calendar, a pair with the rival Allen Americans. Both teams will look to snap skids, as the Steelheads went winless in the final three games of their road trip through Rapid City and Utah and the Americans dropped the final two contests in a four-game set with Wichita.
The Steelheads lost just their second shootout decision of the season last Saturday against the Grizzlies, a 5-4 decision that sent Idaho into New Year’s Day sitting fourth in the Mountain Division. It remains a tight playoff picture, with the Steelheads and Americans tied in the standing with 41 points and sitting just one point back of the second-place Thunder.
Idaho and Allen have met five times this season, three of those games coming at CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads have earned two wins in the season-series, but did come out on top when these teams last met on November 25th. That 5-1 Steelheads win included 148 minutes in penalties and four Steelheads power play goals. It also resulted in six misconduct penalties, one day after Allen forward Vincent Arseneau was handed a suspension for his role in another altercation.
The Steelheads enter the series having faced the second-most shorthanded situations in the league this season, with Allen ranked sixth in that category.
Justin Parizek will play his first game for Idaho since being announced to the 2018 ECHL All-Star Classic, the Steelheads rookie accounting for three goals and four points this season in five games against the Americans. Allen’s own All-Star selection, defenseman David Makowski, will not be available to the Americans after he was issued a two game suspension by the ECHL for his part in a clash in Wichita prior to last Saturday’s contest with the Thunder. Defensemen Dalton Thrower and Mike Gunn were also issued suspensions by the league that will keep them out of this weekend’s series.
The Steelheads have gotten solid production from Cole Ully in his four games since arriving from Texas, the third-year pro posting his first three-point game for Idaho on Saturday. The line of Ully, Jefferson Dahl, and Henrik Samuelsson has combined for five goals and 13 points over the last four contests.
Steve McParland is again finding the back of the net for Idaho, scoring goals in each of the last two games and leading the team with 14 overall. Joe Faust has been the Steelheads best offensive blue-liner of late with four goals and ten points in his last eight outings.
The Americans will likely be missing more than just their suspended players this weekend. Arseneau and Spencer Asuchak are currently in the AHL, Arseneau with Utica and Asuchak with San Jose. The Americans have also been without reigning ECHL Goaltender of the Year Riley Gill since mid-October, while Zach Pochiro has been injured since early November.
The Steelheads will likely get their first look this season at Olivier Archambault, a 2011 Montreal Canadiens draft pick who spent much of the first half with AHL San Jose. Archambault has 21 points in ten ECHL games this season, including five goals and 14 points in eight games since returning from the Barracuda. Archambault has 135 points in 133 career ECHL games.
After a bit of a goal-scoring dry spell, Casey Pierro-Zabotel has regained some finish around the net in an impressive nine-game stretch. In that span, Pierro-Zabotel has five goals and 14 points. He is currently tied for second in the ECHL scoring race with 38 points.
Idaho will face one of the league’s best shutdown defenders in Amercians captain Joel Chouinard. The 2008 Avalanche draft pick is fifth in the league with a plus-19 rating after leading the league at plus-47 last year. Chouinard did have a particularly rough weekend against the Thunder, a minus-4 during the last two games despite being a plus-16 during the seven games prior.
The Steelheads will face an Allen team that is currently in playoff position and above .500. The Steelheads have only faced one opponent who has fit that description, two games against Wichita, since Idaho and Allen last played on November 25th.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Jefferson Dahl has arguably been the Steelheads best player since he returned from injury on December 15th against the Thunder. Idaho’s captain has scored the game’s first goal in back-to back contests, racking up seven goals and 11 points in the Steelheads’ last eight contests. Dahl also has three power play goals and two power play assists during that period. Dahl has never scored more goals in an eight-game stretch in his pro career. Dahl has a goal and four assists this year against the Americans, as well as a fighting major earned in the last meeting when he tangled with Allen goaltender Stephon Williams.
AMERICAN TO WATCH
With numerous names missing from the back end this weekend, the Americans will certainly lean heavily on Joel Chouinard. Another defenseman who will be asked to provide more is Eric Roy, currently in his third season with the Americans. Roy put up strong offensive numbers in his first two seasons, including 13 goals and 35 points in 40 games a year ago. This year he has been somewhat quieter with 14 points and a plus-1 rating. Roy does have two goals and two assists in Allen’s last six contests, but they will need him to provide a bit more on the attack with David Makowski out of the lineup.KEY MATCHUP
The Steelheads’ third period struggles were noticeable during the weekend losses in Utah, an area of the game that for most of the season has been Idaho’s best. The Steelheads surrendered three goals in the third periods of both games, on Saturday erasing a 4-1 lead. The Steelheads have outshot opponents by a margin of 121 this season in third periods, but over the past ten games they have been outscored 15-8 in the final frame and surrendered three goals on three occasions. The Americans have a plus-8 goal differential in third periods, and they have outscored opponents 11-8 over the same time period. The Steelheads will need to have better discipline in the defensive zone and avoid turnovers in the game’s final minutes to snap their three-game slide.