The Grizzlies got off to a very good start in their final home game against Colorado on Monday night, as Cam Reid opened the scoring at 1:42 with assists from C.J. Eick and Phil Pietroniro. Unfortunately, however, the advantage they’d established evaporated as they ran into some penalty trouble.
Martin Nemcik took a holding call at 7:08, but Garrett Haar’s hard work behind the Grizzlies’ net drew a penalty and evened out the play. However about four minutes later, Michael Sdao was tripped up and flew into Faragher. Faragher wasn’t entertained, and laid into him, which resulted in two Utah penalties, one to Nemcik for hooking, and one to Faragher for roughing. Matt Register got off three big shots from the point on the five-on-three before the next one finally beat Faragher to tie the game.
Erik Higby took a double minor for high-sticking at 13:09, and Register scored yet again on the 5-on-3. The Grizzlies were able to kill off the remainder of the penalty, thanks in large part to Haar’s excellent play, and Colorado took a penalty of their own with 22 seconds left in the period.
After 20 minutes, the game was tied 1-1, and Utah outshot them 11-9.
The Grizzlies got off to another great start in the second, as Michael Pelech made it 2-1 24 seconds into the frame with assists from Marc-André Lévesque and Mathieu Aubin.
Austen Brassard got a beautiful breakaway all alone from off the bench, but was tied up, and no call was made. Faragher and Haar continued to impress, Faragher made some terrific saves, and Haar also had a nice scoring chance. Register took a slashing penalty with 13:18 to go. Utah was unable to generate anything on the man advantage, and Faragher had to make an incredible pair of saves as the Eagles pounced on some egregious turn overs.
However, just when it looked like Colorado was prepared to take the bit in their mouth and run off with the game, Pelech scored his second of the period from Tim Daly. Haar got the secondary assist, his first for Utah, and a nice touch to a great game.
Pelech took a tripping call with 4:34 to go, but C.J. Eick, who had looked terrific so far, got a glorious short-handed breakaway, but unfortunately his shot went wide. However, they killed off the remainder of the penalty, and at the end of 40, Utah led 3-2, and the shots were tied 22-22.
The third period did not get off to an altogether auspicious start, as the Eagles kept the Grizzlies playing in their own end, and Utah iced the puck. However, they averted danger, and Daly drew a tripping penalty behind the Utah net.
The Grizzlies struggles on the power play continued against the Eagles, however, as Darryl Bootland made it 3-3 with 1:03 to go on the Utah man advantage.
The special teams issues continued for the Grizzlies, as they took a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct at 9:51, and despite two terrific saves from Faragher, the puck continued to pinball, and Jackson Houck made it 4-3 about a minute later.
Faragher and Haar continued to have strong games, Faragher turned aside a breakaway, and shortly thereafter, Haar made a perfect sliding play to prevent a shot on the 2-on-1.
Utah tried to make a game of it, but despite a power play in the final two minutes of the game, and pulling Faragher for the extra attacker, Colorado scored a short handed empty netter for the dagger with 37 seconds to go.
When the buzzer sounded, the Grizzlies found themselves the losers of three straight, outshot 33-31. They definitely did not play badly, but special teams cost them. Every single one of Colorado’s goals was scored either on the power play, or the penalty kill, and the Grizzlies’ power play – though they did score one on the man advantage – really hurt them as the Eagles’ penalty kill jumped on any mistake or hesitation.
“I thought we definitely played well enough to win.” Said Branham after the game, “Special teams was a huge part of the last two games, and they’re pretty good on special teams, so we’ve got to make sure we tighten up in that area.”
“We’ve got to play that same way. Be a little more disciplined, stay out of the penalty box a little bit. I didn’t think some of those penalties were warranted. I thought we were on the wrong end of quite a few of them, to be honest, but that’s the way it goes, and you’ve got to battle through it.”
He had good things to say of Eick and Haar as well:
“[Eick’s] full of energy. He’s a guy that works hard each and every shift, and his speed is tough to defend, so we like getting him out there on the open ice, he brings it every game. It’s great for a coach when you know what you’re going to get out of a player every night. You definitely know what you’re going to get out of him each and every night.”
He added that he thought the contest was the second in which Haar was theGrizzlies best defenseman.
With their loss, they find themselves one point behind Missouri, and five behind Alaska. They’ve got eight games left, so the playoffs are certainly not out of the question, but (as they have all year) they face a very stiff uphill battle.
Then again, it remains unwise to count them out entirely.
They play tonight in Colorado, where they hope to return to their early season success against the Eagles.