Friday, January 31, 2014

Idaho Steelheads Report: Examining Their Identity

Josh Robinson (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
John Mulhern turns in a fantastic analysis looking to answer the question: "Who are the 2013-14 Idaho Steelheads?" ...

The Idaho Steelheads have played 40 games so far this season. They have won 20 games and lost 20. Of course, there are a couple of overtime and shootout losses, but the reality is they didn’t win 20 games. When a record is looked at that way, it makes you wonder just what kind of team do we really have? Are they overachieving, under achieving, or playing to at the level that should be expected?

One look at the Steelheads roster throughout the season thus far (which might be a hard look to take) tells the story. They are underachieving. A close examination of the call-ups throughout the season shows that the main core of the roster has been intact for more of the year than it hasn’t.

Let’s first take a look at the players that aren’t here now and the games they played. The focus will primarily be on players that were loaned out or called up to the AHL.
  • Josh Robinson (G) – 13 games played
  • Hubert Labrie (D) – 4 games played
  • Austin Smith (F) - 4 games played (Loaned overseas by Dallas)
  • Carl Sneep (D) – 13 games played (Left team and retired)
  • Etienne Boutet (D) – 25 games played (Left team for school)
  • Taylor Vause (F) – 17 games played
  • Ryan Button (D) – 13 games played
  • Brock Montgomery (F) – 23 games played
  • Justin Mercier (F) – 32 games played
  • James Issacs (D) – 27 games played (Traded)
You might be wondering where I am going with this and here it is. Look at the games played at the ECHL level this year. Only one player has reached 30 games and beyond that only 3 more played 20 games with the Steelheads. My argument is that with only four players on this list having played only 20 games, the chemistry has not been affected by the call-ups. Would the Steelheads be better if Josh Robinson was in Idaho playing goal every two out of three games? Probably. Do the Steelheads need another solid defenseman on par with what Ryan Button was turning into before he got the call? Absolutely.

It’s one thing if you have guys on a “yo-yo” where they are up and down and consistently in and out of the line-up, but that hasn’t been the case. Of all the players listed here, only Montgomery, Robinson, and Labrie have been sent back to Idaho only to be called up again. Every other one has remained with the AHL since their call-up. Having said that, Labrie hasn’t been seen in Idaho since late October/early November.

Now let’s look at the guys that are here who have played at least 30 games with the Steelheads this year as well as their overall point production.

  • Mitch Wahl (F) – 37 games 39 points
  • Anthony Nigro (F) – 35 games 38 points
  • Tommy Grant (F) – 40 games 29 points
  • Brett Robinson (F) – 33 games 21 points
  • Patrick Cullity (D) – 40 games 19 points
  • David DeKastrozza (F) - 37 games 18 points
  • Gaelan Patterson (F) – 37 games 9 points
  • Dalton Reum (D) – 33 games 6 points
  • Tyler Elbrecht (D) – 34 games 6 points

Here is a group of nine guys that have played in the majority of the games this season. There are two more that have played at least twenty with the Steelheads: William Rapuzzi (29) and Damon Kipp (21).

Here’s the point to the story, when your top three point producers have only missed a total of 8 games combined you should be producing more wins. The counterargument is that you need to have depth. Fair enough. With Brett Robinson, DeKastrozza and Rapuzzi you have three guys who have only missed 21 combined games over the course of the season. Right there you have two solid lines of scoring and therefore should be producing more victories.

This brings up the question, is the defense the problem? At face value, you could suggest that if a team is not winning it must fall on the defense. Under normal circumstances I would tend to agree, but in this case I’m not going to. The Steelheads are allowing 2.89 goals per game. The Alaska Aces (2.10), the Ontario Reign (2.5) and the Utah Grizzlies (2.65) are the only teams with any kind of significantly less goals allowed than the Steelheads at the moment. So when put into context, the goals per game is about on par with the Western Conference.

To put it bluntly the Steelheads are not getting steam rolled when they lose their games. Here are the last 6 games they played along with the result:

  • 1/15/2014 Utah @ Idaho: Idaho wins 2-1
  • 1/17/2014 Utah @ Idaho: Utah wins 3-0
  • 1/18/2014 Idaho @ Utah: Utah wins 4-2
  • 1/20/2014 Idaho @ Utah: Idaho wins 4-3 OT
  • 1/26/2014 Bakersfield @ Idaho: Bakersfield wins 3-1
  • 1/29/2014 Idaho @ Alaska: Alaska wins 2-1

The Steelheads are right in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference in terms of goals scored. So once again, they are producing points. Goaltending at the moment is not the issue. Pat Nagle has played all but two games since Josh Robinson’s latest recall and has season numbers that currently stand at 23 games played 2.79 GAA and a .920 save percentage. Numbers once again capable of winning more games than losing.

I don’t intend to ring the panic alarm at the moment, because the team is still 3rd in the Mountain Division and 5th in the Western Conference, but with teams like the Utah Grizzlies and Bakersfield Condors on a really hot streak right now, a move from 5th down to 7th could very well happen.

The Idaho Steelheads need a few more finishers, either through trade, send down or players on the team “figuring it out.” They also need to put in a full 60 minute effort on more than the occasional night. Anyone on this team will tell you that there are things that need to be fixed and that they don’t have a consistent 60 minute effort every night. Also with the call-up of Justin Mercier, I almost wonder if there are a lot of guys looking around the locker room trying to figure out who is going to be that vocal leader a team needs to keep things going to the right direction and keep things glued together when the times start to get tough.

The scoring for the Steelheads has been there this year and the defense has done an OK job of holding its own. The ECHL season is just past the halfway point, and this is the part of the season where you can really start to tell who is going to be in for a long run into late May and early June. As it stands now, unless the Steelheads start playing up to their potential, it is going to be a very difficult road to the end of the year and into the playoffs.

ECHL Notes:

  • The San Francisco Bulls have ceased operations effective Monday 1/27/2014 and therefore will not be playing out the rest of the season. There have been some adjustments to the Steelheads schedule, but they will still be playing all 72 games this season. Also with the Bulls folding it has left the Western Conference with 8 teams and the league has decided to not change their playoff format. So as of last Monday, all 8 remaining teams qualified for the playoffs.
  • Once big change is that not all 8 teams will be playing 72 games. In order to compensate for that, all playoff positioning in the Western Conference will be done based on winning percentage not points. It could be a big deal if the Steelheads find themselves battling for a payoff position with a team that will only have 71 games on their schedule.
  • The Las Vegas Wranglers were given an extension by the League to continue/finalize details of an agreement with a new facility for next season after having been given their “eviction notice” by the Orleans earlier this year. All signs are pointing towards the team figuring out a way to stay in Vegas.
  • The Bakersfield Condors have been sold to the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL. The deal will keep the team in Bakersfield for the foreseeable future and give the Oilers an ownership stake in 3 development levels of hockey (NHL, AHL, ECHL)

Until next time…

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