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

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Utah Grizzlies: Friday Funday

After a disappointing effort on Wednesday night, Utah got some reinforcements on Friday night. Forwards Mitch Hults (assigned by Anaheim to get ice time during the all star break) and Nate Mitton (who attended training camp) both joined the Grizzlies prior to the game, drawing into the lineup in place of Erik Higby and C.J. Eick. Hults, a centerman, slotted in with Ryan Walters and Austin Ortega, while Mitton played with Brad Navin and Brendan Harms.

The game got off to a rocky start with a couple of quick penalties. Mitton flew into the Tulsa end looking not at all like a guy adjusting to the altitude, and first drew what looked like an interference call, but then was mysteriously dinged with an embellishment call as well.

Shortly thereafter, James Melindy and Justin Selman went off with “roughing” and tripping calls respectively, and then Travis Howe dropped the gloves with Mike McKee off the face-off at 4:30. Howe got some really huge punches in, and the 6,843 in attendance roared their support.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies coughed the puck up in their own zone, and Tulsa made it 1-0.

It looked, for a moment, like the Grizzlies were doomed to give up a quick second goal as Chris Leibinger lost the puck at the blue line, and the Oilers came in uncontested. However, Taylor Richart flew back from the far side to cut off the attempt.

Cliff Watson drew Utah’s first power play at 6:30. Tulsa got a short-handed shot against, but at the tail end of the advantage, Leibinger skated the puck down behind the Tulsa net, and threw it to Puskar just above the blue paint. Utah’s first shot of the game found the back of the net to tie it up. The assists on Puskar’s eleventh of the year went to Leibinger and Harms.

Utah got yet another crack on the power play less than a minute later, but despite Kyle Thomas’ bet efforts, Tulsa killed that one off. Watson got tripped up without a call, Leibinger stepped in on Ryan Tesink, who was sent sprawling before Dylan Hubbs jumped in on Leibinger. Both players got a couple of good punches in, and when the dust settled, Hubbs got an extra two for instigating.

Sean Maguire made a big save on a short-handed stretch pass that saw an Oilers player alone behind the defense, but after that, the Grizzlies got set up in the offensive zone. Hults got a huge shot off from the point, and Richart’s shot from the blue line flew into a crowd in front of the net. Ryan Misiak got his stick on the rebound, and Ortega scored his fifth power play goal in eleven games.

Mitton got a very nice chance on the ensuing shift, and Mitch Jones also got off a rocket in his return. Howe demonstrated that his hands are good for things besides big punches, making a nice play to keep the puck in the zone as the third line had a very strong shift. Tulsa had a hard time holding onto the puck in front of their own net, and Utah pounced on every opportunity, but were unable to capitalize.

Watson got a great chance at the end of the first, and Utah went into the locker room leading 2-1, and out-shooting Tulsa 13-8, despite having been out-shot 5-0 at one point in the period.

 

The third line got another really strong shift in a few minutes into the second, Mitton getting a shot off of of a hard-working cycle from Navin.

Tommy Vannelli tripped up Ortega at 2:55, and Ortega got up ready to fight. Vannelli didn’t oblige, but the two went off for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct.

Utah controlled the ensuing four-on-four, and Melindy got a nice spinning shot off. Navin had another strong shift with Puskar, Leibinger, and Sam Windle. Leibinger and Puskar also got a scoring chance off the rush. On the defensive side of things, Jones hounded an Oilers player into the defensive zone to prevent a chance against.

After the teams returned to full strength, the third line had another terrific shift that culminated in a gorgeous goal from Navin, whose first goal since November 1st was a top shelf snipe. Howe got his first point of the year on the primary assist, while Harms got his eleventh with the secondary.

The same line had another big shift, and a couple of minutes later, Melindy took a high-stick, sending Utah to their fourth straight power play at 10:10.

Puskar and Richart both got good looks, and Utah got a lengthy five-on-three at 10:52. The first wave power play of Hults, Ortega, Thomas, Walters, and Watson got some really nice offensive zone pressure going, but weren’t able to capitalize, and Tulsa killed off both penalties.

Howe took a slashing call as the game got a little rough in the corners with 6:13 to go. The penalty kill came up big for Howe, Misak and Puskar orchestrating a couple of clears, as the Grizzlies allowed zero shots.

With less than two minutes to go, Melindy made a big defensive play and was sent off for holding. Maguire made a couple of big saves, and the period came to an end. After 40, Utah led 3-1, out-shooting the Oilers 24-16.

The Grizzlies began the third with just four seconds of Melindy’s penalty on the clock, and about four minutes later, Maguire made a couple of big saves, and Utah cleared the puck out of certain danger.

Watson made it 4-1 at 4:35, as the puck rolled past Hildebrand surprisingly uncontested. Walters got the primary assist, while Hults picked up his first point with the Grizzlies.

Tulsa pushed back, getting a couple of good shifts of their own, but weren’t able to capitalize until past the half-way mark, as the entire roster played hard and blocked shots.

With 8:05 to go, Utah got tied up in their own zone, and Tulsa scored to cut the lead in half.

The Oilers continued to work, but Maguire shut the door when shots made it through, and at 15:36 McKee got a closing hand on the puck penalty.

It took the Grizzlies just six seconds to capitalize. Leibinger held the puck in the zone, passed to Richart, who shot once again from the point. The puck bounced to Harms, who put it past Hildebrand from a tight angle. The goal was his fourth of the year, and his third against Tulsa.

That was pretty much the game, both teams got a couple more shots, but at the final buzzer, the 5-2 lead belonged to Utah, who out-shot the Oilers 31-24.

Utah is now only one point behind Tulsa, and four behind Allen, who own the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division.

In addition to a big two points, the game broke a couple of long time goalless streaks for Harms and Navin, Harms picking up three points and first star of the game, while Navin got his third point in three games. Without a doubt, Utah played a complete sixty, as well as a complete game from the entire roster. Maguire was awarded the second star of the game, while Howe took the third with the fight and assist.

“When we play like we want it, we’re tough to handle.” Tim Branham said after the game. “We’ve got some guys—when you can add Mitch Hults, Austin Ortega—when you’ve got guys who can score goals, it helps. We’ve lost a lot of one goal games. Our power play has been really hot lately, and we’re able to put the puck in the net. When we’re able to score, good things happen.”

“They’re a hard working team,” he added of the Oilers, “And they actually do a good job of getting to the blue line with speed, just putting pucks on net, and being tenacious. We did a much better job of winning our battles, getting the puck up the ice, controlling the play in the offensive zone. Obviously we spent a lot more time in their zone today than the last game, so we’ve gotta play the same way. They’re gonna come out hard, they’re not gonna be happy they lost today, but if we play with that effort, teams can’t stop us. When everybody is pulling the rope in the right direction, good things happen.”

Moreover, if the third line can keep their momentum going, it will be big for the team going forward. “Before last game, we were one of four teams who had three players or more that were a point a game. We lose those one goal games because we don’t have that depth scoring. So when Navin scores, Harms scores, it’s just huge for us, so we need that depth scoring in order to be able to compete and win those one goal games.”

Ortega’s thoughts were in a similar vein. “We’ve been talking about getting in a playoff spot, we haven’t been happy with the way we’ve been playing, especially last game, and we took it to heart. We had a big meeting about our effort, and I think tonight we were a completely different team, we had a tremendous amount of effort and hard work, and it paid off.”

So what do the Grizzlies have to do on Saturday night to keep rolling? “Same thing with effort and hard work, playing the way we’re supposed to be, and at this point, it’s just consistency.”

If Utah wins tonight (Saturday), they will be on point ahead of Tulsa, closing in on the Allen Americans, who have been on a bit of a losing skid. It would be a huge win for the Grizzlies, and they’ll do have to do it in front of what will likely be a nearly sold-out crowd.

 

 

Image courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: Wild Wednesday Woes

For the first game of a six game home-stand, the Grizzies’  roster remained the same, Ryan Walters, Brad Navin, Austin Ortega, Cliff Watson, and James Melindy were all in the starting lineup for Utah, while Sean Maguire once again started for Utah.

The game started off with quite a bang, as Travis Howe dropped the gloves with Mike McKee at 2:40, and then barely a minute later Watson dropped the gloves with Kale Kessy. Watson got an extra two, and the Tulsa power play went to work. Grizzlies killed the penalty, and Ortega, and Kyle Thomas made the ensuing minutes quite interesting.

Maguire looked comfortable in his first game in front of the home crowd, and at 15:04 Chris Leibinger absolutely wired the puck to give Utah the 1-0 lead.

Utah got another chance on the advantage later in the period, but after 20, they led 1-0, out-shot 14-10.

Jon Puskar took a stick to the face 4:15 into the second, drawing a double minor, but the Grizzlies were unable to put the puck past Jake Hildebrand, and to make matters worse, Justin Selman scored short-handed with 21 seconds to go.

At 12:29 the third fight of the night occurred after a really quick whistle around the Tulsa net. This time, Howe dropped the gloves with Kale Kessy, and they both went of five five minutes.

Navin took a tripping call at 13:22, but Utah killed it off handily. The rough stuff by no means abated, and with just under 30 seconds go to, Kessy and Maguire got into it, both getting roughing calls.

When the second period came to a close, Tulsa out-shot Utah 22-16 in a 1-1 game.

The final frame opened with 1:38 of four-on-four time, and Ryan Misiak (who had been buzzing all game) got a couple of gorgeous chances, as did Brendan Harms, but both teams returned to full strength.

Misiak got high-sticked in the face about six minutes in, and in the aftermath of a no-call, Tulsa went the other way and took the 2-1 lead.

To add insult to injury, Walters was called for a fairly similar high-stick at 13:18. Though the Oilers did not score on the ensuing power play, by the time there were two minutes to go in the game, they were out-shooting the Grizzlies by a hefty 39-20, and largely out-playing them.

Maguire got pulled with just over a minute left, but Tulsa completed their win with an empty net goal.

Over all, it wasn’t a very inspiring performance from the Grizzlies, particularly in the third period, with a few exceptions. Misiak was noticeable on most of his shifts and was tied with Erik Higby for a team leading three shots. Maguire had a very good game, Howe did his best to spark the team on a number of occasions, and Leibinger’s goal earned him third star honours.

Overall, however, it was a disappointing result. The Oilers are directly ahead of the Grizzlies in the Mountain Division, and instead of leapfrogging them, they conceded two important points.

“Definitely our third period, the effort wasn’t good enough.” Branham said after the game. “To come out with six shots is clearly not what we wanted. Yeah that four minute was definitely a turning point. I don’t think either team got many chances on the power play, but it’s a tight game, definitely until the third period. I thought they controlled the play the majority of the third period. We’ve gotta make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The Grizzlies have another crack at Tulsa tonight (Friday), as well as on Saturday, which is also Guns ‘N Hoses night.

 

Photo courtesy  of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff.

Utah Grizzlies: Road-trip Redemption

For the third game against Rapid City in three games, the Grizzlies more or less kept their roster intact on Sunday, with the exception of Travis Howe drawing in, and Mitch Jones sitting the game out.

Howe made his presence felt at once, dropping the gloves with Anthony Collins at 1:43.

Brad Navin continued to get chances, as the Grizzlies once again dominated play in the first four minutes. Once again, however, Rapid City struck first at 3:52, Daniel Leavens from Peter Sivak and Riley Weselowski.

Jon Puskar took a slashing call at 5:26, but the Grizzlies came on with a vengeance, Brendan Harms scoring short-handed at 6:13.

James Melindy took a cross-checking call, giving Rapid City a decent five-on-three, and though they killed off the five-on-three, Rapid City scored on the power play.

The Grizzlies responded again, Walters on another terrific pass from Navin.

Howe had a couple of nice moves on both sides of the ice, and the Puskar line had a strong shift that ended in Ryan Misiak getting robbed by Christian Frey.

After 20, shots were 11-9 for the Rush, but tied 2-2.

The Grizzlies and Rush both had chances in the first half of the second, Walters, and Mann especially getting looks for Utah.

The pressure paid off, as Kyle Thomas made a beautiful pass to Cliff Watson, who made no mistake, putting Utah up 3-2 at 9:13.

Unfortunately, Rapid City tied it up again with 3:36 to go. On the very next shift, Walters tried to sell a goal, but after the officials gathered, it was called no goal.

At the end of a penalty-less second period (even after the tussle between Weselowski and Walters), they were tied 3-3, shots 19-16 in Rapid City’s favor.

The two teams exchanged chances, but at 5:34 Rapid City took a tripping call, and Ortega pounced. He struck again less than two minutes later, giving Utah their first two-goal lead of the game at 7:34.

Utah maintained the lead, but were unable to extend it on the power play just past the half-way mark of the third.

The Rush pulled Frey with 1:30 to go, and Ortega just missed the empty-net hat trick. Puskar made no mistake on the next shift though, fighting past a Rapid City defender to score his tenth of the year from Walters and Ortega. Leibinger took a slashing call with 17 seconds to go, but Utah killed it off to win the game.

Ortega now has 12 points in nine games with Utah, and was named second star of the game with two goals and an assist, while Watson’s goal and assist earned him second star.

The Grizzlies returned to Utah with three of a possible six points, and thank to loses from teams ahead of them in the standings, are within striking distance of the final playoff spot.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard/Jess Fleming and staff

Utah Grizzlies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This weekend was really great. I went to the games in Colorado, got to meet a whole bunch of awesome Eagles fans, and see a new arena, which was tons of fun. The downside is that I didn’t have a lot of time to write. Given the quick turn-around with a game on Monday, we’re doing this a little differently.


Overview

On Friday night, the Grizzlies lost 7-3, giving up four power play goals, and generally playing badly. Kevin Carr was pulled to start the third in favour of Angus Redmond, which did nothing to stem the tide. To be fair to both goaltenders, the team in front of them gave them almost nothing to work with. However, Utah did get three even strength goals from Cliff Watson, Ryan Walters, and Greger Hanson.

On Saturday, the game was much better. Utah was engaged from start to finish, and Carr was absolutely sharp all night. It was an unfortunately familiar tale, however, when they fell 2-1 in OT.

The Good

  • Jon Puskar is back, and it took him no time at all to start putting up points. He has an assist in each of his two games back. His speed also made a difference a number of times over the weekend.
  • The first line seems to have heated up again, with seven points in the two games, Greger Hanson scoring once, and Ryan Walters scoring twice. If they can keep rolling, that’ll be huge.
  • Whether it was the return of Travis Howe to the lineup, the resurgence of the first line, the reuniting of Brendan and the Ryans, or just general motivation following a lousy outing, Saturday’s game was far better than Friday’s in terms of team play.
  • Taylor Richart and Cliff Watson lead the charge in goal-scoring on the Grizzlies. Richart has seven goals, and Watson is tied with Pelech and Hanson with six.

The Bad

  • Richart and Watson lead the the Grizzlies in goal scoring. Obviously it’s not a bad thing that they’ve scored so many goals. What is troubling, however, is that Utah has continued to have to rely on them for so much of the offensive heavy lifting.
  • On Friday, the scratches of Brad Navin, Zach Saar, and Travis Howe, as well as the return of Puskar, meant that the lines got shaken up again, and turned in what may have been the least cohesive performance we’ve seen from them all year.

The Ugly

  • The usually terrific Grizzlies’ penalty kill gave up an abysmal four goals on Friday. Fortunately, they returned to form on Saturday, giving up only 1/8. Hopefully it was a statistical anomaly, and can be ignored…
  • Brendan Harms went down early in the second period on Saturday, and had to be helped of the ice. Unsurprisingly, he  didn’t finish the game. Here’s to hoping it wasn’t anything serious.

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Broussard, Jess Fleming, and staff