With Taylor Richart out, and Chris Leibinger no longer with the team, the Grizzlies went with five defensemen, eleven forwards, and scratched Charley Graaskamp in favor of Nate Mitton. Joel Rumpel got the start behind some very different looking lines.
“I thought that was a fun game.” Tim Branham said after the game. “That was a good hockey game full of lots of mistakes, that’s for sure. Our power play’s hurting us, that’s for sure. But you’ve got to give credit too, they have one of the best kills in the league, so obviously if we could have taken advantage on the power play, or had we not gotten scored on on the power play, either one it’s a different story. But that’s a good hockey club, and I’m proud of the way our boys — I thought we came out really flat, they scored that first goal, it was like we were standing still, then we took it to them hard.”
That first goal came 1:05 in, when the Utah defense failed to pick up Joey Ratelle.
About five minutes four minutes later, Drayson Bowman and Travis Howe both got two for roughing, but the resulting four-on-four saw no change of score, or shots.
At 3:51 Howe and Teigan Zahn squared off at center ice and duked it out in a battle of heavyweights to the great delight of all 7,074 fans in attendance. It was a fairly even fight, but Howe got the last punch. Both got five, and on the very next shift, a sprawling Kyle Thomas poked the puck past Joe Cannata to tie the game.
Brad Navin took a hooking call at 9:06, but Ryan Olsen took an offensive zone slashing call about a minute later, and the teams played four-on-four, before a Utah power play.
Jake Marchment just narrowly missed tipping in a shot from Sam Babintsev, but the Eagles returned to full strength with no change in score, though the Grizzlies had taken over the shot lead.
With 3:08 to go, Ryan Misiak was boarded, and headed straight for the locker room, though he ended up not missing a shift. Ratelle got two for boarding.
With just over two to go, all nine guys tangled after a whistle, resulting not so much in a line brawl as a line tussle. James Melindy and Ben Storm were both sent off to the locker rooms.
However, with 46 seconds to go, and the Eagles back at full strength, the Grizzlies coughed up the puck at Colorado’s blue line, and Ratelle made it 2-1.
At the end of the second, Utah trailed 2-1, despite out-shooting the Eagles 16-7.
The Grizzlies came out hot to start the second, Brendan Harms’ shot whistling just over the cross bar, and then Utah drew a power play at 1:06 as a Utah player was hauled down in front of the Eagles’ net.
They put up six shots on the advantage, including several as Cannata was down, but didn’t have the puck covered.
The third line caused all sorts of chaos around the net at around the four minute mark, and Maxwell got dinged for roughing after he gave Olsen a couple of extra shoves.
Gage Ausmus took a hooking call 25 seconds later, but the Grizzlies killed it off, and Melindy sprang Mitch Maxwell straight from the box to tie the game all alone short-handed.
The chippy game continued, and at with half the period to go, Thomas and Gabriel Verpaelst had to be separated.
Walters was tripped up at 13:08, and Utah went to the power play. They got some zone time, but the biggest play was a short-handed breakaway that Rob Mann just barely got back in time to muddle, and Rumpel made a great save.
The play continued, fairly free flowing and continuous through the end of the period, and with 2:41 to go, the Eagles took a cross-checking minor.
At that point, however, the Eagles went the other way, and Gabriel Verpaelst beat Rumpel glove-side to make it 3-2 short handed.
With a couple of seconds left on the power play, Navin took a tripping call, and the Grizzlies ended the second on the kill, out-shooting the Eagles 33-20, but trailing 3-2.
Utah opened the third with 1:17 of penalty kill time, but they kept the Eagles chasing the puck back into their own zone for most of the whole of the disadvantage.
Michael Pelech took a tripping penalty of his own at 5:21, but the Grizzlies killed that one off too. The most dangerous opportunity went to Olsen, who danced into the offensive zone, was leveled by Melindy, got the puck back, and then had Rumpel calmly glove down his shot.
Unfortunately, Ratelle capped off his hat trick with 9:04 to go. Things looked a little bleak for the next few minutes, but the Grizzlies weren’t done just yet. At 13:25, Harms capitalized on a gorgeous shot, putting the Grizzlies within one, before drawing a power play on the next shift. The advantage accomplished nothing.
Although the teams went four-on-four at 16:44 after Thomas and Brady Shaw got sent off after a tangle by the benches, and Utah went on the four-on-three for a minute before pulling Rumpel for the extra skater, they were unable to tie it up.
Despite the loss, it was a fun game, and the Grizzlies put up another good fight. The difference, once again, being a defensive lapse or two. As per usual, games against the Eagles are never boring.
Thomas got the third star of the game, and he and Harms both led the team with five shots each. Having put up 42 total shots on Cannata (whose .933 SV% leads the league), all but two Grizzlies registered shots.
“The shots were 26-11 at one point,” Branham said. “You can’t play much better than that. We missed a few key opportunities, I mean, they have an NHL goaltender. They have a goaltender that doesn’t belong in this league, they’re lucky, but it is what is. I thought we did a great job, I thought they played a much better third period, first half of the third period, and then we kind of took it to them from then on, but it was a good hockey game, to be honest. We’re a couple of players away from beating a team like that, unfortunately. You’ve got to give them credit, they battled hard for sure.”
And they did it without Richart, who has, over the course of the season, developed into the best defenseman on the team, relied upon in all situations.
“There’s definitely still hope. Definitely losing Taylor in the last two games — he got hurt early last game — really hurts us, as far as power play, match-ups, things of that nature, it is what it is. The team, they still believe. There are six games left, and the teams that we’re chasing have some tough schedules. We’re never going to quit. That’s for sure.”
Getting those two points against the Eagles is a matter of taking care of their own game first.
“They’re a great team,”Brendan Harms said, “So everything you give them they take advantage of. They’re very opportunistic, so I think we’ve just got to shut it down defensively, be a little better in our own zone, take away what we’re giving them.”
Utah will hope to put all that into action on Military Night this Saturday (tonight) when they once again face Colorado for the penultimate time this season.
Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff.