Utah Grizzlies: Far From Ideal

With Austin Ortega and James Melindy down from San Diego, Ryan Olsen and Rob Mann joined Zach Saar, Brad Navin, and C.J. Eick in the press box. Charley Graaskamp took over Olsen’s second line center duties, and Ortega initially slotting in with Ryan Misiak and Jon Puskar. Kevin Carr got the start once more.

The Grizzlies got off to a much sharper start than they had in Sunday’s aborted game. Chris Leibinger got the first shot of the night, in tight against Rapid City’s rookie backup, Christian Frey, and Utah also drew the first power play, as Michael Sdao got sent off for crosschecking at 2:48.

Utah allowed a short-handed breakaway, but Carr was more than up to the challenge, and shut the door.

Carr got run over (albeit gently), with 12:49 to go in the first, a crowd gathered, and somehow after that, Graaskamp was the only one to come out with a penalty.

Erik Higby made an absolutely phenomenal cross-crease pass to Brendan Harms on the two-on-one short-handed, which while it did not beat Frey, drew a penalty.

Utah was once again on the iffy end of a roughing call as a crowd gathered around Carr after the power play expired, and only Melindy was sent off just past the half-way mark.

Utah killed off the power play with relative ease, but Garrett Haar put the puck over the glass immediately thereafter, to put Rapid City back on the advantage.

Utah once again killed the penalty off, and Harms drew a tripping call against Peter Sivak, to make it briefly four-on-four before a Utah power play that struggled to get going.

At the end of a scoreless first, Utah led in shots 12-9, thanks to some truly great saves from Carr, and a good penalty kill.

A pass from Ortega to Mitch Jones on the point led to a nice shot, and a Utah power play at 2:12, and the Grizzlies went to work with a will, creating a high-tempo salvo of opportunities around Frey.

Graaskamp broke up a two-on-none at 4:11 and took a hooking call as a result, but Dante Salituro boarded Sam Windle just moments later, so the two teams went to 1:19 of four-on-four time once more.

Graaskamp came flying out of the box, and was hauled down, leading to a penalty shot for the first Grizz player to score in the shoot-out. Unfortunately, he waited too long to shoot, and Frey averted his attempt to stuff the puck past him.

However, a strong defensive move from Utah on one end led to an up-ice two-on-one from Misiak and Kyle Thomas, and the later made no mistake, giving Utah the 1-0 lead, from Misiak and Michael Pelech at 8:20.

Jones took a slashing call at 12;42, but Utah killed it off, and the rest of the period went largely in the Grizzlies’ favor,an up-ice rush from Liebinger, and a net-front look from Puskar being the most memorable.

After 40, shots were 23-15 for Utah, who held the 1-0 lead.

Rapid City kept Utah in their own end for the first minute or so of the third, but that’s not to say that they had possession of the puck for all that time. They did, however, get four of the first five shots in the final frame, and kept the Grizzlies fighting in their own zone, or chasing the puck down the ice.

Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly after all the Rapid City control, a bad pass in the defensive zone put the puck square on the stick of Pavel Jenys, and the Rush tied the game with 12:07 to go.

The Grizzlies had a good bounce-back shift, following the goal, with both Melindy and Puskar getting chances

Utah drew a slashing call at 10:49, but were unable to muster a shot.

Ryan Walters made a dandy play to strip a Rush player of the puck, but Carr shot the puck over the glass at 16:04 to put Utah on the kill. The Grizzlies’ penalty killers spent a substantial period of time in the offensive zone. Carr made a huge save, and Thomas blocked a shot, but the Rush took the 2-1 lead at 17:45 to give them their first lead against Utah of the season.

The Grizzlies pulled Carr, Ortega made a couple of nice moves to keep the puck on the move in the offensive zone, but at the end of 60, Rapid City held onto their lead, getting Frey his first pro win.

Carr played a strong game, and was awarded second star as a result, but didn’t get very much help later in the game, as the Grizzlies failed signally to put the game beyond Rapid City’s reach.

“We let them hang around too long, let them gain confidence as the game went on.” Tim Branham said afterwards. “I thought we had quite a few good scoring chances, didn’t put the puck in the net, didn’t play with enough desperation. We have to come out with a better effort tomorrow, or it’s not going to be a good outcome either.”

Melindy fit seamlessly back into the lineup, but you could tell that Ortega had never had a chance to skate with the team. There were quite a number of instances where it was clear that the new teammates weren’t quite sure where to expect each other.

When asked about his newest winger, Branham said, “It looked like he struggled with the altitude a little bit, I know that. I know he’s trying to keep shifts short and what not. He hasn’t played since December 9th or something, so it’s a little bit of an adjustment coming to this level and playing in the altitude for sure. But he’s got a good skill set, and hopefully we can get him open for some looks.”

Utah will complete Friday’s suspended game today at 1 PM at the Maverik Center. Utah leads 3-1 in that game with two periods to go.

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