There are plenty of lessons to be learned early in a season, and the Steelheads returned to practice on Monday morning to work on what they saw in their season-opening split at CenturyLink Arena with the Norfolk Admirals.
The Steelheads dominated long stretches of the opener on Friday, beating the Admirals 4-2 and firing 49 shots on goal in the process. They suffered their first loss the following night, still firing 43 shots but falling 5-3 to Norfolk.
The Steelheads trailed 3-0 in the third period of Saturday’s contest and battled back to within a goal with a 22-shot barrage in the final frame. For some players, the difference between a winning effort and a near miss was the team’s effectiveness in the first period.
“I think the biggest difference was our start. We were a little bit slow on Saturday and it took us until the third period to really get going,” said forward AJ White, who scored his first goal as a Steelhead on Friday. “We just have to play the game the right way and we weren’t doing that early. Once we got back to our systems, we were able to take over the game. That’s what we’re working on this week.”
The Steelheads led a relentless attack against the Admirals in the first meeting, scoring four goals on last year’s Second Team All-ECHL goaltender Jake Paterson and bursting out of the gate with 22 pucks on net. Norfolk’s rookie goaltender Ty Reichenbach fared better in his first ECHL start the following night, making several acrobatic saves in the first period and holding down the fort long enough for his team to build a three-goal lead against Idaho.
“It’s early in the year and we hadn’t seen a lot of adversity,” said forward Brady Brassart, who scored the Steelheads’ first goal of the season. “I don’t think we came out like we wanted to and I think we got a little bit frustrated with ourselves. We forgot why we were successful on Friday.”
The Steelheads never trailed in the season opener or in preseason play. An early deficit Saturday gave the Steelheads a test, and Reichenbach stifling several prime scoring opportunities only raised the challenge.
“I thought some good came out of it. I thought the third period really came together and we started to play well,” said Brassart. “We got some opportunities and needed to put a couple more in the net.”
Even with a different outcome on the scoreboard over the course of two nights, the Steelheads cracked the 40-shot mark in consecutive games for the first time since March of 2015.
“I think we did a good job of being strong in our own zone going forward, and we got pucks in behind their defensemen,” said White. “It’s being strong on pucks and keeping them filtered to the net. Obviously we’d like a couple more goals there, but we need to be better 5-on-5 and take away the goalie’s eyes.”
The third period surge on Saturday saw the Steelheads score twice in 1:32, including Steve McParland netting their second shorthanded tally in as many games to pull them within a goal. It wasn’t enough to pull out a win, but it did serve to show that the Steelheads are capable of kicking it up a notch when they need it most.
“Good teams find ways to win no matter how the team is playing that night. I think it’s good that we battled and stayed in the game,” said White. “There was no quit on the team and hopefully next time we get a different outcome.”