The Steelheads couldn’t have asked for better results during their three-game trip to Budweiser Events Center last week, winning all three games against the Colorado Eagles for their first three-game sweep in Loveland since October 2012. Now the teams prepare for three more games this week at CenturyLink Arena, the final regular-season series ever between the two teams.
The Steelheads have won five of their last six games while moving within five points of the Mountain Division’s top spot. The first-place Eagles are in the midst of a six-game winless streak (0-5-1), their longest such streak this season.
Idaho showed a comeback knack in Loveland, overcoming 2-0 deficits last Wednesday and Friday to earn wins against a team that had only lost once at home in regulation all season prior to the series. The Steelheads have overcome deficits of two goals or greater to win six times this season. They are now 5-3-1 against the Eagles this year.
These teams last met at CenturyLink Arena during the first week of November, when the Steelheads took five of six points. The Steelheads are 14-8-3 at home this season, while the Eagles have gone 12-9-1 on the road and lost five straight road games in regulation.
Henrik Samuelsson had a strong series against the Eagles last week with a goal and five points, but the Steelheads will have to do without him to start this series. Samuelsson earned his first AHL call-up this season on Sunday when he signed a professional tryout agreement with the Rockford IceHogs.
The Steelheads showed plenty of scoring depth in Loveland. Steve McParland had three assists, raising his total to six goals and 12 points in nine games against the Eagles this season. Justin Parizek scored three goals over the three games and is currently riding a five-game points streak with three goals and seven points.
Jefferson Dahl made history on Saturday with his 19th goal and 50th point of the season on Saturday night, moving past Darrell Hay on the Steelheads all-time ECHL points list. Dahl now sits third on that list, eleven points behind Lance Galbraith and one point shy of number 200.
The series in Colorado was also one of Idaho’s strongest goaltending performances of the season. Ryan Faragher stopped 55 of 60 shots he saw over the first two games, as well as all eight shootout attempts he saw, and has now won four of his last five starts. Philippe Desrosiers clinched the sweep with a 26 save performance on Saturday, his 18th win of the season.
The Eagles frustrations over their last six games have extended to some of their best players. League-leading goal-scorer Michael Joly has no goals in three games, his longest drought of the season, and just one in his last six games. Such numbers would be insignificant for most players, but for Joly they represent his quietest stretch all year.
Matt Register leads all ECHL defensemen in scoring and has been a thorn in Idaho’s side since joining the Eagles last season, but he was held to two assists last weekend. The Eagles scoring attack has also been limited without the presence of Matt Garbowsky and Jesse Mychan, both out injured for the last nine games.
The Eagles have also struggled between the pipes without Joe Cannata. Cannata has been out injured for Colorado’s last seven games, leaving a contest against the Steelheads with a lower-body injury on January 26th. The Eagles have relied on Sam Brittain (.890 save percentage this season) and Lukas Hafner (.892) in his absence.
Heading into the final three contests between these teams at CenturyLink Arena, the Steelheads’ all-time record against the Eagles sits at 36-19-6.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Despite missing 20 games during his time with AHL Utica, Brady Brassart immediately picked up the leadership mantle once again upon his return to Idaho on January 26th and has been one of Idaho’s most dangerous scoring threats ever since. Brassart had three goals against the Eagles last week and has notched five goals and eight points in eight games since rejoining the lineup. Brassart also scored his second professional shootout goal on Friday night, the only goal of an eight-round contest. Brassart is producing at a rate of 1.07 points per game, the best pace of his career.
EAGLE TO WATCH
Without Jesse Mychan and Matt Garbowsky, and with Michael Joly therefore getting more attention from defenders, Drayson Bowman has shouldered more of the scoring load for Colorado. Bowman, who has 180 games of NHL experience on his resume, scored three goals against the Steelheads last week and has totaled five goals and ten points in nine contests against Idaho this season. Bowman has six goals and nine points in his last ten games, but carries a minus-6 rating over that period.
The Steelheads were the more disciplined team over the course of last week’s series, preferring to play between the whistles and not get carried into the scraps and skirmishes that usually characterize Steelheads-Eagles games. That paid off for Idaho on Friday and Saturday night, when they earned a 5-on-3 power play in each contest and made Colorado pay. The Steelheads enter the game with the 12th ranked power play and 11th ranked penalty kill in the league, and benefited last week largely from controlling the pace of play at 5-on-5. A disciplined approach will be key for the Steelheads in limiting the Eagles’ tenth-ranked power play and sticking to their game plan at even-strength.