On the night before Thanksgiving, the lineup got a bit of a shakeup ahead of the game between the ECHL affiliates of the Ducks and the Kings.
In terms of personnel, Erik Higby drew in for Travis Howe, and Kevin Carr, sporting his new Grizz coloured gear, once again got the start. In terms of lineup, Ryan Olsen started the game on the wing with Greger Hanson, and Michael Pelech, Higby centered Brendan Harms and Ryan Misiak, while Zach Saar lined up with Brad Navin and C.J. Eick, and Ryan Walters took shifts on a number of different lines.
Olsen and Hanson led the charge shortly off the face-off, and Olsen drew a power play 35 seconds into the game. Utah did eventually get set up, but got no shots on the advantage. Misiak took a tripping call to head off an uncontested breakaway at 3:04 but the Monarchs were also unable to capitalize, thanks to a couple great saves from Carr.
Carr continued to be essential to keeping the game scoreless, as Manchester out-shot Utah 4-2 through the middle of the frame.
Towards the final five minutes in the first, Pelech got what looked like an absolute gimmie into an empty net, but somehow Charles Williams snagged the puck, leaving Pelech incredulous.
On the very next shift, Manchester came back and scored at 15:14, and the Monarchs won the possession game in the final five minutes of the period. At the end of 20, Utah led in shots 13-8, but trailed 1-0 where it counted.
The Grizzlies came out more aggressively in the second, throwing their weight around, and skating hard.
Pelech made a great pass to Olsen about four minutes in, but once again Williams was there to make the save. Carr continued to match Williams, save for save in his own end.
Hanson carried on his power play drawing ways, and Utah went to the advantage at 5:40. Navin was boarded on the power play, and the Grizzlies had a very brief five-on-three, and then another power play. Walters made a great defensive play on his own end, and the Higby, Harms, Misiak line got a good look, but Utah couldn’t capitalize.
The Monarchs had a lengthy stretch in the offensive zone, thereafter, leading to a Grizzlies penalty. The penalty kill was sharp though, and kept Manchester chasing the puck back down the ice. Walters even got a short-handed chance.
Colton Saucerman went into Carr at 13:32, so the teams played four-on-four for six seconds, and then Utah went to the power play. The first shifts of the advantage went well, and then the Grizzlies had to chase the puck around. Just when it looked like yet another power play would die with no change in score, Higby got his first of the year on a Harms rebound. Misiak got the secondary assist on the tying goal.
The shifts that followed the goal saw the Grizzlies flying around the Monarchs’ zone, but Misiak went to the box with less than four minutes left in the period. Harms clanged the post on a short-handed two-on-one, and the Grizzlies killed the rest of the penalty off.
Pelech got a high-sticking penalty shortly after the return to full strength, and the penalty killers went to work. Olsen and Higby started the kill well, and Utah got three clears in less than a minute, ending the period tied 1-1.
The Grizzlies had 1:08 of penalty kill time to start the third, and benefited from the Monarchs’ inability to capitalize on what looked like a couple of sure goals. Fortunately for Utah, these occurrences ended up being something of a recurring theme.
Jones was boarded at 1:41, and the first unit power play of Walters, Hanson, and Olsen created some nice chances, before Manchester flew into the Utah end. Higby got another look short side, but despite some good zone time, they spent much of the power play on the perimeter.
As the game progressed, the lines started to see some blending. Olsen was shifted back to the middle of the ice with Harms and Misiak, Walters taking his spot with Hanson and Pelech.
Manchester got one of those dangerous chances on the face-off after a time out with just about ten minutes left in the period, but the Grizzlies were better prepared than they have been in similar situations. Hanson made a heads up play to create a turnover, and Walters just barely missed the net on Pelech’s pass.
Haar had a good shot block, and Pelech had an even better play, being the only player who didn’t lose sight of the puck as it deflected high into the air in front of the net.
The Grizzlies dodged a major bullet when the Monarchs got in four-on-one but flubbed the pass with just over five minutes to go. Harms and Watson had a terrific shift, as Utah answered with a strong offensive zone push of their own.
The end of the period saw the Grizzlies tied once again, and once again headed to overtime.
Carr was phenomenal in OT as Manchester dominated the extra minutes. He made a huge save about one minute in, and then thirty seconds later, Manchester clanged the post. The Monarchs got a two-on-none, but Carr turned that aside as well, and then got help from another post. Watson took the puck away, and the next shift, Carr made another save as a Manchester player went into the net behind him.
The Monarchs got another two-on-none when a Grizzlies’ player blew a tire at the blue line, but once again Carr was there to take away the chance. Olsen pushed the puck just wide on a spin-o-rama in front of the net and the Grizzlies pressed furiously in the dying seconds, but the game went to a shoot out for the first time this season.
Carr was sharp in the shoot out, but Williams was sharper, and Utah fell 2-1.
Carr’s spectacular 25 save game earned him second star of the night, and the Grizzlies picked up yet another standings point in the loss.
“I thought Kevin Carr was phenomenal.” Tim Branham said of Carr’s outing. “He was just tremendous. Has been all year, and we’re lucky we have him. I thought Erik Higby was excellent today,” he added, “I thought our D-core played really well, and I thought C.J. Eick had a really good game.”
Navin was also very involved, as were Olsen and Harms. The team effort was there, once again, but the execution just wasn’t quite up to par.
Utah now have points in eleven of their last thirteen games and after their abysmal 0-4 start, they are 6-2-4-1. It would, however, be nice to come out on the winning side of these OT games.
What do the Grizzlies have to do to come away with the win in the next games against Manchester? Unsurprisingly, Branham says it all boils down to getting goals.
“We got a lot of scoring chances that we didn’t capitalize on. Guys gotta start putting the puck in the net, it’s a simple as that. I thought we were not very good structurally, I thought this was one of our worst games, structurally, that we’ve played this year, and we still hung around the game and had chances to win it, and didn’t put the puck in. That’s a good thing going forward, we’ve just got to focus a little more, and make sure that we bear down on our scoring chances.”
The three-game series against the Monarchs continues Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Picture courtesy of Tim Broussard and Jess Fleming