Utah Grizzlies: Thunderstruck

After getting off to a rocky start on the road on Wednesday, the Grizzlies looked to get back to their winning ways against the Wichita Thunder. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

The game began well for the Ducks’ prospects, as Kevin Boyle made some good saves early, Keaton Thompson had a key shift, blocking shots all over the place, and Kenton Helgesen looked good, finding himself in the thick of the action all over the ice.

C.J. Eick and James Melindy both went to the box with matching minors about halfway through the period, which kicked off a steady stream of penalties in the following three minutes. There were so many penalties that both teams were playing 3-on-3 for a brief stretch. The Grizzlies did eventually have a 45-second power play, but the Thunder returned to full strength with no change in score. Utah got a proper power play as Logan Nelson was sent to the box for making head contact with Erik Higby. Towards the end of the period, Phil Pietroniro took a tripping penalty, and  Alexis Loiseau scored right after the penalty expired. At the end of the first, shots were 9-9 and the score was 1-0, Wichita.

The Grizzlies started the second period well, crashing the net right off the first shift,  though Drew Owsley turned the puck aside. However, Helgesen was back just seconds later, taking the puck deep into the Wichita zone, which led to a goal from Tim Daly. Alexandre Carrier picked up his first point for Utah with the primary assist. The Eick – Helgesen – Carrier line was a bright spot throughout the second period, ending most of their shifts crowded around Wichita’s net. Unfortunately, the tie was short lived, as the Grizzlies failed to complete a pass in the neutral zone, and the Thunder struck again.

With 11:41 left in the period, a scuffle at the Grizzlies’ bench resulted in a Utah power play, as Brandon McNally, James Melindy and Landon Oslanski were all sent to the box. The Thunder have had a stellar penalty kill all season, and despite a strong looking power play, the Grizzlies were unable to tie it up.

With just over seven minutes left to go, the Grizzlies let Wichita walk in uncontested on Boyle and they scored from the bottom of the left circle. Utah came right back on the next shift and Austen Brassard cut the deficit back down to one with 7:02 left. They followed up the goal with several strong shifts in Wichita’s end, but the Thunder were able to keep them at bay.  Though the Grizzlies continued to pressure, the score remained 3-2 Wichita, shots 23-20 Utah after 40.

Right off the third period opening face off, Boyle was forced to make a huge save, but the puck then hit a Thunder player driving to the net and went in anyway, putting them up 4-2 mere seconds in. Wichita continued to press their advantage through the third period, and they were rewarded with yet another goal, largely uncontested, at 6:09.

The difficulties continued as Alexis Vanier fired off a laser past Boyle’s shoulder for their sixth goal and second power-play tally of the night just past the 12-minute mark. Alex Krushelnyski picked up an assist against his former team. Although the Grizzlies had a few really good chances and a power play to end the game, they were unable to capitalize and fell 6-2, dropping their second in a row on the road. They are now 5-3 on the season.

The Good

Helgesen, and his linemates Eick and Carrier, had some really great shifts all through the game, Helgesen picking up his fourth point in five games, with Carrier picking up his first in a Grizzlies jersey. Also, as much as I dislike plus-minus as a stat, Pietroniro managed to come out of a 6-2 loss as a +2 (though he was on the ice for the final power-play goal against, which just goes to show why goal differential is a tricky little bugger).

The Bad and the Ugly

Kevin Boyle was not good tonight, but neither was the defensive play of the team in front of him, who were often nowhere to be found on sequences that led to Thunder goals. Defensive breakdowns have been an issue in a number of games running now, which is definitely a cause for concern.

Utah’s power play continues to struggle, having managed to score only four times on 31 chances. They were held off the board tonight on the man advantage as well, though they did have at least one strong looking power play tonight. Their penalty kill, usually a strength of theirs, allowed two goals on four tries.

This is the second time in as many nights that a one-goal game at the end of two periods has slipped away from the Grizzlies in the third period.

On the plus side, it could always be worse. The NHL leading Montreal Canadiens were blown out and shut out, losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets 10-0…

The Grizzlies will face Wichita tomorrow at 6:05, before heading back to Oklahoma to face the Oilers on Sunday.

Utah Grizzlies: A Scrappy Affair


After two long weeks, the Grizzlies are finally back home. It’s been too long.

With Kevin Boyle and Zac Larazza called up to the AHL, Ryan Faragher was backed up by Ryan McKay, Kenton Helgesen drew back into the lineup, and new acquisition Ralph Cuddemi also made his Grizzlies debut.

The last time the Grizzlies and Eagles met, Utah swept Colorado in the first round of the playoffs  in a matchup that was as tightly contested and hate-filled as a series sweep could be. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that these teams do not like each other.

Cuddemi, who joined the team in exchange for Jordan Samuels-Thomas, wasted no time in making his mark. Just over three minutes into the first, a Colorado defenseman lost control of the puck at the Grizzlies’ blue line, and Austen Brassard pounced. Just about shaking off the Colorado player, he rang the puck off the bar. However, the rebound came straight to Cuddemi, who wired it into the back of the net for his first goal.

Unfortunately, Colorado tied it up at 6:45 as league-leading scorer Casey Pierro-Zabotel got one past Faragher.

About a minute later, Derek Rodwell boarded Eric Springer behind the Grizzlies’ net. Though Springer got up and skated off under his own power, he went straight to the dressing room, and didn’t return for the rest of the period. Fortunately, he returned to the Grizzlies bench half way through the second.

With a little over two minutes left in the period, Phil Pietroniro laid a hit on Cole Sanford,  and the two squared off by the Grizzlies’ blue line, but were broken up before a full-fledged fight could break out. Both players were sent to the box for roughing, and the period would end 4-on-4. After twenty, the score was tied 1-1, and the shots were 14-8 for the Grizzlies.

At 5:54 of the second, Mathieu Aubin took a slashing penalty, and the Grizzlies’ penalty kill went to work. Helgesen, who got some time as a defenseman after Springer went down, drew a tripping call half way through the PK.

As the game progressed, it got steadily chippier. With 5:51 left in the second, Pietroniro and Jesse Mychan dropped the gloves for real, and went down swinging behind the Grizzlies’ net. They were both sent to their respective dressing rooms, and just over a minute later, Brassard got sent to the box for tripping. However, the Grizzlies killed the penalty off without trouble.

With a minute left in the first, the Erik Higby beat Nathan Lieuwen, giving the Grizzlies the 2-1 lead going into intermission. Helgesen’s strong play throughout was rewarded with the assist.

The third period did not open in an auspicious manner for the home team, as Faragher got out of position trying to make a save, and Luke Salazar banged the rebound into the empty net.

After that, Colorado’s already tenuous hold on discipline slipped. Michael Sdao was sent off for tripping at 3:24, followed by Matt Register for roughing against Jon Puskar at 4:53. The Grizzlies called a timeout, and got themselves sorted out for the ensuing 31 seconds of 5-on-3.  Puskar got taken down yet again in front of the Eagles’ net, and another scrum ensued. Brassard and Sdao both got sent to the box as a result, getting double minors for roughing, Sdao was joined 18 seconds later by Pierro-Zabotel for cross-checking Tim Daly at the Grizzlies bench, and Jake Marto for roughing against Brandon McNally. McNally joined Brassard also for roughing against Marto.

Puskar took the best revenge possible for the abuse he suffered by scoring just seconds into the power play, tipping in Mike Banwell’s shot from the point. He almost got a second shortly thereafter, but the puck rolled away from him, and the rest of the Grizzlies’ power play expired without incident.

At 13:01, Sdao and Amestoy dropped the gloves, and wound up in the Eagles’ net, each getting five for fighting. With 5:22 left in the game, the Grizzlies coughed up the puck in their own end, and Cole Sanford tied the game up after being left all alone in the slot. Though Brassard got a pair of quality chances in the dying minutes, the game went to overtime.

Three-on-three hockey is amazing to watch. It’s wild, it’s five minutes of non-stop nail biting and end-to-end rushes, and this OT was no exception. The Grizzlies opened with Brassard, McNally and Pietroniro, and after three minutes and 39 seconds of anxiety, Brassard picked off the puck in the neutral zone, motored back into the offensive zone, and was allowed to get off a beautiful backhander all alone in front of the Eagles’ net.

Amestoy, Cuddemi, and Brassard were named the three stars of the game, and Faragher got the win, saving 28 of 31 shots, and improving to a perfect 4-0.

Bumps and Bruises

Games against Colorado often turn into wars of attrition, and a lot of guys were banged up in this game. Taylor Richart got run quite a few times, and Pietroniro hobbled off after blocking a shot in the second. Springer missed parts of both the first and second period after getting hit, and has since been put on the injured reserve. Puskar was the victim of quite a few hacks and slashes as the game progressed, and Daly was plastered to the boards in front of the Grizzlies bench. Tonight is likely to be no different.

Putting up Points

After tonight, two Grizzlies are at (or over) a point-per-game rate. Puskar leads the team with four goals and three assists in five games and rookie Shane Walsh has three goals and two assists. C.J. Eick has three goals and an assist, while Brassard, Aubin, and McNally all have a goal and three assists apiece.

Helgesen Shines

After having been scratched for two games, Helgesen was excellent. He was prominent on the first wave of several penalty kills, and was even on the ice in the final minute of a tied game. Thanks to Springer’s absence for a large part of the game, and Pietroniro’s five-minute penalty during that time, the Grizzlies were short two defensemen. Fortunately for them, Helgesen was drafted as a defenseman, and he stepped up in a big way, filling in on the back end several times during that stretch. He was rewarded for his efforts with an assist on Higby’s goal, and now has two points in three games.

These same teams play tonight at 7 PM MT. As Kevin Boyle is still in San Diego, there is a good chance that we will see Ryan McKay make his debut. Regardless of who plays, it’s bound to be a wild game.