Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Idaho Steelheads Report: Growing Pains in Boise

Philippe Desrosiers in training camp (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
John Mulhern returns with the monthly Idaho Steelheads Report...

To say it’s been a while since the last Idaho Steelheads update would be an understatement. It has been 18 games, over a month, and there is certainly a lot to talk about both positive and negative for the Steelheads as the team heads towards their December schedule. The Steelheads are going to be playing their first home game in over a month this week as they just embarked on a 19 day road trip. We’ll get to the results of the games later, but before that let’s take a look at the Steelheads over their first 20 games in some pieces and parts.

Special Teams:
Idaho is operating at 11% on the power play and 83.3% on the penalty kill. The numbers jump off the page for a couple of reasons. The immediate number that jumps in the 11% on the power play. Overall that works out to 9 for 82, which is nothing to write home about, but when compared to how the season started on the power play, these numbers are an improvement. The majority of those nine goals have come over the past nine games, so this is a unit which is trending upwards at the moment. Also it’s worth noting that the only team with more chances on the power play is Wheeling with 83 opportunities, so the chances are going to continue to come for Idaho, but sadly they worked themselves into such a huge hole early, the power play numbers will have to be looked at in chunks instead of the overall numbers.

The penalty kill on the other hand, has been working its way down from a top three position early in the year. Call it a regression to the mean, call it a slump, call it whatever you’d like. I’ll call it as it is, just too many penalties taken. The Steelheads have been shorthanded a total of 84 times and that trails only Norfolk (97), Florida (87), and Wichita (85) on the season. Combine that with 6 games against Florida (4th pp), Orlando (1st pp) and Atlanta (8th pp) you’re just setting yourself up for trouble. Add in some tired penalty killers, and you see where this is headed. Solution for this problem, start playing a more disciplined brand of hockey. A challenge, yes, but something we’ve seen from this team at times during the season.

Offense:
Through 20 games this season, the Steelheads are averaging 2.55 goals per game, which is probably a little lower than they would like it to be. When you look at teams probably needing to score at least 3 to win on most nights, you can see where some of the losses are coming from. But before you immediately write off the offense for lack of production, I don’t see it as a huge concern at the moment. Looking up and down this roster, the Steelheads are on pace to have six players get close to our over the 20 goal plateau this season. This is good news considering six players is equal to two lines of scoring. Then you look at three more players that are angling for about 15 goals, and are maybe one good week or two away from pushing into the 20 goal range. Offense is not going to be a problem as long as it continues to consistently come from a couple different places. Of course where it stands right now, the lack of a high goals per game average is going to put pressure on the…

Defense and Goaltending:
Let’s first look at goaltending. The Steelheads have had three different netminders dress this season: Philippe Desrosiers, Maxime Legace and Eric Hartzell. As a team the Steelheads are allowing 3.2 goals against per game. Compared to the 2.55 they are scoring, not great. However, when you look at the last six total games against the Colorado Eagles (3 games) and the Rapid City Rush (3 games), the goals allowed is only 2.5 goals per game, which falls in nicely when compared to goals scored. (Full disclosure the Steelheads have only scored 1.88 per game over that same stretch. Bad timing for a scoring drought.) But looking at how the current average of goals against is coming down, it looks like some of the moves that Neil Graham has made in terms of player movement and pairings are starting to pay off in terms of consistency of defensive play. That level on consistency will also help the goaltenders. It should also be noted that as a team the Steelheads have allowed no more than 20 shots over their past four games.

Speaking more specifically on the goaltending, there have been times where some saves should have been made, but overall the goaltenders have been solid. The one unfortunate thing about the goaltending play at the moment is that no one was able to grab the number one position and run for it, for any real amount of time. With Legace up in the AHL with Texas for the short term and no back-up as it appears as if Hartzell is headed overseas, it’s going to be Desrosiers job to win over the next couple of games. If you’ve listened to the Idaho Steelheads Hockey Show on 1350 AM KTIK over the past couple of weeks, the prevailing thought is that the defense and goaltending is young but will only continue to improve as the season goes forward.

Results:
These are going to be in order based on the schedule.

@ Alaska Aces (Independent) 1-2
vs Utah Grizzlies (San Diego Gulls) 0-1
@ Grizzlies 2-0
vs Atlanta Gladiators (Providence Bruins) 0-2-1
@ Orlando Solar Bears (Toronto Marlies) 0-1
@ Florida Everblades (Charlotte Checkers) 0-1-1
@ Colorado Eagles (Independent) 1-1-1
@ Rapid City Rush (Springfield Falcons) 1-2

Overall Record: 6-10-4 (16 pts.) 4th Place in Western Division

Upcoming Games:
The Idaho Steelheads start a three game set with the Florida Everblades in their first home games since November 7th. Games will be played on Dec 2, 4 and 5 this week before another road trip to play four more road games split between the Allen Americans (San Jose Baracuda) and the Tulsa Oilers (Manitoba Moose).

Stay tuned for an Idaho Steelheads update appendix coming in the next week with a few more notes as well as a look at player movement to and from the AHL.

Until then…

John Mulhern is the host of the Bud Light Idaho Steelheads Hockey show on 1350 AM KTIK in Boise. He is the home game ice-level color analyst for the Steelheads and also hosts his own Two Sports Nuts podcast. You can also follow John on Twitter @mulhern4.

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