After winning back-to back contests last weekend in Tulsa against the Oilers, the Steelheads continue their road trip with a three-game set against the first-place Colorado Eagles, Idaho’s first meeting with the Eagles since November 4th.
Wednesday begins a stretch of nine games against Colorado in Idaho’s next 12 outings, with the Steelheads eight points back of the Eagles for the Mountain Division lead.
The Eagles look to bounce back from consecutive road losses, dropping decisions in Wichita and Tulsa over the weekend. The defeats served as Colorado’s first set of consecutive regulation losses since November 1st, also snapping an eight-game winning streak and a 12-game points streak.
The Eagles enter the series with their biggest weapon back in the arsenal after forward Michael Joly was returned from AHL San Antonio on Tuesday. Joly leads the ECHL with 29 goals in 31 games, scoring nine goals in his last six ECHL contests. His longest goal-scoring streak of the season is eight games, and he hasn’t gone more than two contests all season without at least one marker. He last played for Colorado on January 12th.
Matt Garbowsky is having another solid campaign in Colorado, putting up 38 points in 34 games. He’s lately played the role of set-up man, with three goals in his last eleven games but 13 assists in that time.
The Eagles are a bit limited up front in terms on personnel, with Shawn St. Amant and JC Beaudin both still in AHL San Antonio.
The Colorado blue line is always a weapon, with Matt Register again leading all ECHL defensemen in points with 38 and Jake Marto ranked seventh. Register is in the midst of an uncharacteristic goal-scoring dry spell, not finding the back of the net in his last 18 games dating back to December 8th. He had eight goals in his first 21 games. Register had two goals in three meetings this season with the Steelheads.
The Steelheads will likely get their first look this season at goaltender Joe Cannata, who was in the AHL when these teams last met. Cannata ranks second in the league in goals-against average, second in save percentage, and fifth in wins.
Idaho enters the series with its top players humming along. Jefferson Dahl scored two goals on Saturday in Tulsa and added an assist, marking his sixth multi-point game and fourth three-point game in the last eight contests. Dahl enters the series tied for fifth in the ECHL with 43 points, knotted with Colorado’s Joly.
Justin Parizek netted his team-leading 18th goal of the season on Saturday, giving the rookie six goals in his last seven contests. Parizek is third among ECHL rookies in goal-scoring. Setting up Parizek’s goal on the weekend was Cole Ully, one of three assists in the game for the Dallas Stars draft pick that gives him 13 points in eleven games as a Steelhead.
On defense, Charlie Dodero had a goal and an assist on Saturday, his second goal and sixth point in the last seven days to go along with a plus-8 rating. Joe Faust leads the blue line offensively with five goals and 25 points on the season.
The series-opener will pit one of the league’s top offenses against one of the top defenses. The Eagles average 3.9 goals per game, second in the ECHL, while the Steelheads average 2.7 goals against per game to rank fourth in the league. Right behind the Steelheads, ranked fifth best defensively in the ECHL, are the Eagles.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
With injuries hampering the Steelheads defense corps since Aaron Harstad went on injured reserve, some of the younger blue-liners have had to step up. Eric Sweetman has certainly done so in recent weeks, grabbing his first professional goal and four assists in his last five games and earning a plus-11 rating over his last eight contests. With the likes of experienced defensemen Corbin Baldwin, Joe Faust, and Charlie Dodero likely to have their hands full with shutdown assignments against Joly, there may be opportunity for Sweetman to play a bigger factor again in the offense this week.
EAGLE TO WATCH
No player in the ECHL has been more dangerous than Michael Joly this season, averaging nearly a goal per game and with a legitimate chance to become the ECHL’s first 50-goal scorer since Florida’s Kevin Baker in 2009. Joly potted one goal in four AHL games during his recent call-up to San Antonio, but he has four multi-goal games in his last six ECHL contests for the Eagles and eight total for the season. Joly scored in each game of the three-game series with the Steelheads back in November, one of those goals an overtime winner.KEY MATCHUP
Good defense leads to good offense on most nights for the Steelheads. Naturally, limiting Joly will be an important task for the Steelheads, but the Eagles are far from a one-man attack. The Steelheads will also need to keep Garbowsky at bay and Jesse Mychan, who tied for the league-lead in goal-scoring just two seasons ago. Matt Register has also registered five goals and eleven points in 14 games against Idaho over the last two seasons, not including playoffs. Stopping the scoring attack will be a five-man responsibility at all times, not unlike last week when a strong back-check play by Steve McParland led directly to the Parizek goal in Tulsa. The Steelheads have done a strong job blanketing top-producers in recent weeks, limiting the league’s second-leading goal scorer in Kalamazoo’s Justin Taylor to one goal in three games two weeks ago and holding Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Olivier Archambault to one assist in two games when Idaho last faced Allen.