Utah Grizzlies: Saturday Night’s Alright

The lineups saw a bit of a shuffle again on Saturday, Brendan and the Ryans getting a new lease on life with Brendan Harms, Ryan Walters, and Ryan Misiak. Todd Skirving centered Austin Ortega and Alex Dostie, while Brad Navin and Kyle Thomas were joined by Mitch Hults. C.J. Eick also drew in for Travis Howe, and Sean Maguire got the start.

The Grizzlies came out skating and shooting hard, jumping out to a 3-1 shot count, but Thomas was a little too overzealous, and took a cross-checking call at 1:33. The penalty trouble continued when Navin took a high-sticking call at 3:52, but Utah killed off both five-on-three and five-on-four. Brendan and the Ryans came flying in on a three-on-one, Ryan Faragher stopped it, and unfortunately, the Steelheads went the other way and scored one of their own.

Skirving was the next Grizz player to head to the box at 11:51, but Utah only allowed one shot, and got one of their own before it was killed off. Dostie and Ortega had a good chance, but they weren’t able to connect cleanly, and with five to go, shots were 9-8 for Idaho, who led 1-0.

Brendan and the Ryans did what they do best, running Idaho around their own zone, and getting shots, but were unable to convert.

Utah drew a penalty, as Hults was hauled down in the defensive zone, and then they got a second with 1:04 to go. Despite getting a couple of chances from Hults right before the buzzer, after 20, Utah still trailed 1-0, though now out-shooting the Steelheads 12-9.

The Grizzlies began the second with 43 seconds of five-on-three power play time, but if suffered that all-too-familiar fate of many early power plays. Although they didn’t capitalize, they picked up the first three shots of the frame, buzzing in the offensive zone after the power play.

They carried that momentum through, and at 2:28, Navin got his sixth of the year from Sam Windle and Hults to tie the game. James Melindy powered around Idaho’s net on the next shift, but took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a crowd gathered around Faragher.

Utah killed it off, and then Thomas got tied up and hauled down, giving Utah the power play. They got three shots, Ortega’s especially being a good one. After all that momentum, it was particularly frustrating that the Steelheads got the next goal. Max French shot the puck through a couple of Grizzlies to take the lead. It did not last long though. Windle threw a shot hard onto the net, and Ortega tipped it in to tie the game.

Melindy’s hard work around the net eventually paid off as well, as he made it 3-2 at 15:03 unassisted.

Utah ran into penalty trouble again later in the period, Ortega taking a slashing call at 16:22, and Eick getting a tripping call at 18:09 putting Idaho on the five-on-three for 14 seconds. Utah killed off the five-on-three, and took a 3-2 lead to the locker room.

Thomas and Jefferson Dahl tangled after the whistle, but when the teams came out for the third, there were no additional penalties. The Grizzlies killed off the final nine seconds of Eick’s penalty, but they looked shaky in their own zone. Fortunately for them, Connor Chatham went into Maguire and took a penalty, but less fortunately, Dahl got in short-handed, hounded by Ortega. Maguire got a pad on it, but Ortega went to the box for slashing. Both penalties expired with no change in score, Utah out-shooting Idaho 27-22.

The defensive issues re-surfaced however, as a clearing attempt didn’t make it all the way out, and Idaho pounced on the rebound to make it 3-3.

The animosity amped up a couple of levels as Ully and Jones got into it behind the Utah net, and then all hell broke lose. All the skaters on both sides piled in. When the dust settled, Jones, Hults, and Thomas went to the box for Utah, while Ully, Dahl, and Baldwin went for Idaho.

The chippiness continued, and Melindy drew another penalty. This one finally paid off, as Dostie wired it past Faragher’s glove. Rob Mann took an interference call at 12:34, but Utah’s penalty kill remained perfect, and they returned to full strength.

Idaho pressed hard in the final couple of minutes of the game, as Utah struggled to keep them out of their own zone, which was compounded when they pulled Faragher for the extra attacker.

However, with 1:33 to go, Joe Faust put the puck over the glass, and Utah went to a late power-play. The advantage almost backfired horribly when Maguire went to play the puck behind his own net, and bounced it over and directly in front of the empty cage. Somehow, he managed to get around the net, and stop the speeding Steelhead, and Brendan Harms sent the puck down the length of the ice, straight into the empty net.

Idaho once again pulled Faragher with 50 seconds left, but the two-goal cushion saw the Grizzlies to the end of the game.

Hults was the only Utah player to earn a star, first, with his two assists, but plenty of other players had terrific games as well. Dostie and Ortega, of course, continued to be forces to be reckoned with, but Melindy also had a particularly strong game. Richart and Navin led the team with six shots a piece, Navin picking up his fourth goal in five games. Windle also had two assists, and Maguire stopped 37/40 shots, while the penalty kill went a perfect 8/8.

Hopefully, the next step now will be consistency, and that they can bring the kind of game we saw on Saturday into their three game series against Rapid City.

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard

 

Utah Grizzlies: Costly Lapses

After a wild comeback fell just short on Wednesday, and after Alex Dostie was assigned from San Diego, parts of the lineup were shuffled up, and parts remained the same. Angus Redmond got the start, the potent line of Ryan Walters, Brad Navin, and Kyle Thomas remained together, Dostie replaced Jon Puskar, and Rob Mann drew in for Chris Leibinger. Tim Branham put the three AHL guys together, Mitch Hults centering Dostie and Austin Ortega.

The two teams exchanged chances, Navin and Dostie right in the thick of the action for the Grizzlies, as Dostie looked right at home, and Navin continued to look dangerous. Idaho put the pressure on after the half-way mark, but Redmond looked sharp and calm, snatching up shots and rebounds alike.

Taylor Richart drew the first power play of the night, a tripping call on Steven McParland. It did not take them long to draw first blood with a first wave of Dostie, Hults, Ortega, Thomas, and Cliff Watson. Dostie put the Grizzlies up 1-0 with his first on the team, and the first of the night.

Redmond continued to look strong, and the Grizzlies got into a tussle in front of him. Mitch Jones got a cross-checking penalty at 10:24, but Utah killed it off.

Idaho continued to hold the pressure, jumping out to a 13-4 shot count with about six left, but the puck went the other way, Thomas and Navin making Idaho (Faragher included) run around, and the line drew a power play with 4:50 to go. It was short-lived, Ortega taking a cross-checking minor mere seconds later.

The negated power play didn’t matter, however, as Dostie rushed in two-on-one with Hults, who got his second on the four-on-four marker.

Unfortunately, Idaho scored on their 15th shot of the night with a couple of minutes left to play in the first. At the end of the period, Utah led 2-1, despite being out-shot 17-7.

The second did not begin well. Watson took a penalty 19 seconds in, and Idaho capitalized on a bad bounce of the boards. Then Utah drew a power play, that spent half their time in their own end.

The Grizzlies got another crack on the advantage at 5:12, but though it went much better, they still couldn’t muster up more than the one shot. On the positive side, unlike their prior advantage, it didn’t effectively kill their momentum.

Utah continued to be opportunistic when they had the puck, were out-shot and out-possessed through the middle of the frame.

Hults took a cross-checking penalty deep in the offensive zone, but the Grizzlies killed it off, getting a really terrific shift from Richart and Brendan Harms in the process.

Navin caught Hults with a nice pass out of the box at 13:57, but Faragher stopped the puck. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes later, a misjudged pass turned into a bad turnover, and the puck ended up behind Redmond once again.

The second line threw themselves into the breach, creating chaos around Faragher, and the third line followed that up, as the Grizzlies cut the shot lead down to 26-18. From there on to the end of the period, Utah worked hard, and did a better job of holding onto the puck, drawing another power play with two seconds left.

Utah won the face-off, and Richart yet again did not miss the net by much. The Grizzlies went to the room having pulled within 6 shots, trailing by one goal, and with 1:58 of power play time waiting for them.

The power play suffered the fate of many early period advantages, though the second half certainly went much better than the first. Harms got the first shot of the third just after the Steelheads returned to full strength.

In the next three minutes, the teams exchanged icings, and play, but Hults took a holding call at 5:05. Utah killed it off, Idaho getting two shots, and Utah getting one. Moments after it was killed off, it looked like the puck was behind Redmond, but it was immediately waived off. Idaho didn’t protest very much, and from the replay, it looked like the puck may have popped over the net and rolled down the back, or something. Either way, the Grizzlies were happy to take it.

Todd Skirving beat out an icing, set up two great looks from Harms and James Melindy, and then drew a power play at 9:33. This advantage went far better, as the top power play unit established a good cycle, lost possession, and then regained it. Navin won the draw for the second unit, spun and fired. Both units got two shots, but came up empty.

The Grizzlies hustled after that, and after a strong shift from Misiak, Walters, Harms, and Richart, Richart drew a power play. It was rapidly negated as Thomas went to the box. Once again, however, Utah pounced four-on-four, as Watson’s blast made it past Faragher. Ortega and Walters got the assists.

The Steelheads responded though, Redmond sprawled to reach the puck, and Will Merchant got in a couple of good whacks which eventually freed the puck, and put it in over Redmond’s shoulder.

Dahl got in with Merchant on a two-on-one, but Redmond snatched the puck out of the air with a flashy save that plucked it out of harms way.

With 40 seconds left, Utah pulled Redmond for the extra skater, idaho iced the puck, Utah took their time out, Dosti got a blast, Connor Chatham missed the empty net, icing the puck again. The final shift of the game was a determined one from the Grizzlies, but they were unable to beat the buzzer, falling 4-3, out-shot by an ultimately respectable 34-28.

It was really too bad that the Grizzlies weren’t able to reward Redmond for his most consistent outing of the year, and in the end, it was a couple of little things that cost them. Sloppy defence, a really bad bounce, and an ill-advised pass led to three of the four goals. Once again, Utah played just short of of a complete 60, and it cost them.

On the bright side, it is very clear that Dostie and Hults are going to be great fun to watch as long as they’re here, and putting Ortega with them gives the Grizzlies an incredibly lethal first line, that already has familiarity from their time together in the AHL. The other two lines were no slouches either, Thomas getting a team-leading six shots, while Navin had three. Harms was a man on a mission as well. It seems like, for now at least, offense is no longer the issue. Utah will really need to sort out the defensive issues going forward, without sacrificing the offense, if they’re going to bare down and get any kind of run going.

They get another crack at Idaho Saturday night.

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard