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.