Preview: Eagles Landing

After two frustrating nights in the Quad Cities, the Steelheads are back in Boise for a three-game series with the defending Kelly Cup champion Colorado Eagles. It’s the first meeting between the teams since last April, when the Eagles defeated the Steelheads in the first round of the playoffs on the way to their first title. The Eagles have gotten off to one of the best starts in the ECHL this year, while the Steelheads are hoping for their puck-luck to change.

The Steelheads are winless in their past four contests, but have picked up three points in the process with two overtime defeats and a loss in the shootout. During their skid, the Steelheads have outshot opponents 174-111 but been outscored 13-7. The Eagles won their first six games to start the season before falling for the first time on Saturday night in Rapid City.

The Steelheads hope to see more production for their efforts soon, leading the league in average shots on goal per game with 42.29 but ranking last in goals per game with 2.43. The Eagles have had no issues scoring goals, ranked fourth in the ECHL and averaging five goals per game in their last five contests playing against Norfolk, Worcester, and Rapid City.

One line that has continuously found offense for the Steelheads is the trio of Brady Brassart, Steve McParland, and rookie Justin Parizek. Parizek scored again for the Steelheads on Friday night and added an assist on Saturday, giving him seven points in six games and moving him into a tie for sixth place on the ECHL rookie scoring list. McParland added his second goal of the season on Saturday and Brassart had a point in each game of the series with the Mallards. With the exception of Idaho’s shutout loss in Utah on October 21st, a member of the Parizek-Brassart-McParland unit has registered at least a point in every game this season.

Captain Jefferson Dahl has six points in the season’s first seven games. He had four goals and ten points in ten games against the Eagles last season.

The Eagles’ makeup has changed somewhat from the roster that defeated the Steelheads last spring. Last year’s leading scorer for the Eagles, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, currently leads the league in scoring but is doing so in an Allen Americans uniform. Alex Belzile has started the season back in the AHL with San Antonio, while Luke Salazar and Darryl Bootland have both moved on. Matt Garbowsky is still with the Eagles, but has been on injured reserve since the third game of the season.

Even if Garbowsky does not return to action this week, there will be plenty of other familiar faces still in Eagles sweaters. Defending ECHL Defenseman of the Year Matt Register is again playing at better than a point-per-game pace with four goals and four assists in the season’s first seven games. Jake Marto and Teigan Zahn also return on the Colorado blue line.

There are two other Colorado returners who weren’t a part of the 2017 Kelly Cup run. Collin Bowman was with the Eagles for parts of three seasons, the last time in 2015-16 when he had 38 points in 48 games from the blue line. He’s back in Colorado after spending last season in Austria and has four points in his first seven games. Jesse Mychan left Colorado midway through last season for Austria after scoring 23 goals in the season’s first 34 games, but he’s back in Loveland again and has five points in five outings.

Among newcomers making a splash, Michael Joly leads the team with nine points and is tied for the league lead with six goals. Joly spent last season split between AHL Hartford and Greenville, tallying 23 goals and 40 points in 29 games for the Swamp Rabbits.

The Steelheads went 6-4-1 against Colorado in the regular season last year, including a 4-2-0 record at home.

 

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

Goaltender Philippe Desrosiers has managed to keep putting points in the standings for Idaho despite little goal support in the early going. Desrosiers has started the season 2-0-2, with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. Those numbers are a strong improvement over his stats in 13 games with Idaho last season, and the third-year pro has been a reliable backstop for a Steelheads team that has largely controlled the pace of play during his starts. Desrosiers is 2-2-3 in eight career appearances against the Eagles.

 

EAGLE TO WATCH

Always an offensive threat, defenseman Matt Register made his biggest impact last season and carried it into the playoffs for Colorado. Register led ECHL defensemen with 64 points and ranked second with 18 goals in regular season play, and then added eight goals and 24 playoff points that included three goals and nine points against Idaho. The spring performance earned Register Kelly Cup Playoff MVP honors, and with four goals and eight points already this season, he remains a dangerous weapon.
KEY MATCHUP

The Steelheads hope their goal-scoring windfall will come this week against Colorado, a team that gave up four goals in each of the last two games to Rapid City but is still ranked fourth in the league defensively. With a deluge of offense not guaranteed, the Steelheads will continue to rely on goaltending to be the difference-maker in close games and to get them back in the win column. Philippe Desroseirs remains unbeaten in regulation and has put up promising numbers early, but the Eagles bring in Lukas Hafner in net. Hafner quieted the Steelheads last spring and went 14-2-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average in the playoffs as a rookie. Still technically a rookie, Hafner has missed much of the season thus far, starting the Eagles’ first game before missing five due to injury. Hafner returned to the net on Saturday and gave up three goals on three shots before being pulled. Whether it’s Hafner in net again or battery-mate Sam Brittain, a stingy Desrosiers or Branden Komm down the other end can be the difference between two teams that generate a lot of scoring chances.