Preview: Lone Star Series

The Steelheads take a five-game unbeaten streak into the heart of Texas this weekend, visiting Allen Event Center for their first meetings of the season with the remodeled Allen Americans.

Idaho took five of six points from the Colorado Eagles last week at CenturyLink Arena, scoring 16 goals over the course of three games against a team that came into the series ranked fourth in the league defensively. The Steelheads will look for a similar output against the ECHL’s seventh-best defensive team in Allen, in search of their first road win of the season.

Brady Brassart carries a five-game points streak into the series, two games shy of his career-high, with two goals and seven points in that span. Linemates Justin Parizek and Steve McParland also did damage against the Eagles with five goals and nine points between them.

The Steelheads offensive explosion was aided by the season’s best power play performance, a four-goal night on Saturday. The Steelheads have power play goals in four of the last five games, totaling seven in that time.

The Americans boasted one of the league’s best scoring trios over the last three years with three-time league MVP Chad Costello, Greger Hanson, and Gary Steffes. The Americans now need to rework their attack, with Costello gone for Europe and Greger Hanson playing in Utah, while Steffes retired.

To rebuild their scoring base, they brought back an old friend in Casey Pierro-Zabotel, who won a Kelly Cup with the Americans in 2015-16 and then won another last season in Colorado while coming in second place in MVP voting. He’s off to another great start this year with 14 points in 11 games, tied for third in the ECHL in scoring.

The Allen blue line remains strong, with Eric Roy, David Makowski, and Joel Chouinard all back for another go-around. Makowski put up 50 points in 42 games last season for Allen and is at a point-per-game pace once again. Chouinard had the league’s best plus/minus rating last year.

Zach Pochiro has 13 points in his first 11 games, but was placed on reserve on Thursday afternoon. Goaltender Riley Gill, winner of three Kelly Cups and last year’s Goaltender of the Year, was placed on injured reserve Thursday as well and hasn’t played since October 21st. Stephon Williams and Jeremy Brodeur, son of Marty, have carried the vast majority of the workload this season for Allen.

The Steelheads enter the series with their own refurbished goaltending tandem, with Philippe Desrosiers joined by new Steelhead Ryan Faragher. Faragher’s rights were acquired from the Manchester Monarchs on Tuesday, and he signed a contract Wednesday afternoon. The newest Steelhead brings a career ECHL record of 51-36-9 to Boise.

 

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

The Steelheads offensive reawakening was going to be dependent upon a player outside the Parizek-Brassart-McParland trio catching fire, and Henrik Samuelsson is coming on strong after a dominant week against the Eagles. After netting a power play goal two weeks ago in Quad City, Samuelsson followed up with goals in each game of the series against Colorado, two of them on the power play, to give him goals in four of his last five contests. He could have had more, ringing a post on one chance and being robbed by Sam Brittain on another during the course of the series. The 2012 first-round draft pick leads the Steelheads with three power play markers and has at least four shots on goal in each of the last five contests.

 

AMERICAN TO WATCH

The Steelheads are well-aware of what Casey Pierro-Zabotel is capable of doing, but there’s another scoring threat that is just heading back to Allen that can make an impact in the two-game set. Bryan Moore has played just two games for Allen thus far, spending most of the start to this season with AHL San Jose where he played four games. Moore was returned to the Americans on Thursday, where he had a big year in 2016-17 with 27 goals and 51 points in 44 games, after going pointless in his first 12 contests. The former Utah Grizzly has played just five career games against Idaho, finding the scoresheet in just two of them for two goals and an assist.
KEY MATCHUP

A matchup that has traditionally centered on Corbin Baldwin and the Steelheads’ ability to shutdown Chad Costello and the league’s most lethal power play has now shifted, and it’s the Steelheads who may be able to impose their offensive might on an experienced returning Allen blue line. David Makowski and Eric Roy have been dangerous offensive weapons from the back end for the Americans, but it’s Joel Chouinard’s two-way play that has drawn tough defensive matchups and would likely have some of the responsibility in slowing Brady Brassart and company. That could potentially draw more favorable matchups for Jefferson Dahl and Will Merchant than in past episodes of this series, with the red-hot Henrik Samuelsson possibly benefiting as well. The Steelheads remain first in the league in shots per game (42.1) and saw some bang for their buck against the Eagles when they made the leap from last in the league in goals per game to 15th. It may be the Steelheads’ speed and skill, and the Americans’ ability to fight it off and counter, that dictates the weekend in Texas.