Following a strong weekend, Grizzlies fans were greeted on Monday morning with the astounding news that Kevin Carr was headed to Zagreb, and the news didn’t get any better as it turned out that Ryan Olsen too was Europe-bound.
With Cliff Watson playing in the All-Star game, and Pelech out, injured, Garrett Haar, Brad Navin, and C.J. Eick all returned to the lineup. Travis Howe returned as well, following his suspension.
The Grizzlies came out hard, largely controlling possession, and getting shots on Adam Vay, all the while keeping Rapid City away from Angus Redmond.
Navin appeared to pick up right where he left off, getting chances, but having no luck finding the back of the net.
Peter Sivak was by far the most dangerous looking player on the team early, but it was Riley Weselowski who made it 1-0 at 14:41.
Sivak also took the first penalty of the night, a slash, and Utah went to the power play with 4:02 to go in the frame.
Chris Leibinger made a terrific move after he lost the puck at the blue-line, and caused just enough chaos that Redmond was able to sweep the puck aside.
At the end of 20, despite being the visibly superior team, Utah headed to the locker room down 1-0, out-shooting the Rush 16-8.
Ryan Misiak began the second centering Austin Ortega and Brendan Harms, while Navin took Ortega’s spot on the third line. With just over four gone in the second, shots were 17-8 for Utah, but the possession was much less one-sided. Rob Mann made a really nice hit to prevent the Rush from leaving the zone, and it led almost immediately to a beautiful shot from Kyle Thomas in the high-slot, but once again, the puck went right into Vay.
Misiak, Harms, and Ryan Walters followed that up with a strong shift, but shortly afterwards, Rapid City had a couple of shifts of their own, forcing Redmond to make some big saves.
Thomas, Walters, Ortega, Eick, and Jon Puskar all had strong shifts, and Eick drew a boarding call with 3:40 to go in the period. Five seconds later, Josh Elmes took a delay of game penalty, putting the Grizzlies on a lengthy five-on-three. It most certainly paid off, with Ortega, Walters, and Thomas connecting for Ortega’s third goal (and sixth point) in six games.
With moments left in the second, there was a pile up around Redmond. Chase Lang and Mitch Jones may have started the kerfuffle, but Thomas definitely ended it. He got five for fighting and two for roughing, while Lang only got five for fighting.
At the end of forty, the game was tied 1-1, shots 26-21 for the Grizzlies, who would start the third with 1:25 of penalty kill time.
Of course, that’s exactly when Sivak capitalized. Just 27 seconds into the period 2-1 Rapid City.
On the other hand, the Grizzlies didn’t deflate, and with 16:56 to go, Puskar made a gorgeous move. It initially looked like Vay had it, but the light and goal-horn went off, so the officials gathered to discuss it. It was declared no goal, which was unfortunate, but definitely looked like the right call.
Navin drew a slashing call on the next shift, but never really got organized. They got another chance on the advantage about six minutes later, but despite some terrific plays from Leibinger, who is such a catalyst for offense and who was especially noticeable quarterbacking the power play, Utah was unable to tie the game.
About four minutes after that, Leibinger made what looked like a terrific defensive play, but was sent off for hooking. The Grizzlies killed it off in style, however. Walters nearly got in on a short-handed chance, Higby and Misiak ran the Rush around their own end, and a post, a big save from Redmond, and another strong shift from Walters and Thomas got Leibinger out of the box.
With a minute to go in a 2-1 game, they pulled Redmond, Leibinger was once again buzzing, but Rapid City got an empty netter right at the buzzer to put the game away.
Redmond stepped into the void left by Carr, and came up huge, turning in what was probably his best start this season. Ortega continues to be strong, getting third star of the game, and Chris Leibinger is a force to be reckoned with.
“I thought we outplayed them, we had lots of scoring chances, once again you’re in that situation where you can’t score goals.” Tim Branham said after the game. “I thought we outworked them the majority of the game” he added, “I thought we out-chanced them. Obviously I didn’t like their goals that they scored, but we have to score more than one goal, and we scored five-on-three. So we have to do a better job of burying our chances.”
Now on to Carr and Olsen going to Europe. It feels a little like the rug got yanked out from under the team just when it looked like they’d finally tacked it down. But, now is also a good time to remember that the entire blue line had to be rebuilt last year, Ryan Faragher got hurt, and the team still climbed out of a ridiculous hole to make the playoffs.
The Grizzlies already proved that they could comfortably overcome Hanson’s absence with players already on the roster, and while Utah has seemed to struggle line-stability with Olsen out of the lineup (and this game did not help that impression), that’s still only two players that need to be replaced. (Though it certainly isn’t going to be fun with Pelech and Graaskamp out for at least a month…)
Even better, by the time this past was actually written, Sean Maguire has already joined the team, and at least based on his ECHL numbers, he looks like he could be pretty good.
There’s half a season left to play, and the Grizzlies have overcome worse odds than they’re up against now. Things are looking rough, but don’t pack it in just yet.
It ain’t over till it’s over.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.