Utah Grizzlies: Back to Square One

Coming off a winning weekend, Utah looked to finally pick up their first win against Colorado. In their six match ups this season, Utah played them close with one exception, and pushed into OT three times. With Colorado missing one of their leading goalscorers in Michael Joly, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take it to the Eagles. Alas, it was not to be. At least, not in terms of goal-scoring.

The Ryan Line, together with Sam Windle, Chris Leibinger and Kevin Carr started for the Grizzlies, while Rob Mann drew in, and Charley Graaskamp sat this one out.

The second line spent half their first shift in the Eagles’ zone, and half in their own. That first foray was more or less the only time they spent in the offensive zone in the first four minutes, as Utah repeatedly struggled to get the puck out of their own end.

The Ryan Line got both of the first two shots for the Grizzlies before Greger Hanson took a high-stick, and Utah went to a four minute power play. It did not begin well, Carr having to make a big save almost immediately off the draw.

The power play decidedly lacked in power, but they finally got set up in the last 30 seconds or so, and carried the momentum through in the shifts that followed. Their hard work drew another power play at 11:35 as Jake Marto returned to the box for hooking this time.

The second power play went far far better than the first, but didn’t capitalize. Michael Pelech took a holding call at 13:53, but the Utah penalty kill spent more time in the offensive zone than Colorado did. In fact, Mitch Jones’ shot on Joe Cannata was the only shot.

The Grizzlies got another power play with 1:05 left in the frame, and finished the first in the offensive zone, out-shooting the Eagles 13-3, but with the score still 0-0.

The 45 seconds of power play time to open the second were disjointed at best, but Utah put their foot down on the gas pedal afterwards. On one end, Kyle Thomas went on a beautiful spin around the Eagles’ net, and on the other, Garrett Haar made a really nice play separating player from puck. The third line followed that up with a flurry of chances around Cannata as he was lying on his back in the crease, but were unable to get anything past him.

Ryan Olsen took a holding call about five minutes into the frame as he made a bid in the defensive zone to take away a scoring chance, but Utah killed off that penalty as well.

Through the middle of the frame, both teams played some disjointed hockey, and both got a couple of looks. Past the ten minute mark, the Eagles began to play with more coherence, and the Grizzlies struggled to do the same. Fortunately, Carr continued to see the few shots that did get through to him, and for all that there was some sloppiness, Utah did a good job of clearing out any rebounds.

Colorado continued to press through the last five minutes of the period, getting a couple of lengthy, back-to-back shifts in the Grizzlies’ end, but Utah finished the frame with a glorious chance by Ryan Walters, and a cross-crease move by Hanson.

The teams hit the locker rooms still 0-0, shots 24-10 for Utah.

The Ryan Line once again started the third with some good defensive play, and then followed that up a few shifts later with a strong offensive zone shift, but neither team was able to solve the opposing goalie.

Colorado momentarily thought they had, but Drayson Bowman’s shot rang the post, and somehow, miraculously ended up under Carr. The Grizzlies took a high-sticking call at 14:24, but yet again did a good job killing it off.

Regulation solved nothing, so Utah headed to their league-leading eleventh OT, and their fourth against Colorado. The Eagles maintained possession through the beginning of OT, but Olsen, and Misiak pushed back, and the Grizzlies got their own stretch of possession. Hanson got a gorgeous opportunity one-on-one against Cannata, but the puck rolled off his stick before he could get the shot off.

With 1:13 to go, Branham went with Pelech, Thomas, and Hanson, but extra time went the same way as regulation, and neither team could break the deadlock.

The Grizzlies’ shoot-out woes continued, as the Eagles scored two to Utah’s none, and they took it 1-0.

Once again, Carr did a terrific job, and though he didn’t get one of the stars of the game, he definitely deserved one. Overall, Utah played really well…and yet couldn’t bury any of their chances in a game that was an abrupt return to the status quo of great play with nothing to show for it after last weekend’s offensive outpouring.

On the positive side, in addition to Carr’s shut out, the defensive play has never missed a beat, even without two of their best defencemen in James Melindy and Cliff Watson. A lot of that is down to Chris Leibinger, who has stepped up in a big way, as well as to the skill of Jones and Richart. On the less positive side, while Utah got 20 shots in the first, 11 in the second, and only three in the third and OT. On the other hand, they weren’t exactly haemorrhaging shots against, keeping Colorado to three in the first, seven in the second, nine in the third, and four in OT.

Moreover, the Grizzlies did a good job staying disciplined, only taking three penalties, and killing them all off with very strong play. Jones got five shots, Hanson got four, the Ryans, Zach Saar, and Brad Navin all had three, while only four Grizzlies were held off the shot chart.

Branham was very pleased with his team’s play without the puck, and on the defensive side of things against the best team in the west, but was understandably less pleased with the return to lack of scoring. He stressed again the importance of burying chances on the power play, and finding a way to finish on all those scoring chances against a better team than Rapid City.

They’ll have another chance on the road against Colorado on Thursday, before returning home to play the Eagles on the 23rd.

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