Utah Grizzlies: For Want of a Goal…

After Friday’s travesty of a third period, there was a shake up in the lineup once more. Brad Navin, C.J. Eick, and Mitch Jones all drew in for Ryan Olsen, Zach Saar, and Garrett Haar. Kevin Carr got the start as the Grizzlies looked for redemption.

The first seven minutes were all Utah, as the Grizzlies shot the puck from everywhere, Chris Leibinger, and Greger Hanson having especially memorable blasts from the point, and Utah put up eight of the first ten shots.

The Grizzlies’ pressure paid off, and they drew the first man advantage of the game at 8:39. It was one of Utah’s better showings on the power play, as they got all kinds of chances, making the defenders move, and creating traffic in front of the net. Unfortunately, Charles Williams was sharp, and Manchester returned to full strength.

Manchester got rolling after the power play, but not unobstructed, as Utah kept working hard. The Monarchs got a couple of good shifts in the Grizzlies’ zone, but the weren’t able to accomplish much by way of shots, and were largely kept around the perimeter.

At the end of twenty, shots were 15-6 for the Grizzlies, Richart leading with three.

Leibinger got his first of the season on a rebound, making it 1-0 20 seconds into the second. The assists went to Windle and Misiak. It was great to see Leibinger score, as he’d looked dangerous throughout the first period.

Pelech took two penalties one right after the other at 1:33 and 3:43, but the Grizzlies’ kill, generally pretty good, was especially excellent.

Misiak drew a power play for Utah at 5:51, but the puck jumped over Watson’s stick on the point, and Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman beat Carr short-handed.

The power play came to an end, Utah pressured, but Manchester went the other way, and scored again, this time from Matt Schmalz at 8:18.

Utah kept working hard, and got some good shifts in following the goal, and they drew another power play in the offensive zone at 13:01. Harms was crosschecked in the offensive zone, but there was no call, and Manchester went the other way.

The play went back and forth, but Utah got a majority of the zone time in the final minutes of the period, getting great shifts from Hanson, Pelech, Harms, Navin, and the indomitable engine that is C.J. Eick. After 40, shots were 27-19, though Manchester led 2-1.

Manchester kept the puck in the offensive zone in the first five minutes of the third, but the Grizzlies did a great job of stealing pucks, and keeping a lot of the more dangerous chances away from Carr. What did get through, Carr smothered with calm authority.

Leibinger took a tripping call at 5:27, but the penalty kill once again had a pair of shifts in which Manchester was forced to chase them around their own end, and got a couple of really good saves from Carr.

The Pelech line had a good shift about half-way through the period, Hanson, Harms, Leibinger, and Windle especially looking good. They followed that up with another fast shift from the Navin line.

Hanson had a beautiful shift, but the puck ended up on Joel Lowry’s stick, and neither Watson nor Windle were able to take the shot away.  So the Grizzlies found themselves down 3-1 with just over seven left.

Richart was hit hard up high with about five minutes to go in the period, but he appeared to shake it off, remaining in the game.

Zac Lynch deked out Jones and Melindy at 15:26, and though Carr got the initial save, the puck squeaked through for the 4-1 goal.

Utah got a late power play with 46 seconds left in the game, and they pulled Carr for the extra skater. It was not to be, however, and Utah fell 4-1, despite putting up 37 shots.

Unlike Friday’s game, where the goals in the third period were the the result of a complete lack of any kind of effort from the Grizzlies, Saturday saw good effort for a full 60. However, while the work ethic was there, the execution wasn’t always, and Manchester capitalized on all the little breakdowns. It didn’t help either that there has been very little Utah goal-scoring.

“It’s been the same script for, I dunno, six-seven games now.” Tim Branham said. “Not getting the goal scoring when you need it, and I mean, when you put up forty shots, you expect to get a different result. In the three games here, our forwards had two goals, so that just tells you right there what the story is. Back to the drawing board here, either we learn to score goals, or bring people in that can score goals, we’ll figure that out here next week.”

While mistakes ultimately cost the Grizzlies on Saturday, Branham was far more concerned with the bigger issue.

“On the turnovers, the offensive blue-line turnovers, we gotta limit those. But to be honest, I thought we played a really good game, I thought we out played them. I mean, there were spurts there in the third period where they kind of took it to us a bit, but you could say we took it to them for the majority of the game, we just didn’t score any goals, and you win by scoring goals.”

“Even Wednesday, we lost in the shoot-out. It was 1-1” he added. “We scored one goal again tonight. You’re not going to win a lot of games when you’re scoring one goal a game.”

“But again,” he reiterated later, “I thought as a group, we played really well. We’ve got a lot of role guys that are playing with a lot of energy, playing the right way, being aggressive. We’re not getting those hard working goals, as many as we should be, so we’ve gotta find ways to score goals, or bring people in.”

After hitting his stride with Ryan Olsen and Ryan Misiak, Brendan Harms has continued to play really well on every line he’s joined. He hasn’t produced much in the last few games, but he’s regularly one of the hardest working guys on the ice. He and Eick are undoubtedly among the role guys mentioned by Branham.

A couple of mistakes aside, the Grizzlies defence once again stepped up in a pretty big way on Saturday night, as Leibinger put in another strong performance, and got the team’s only goal.

“Our defence are great. They’re shouldering the offensive load right now, and he’s another one of those guys.” Branham said of the blue-line. “It was a great pass by Windle to him on the back door. Again, that’s a D-man to a D-man. I mean, our system, we have a system in place where our D-men are very active in the O-zone, which is probably one of the reasons why our D are scoring so much. I think our D have done an amazing job. They’ve played really well. I know one of our guys got walked there on the fourth goal, or third goal, but on a whole, I think our D are doing really well.”

While Leibinger would have preferred to get his first Grizzlies goal in a win, he added, “It is good to get the monkey off your back. I’ve played a few games, and I’ve been close, but to finally see one go in was nice.”

Hopefully a few other players will join him on the stat sheet as the Grizzlies head out to Colorado and Idaho in the next few weeks.


Image courtesy of Tim Broussard and staff

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