TULSA, Okla. – The Idaho Steelheads wrapped up a five-game road trip Sunday afternoon with their second game in 24 hours against the Tulsa Oilers, trying to close the trip with a perfect 5-0 mark.
The first 17 minutes of play was a back-and-forth stalemate, but, 17:16 into the opening frame, a former Oiler took advantage of a “home-town bounce” to put the visitors on top.
Playing in his first game in Tulsa as a visitor after 84 games as an Oiler, Kale Kessy sent a dump in along the boards into the corner. Tulsa goaltender Devin Williams went to play it, but the puck ricocheted off the Zamboni door and kicked out towards the slot. Kessy accepted the gift and fired a shot into the abandoned net as a desperate Williams scrambled to get back to make it 1-0 Steelheads.
Idaho took the one-goal advantage to the first intermission, however, two late penalties gave Tulsa a five-on-three that carried over to the middle stanza. The Steelheads were able to kill both minors, but the Oiler momentum gained on the two-man advantage set the tone for the second twenty minutes.
Tulsa controlled the puck for nearly the entire period, outshooting Idaho 12-3 in the second. The Oilers tied the game at one 8:01 into period two, as Scott Henegar took a pass from Alex Kromm as he coasted through the slot and fired a shot into the upper-90 to make it 1-1.
The Oilers then took the lead 6:42 later, this time striking while shorthanded. Jared Thomas carried it in on a two-on-one and blasted a slap shot by the blocker of Idaho goalie Colton Point and into the top corner. Thomas’ ninth made it 2-1 Oilers, and gave the home side a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The scored remained 2-1 into the final frame, where the Oilers doubled their lead with the final tally of the evening. Ian McNulty came in on a partial breakaway and wired a low shot that eluded Point and sent the Tulsa crowd into a frenzy for the third time.
Idaho finally began to regain the initiative offensively in the final half of period three, but a comeback was not to be. Williams made the saves when called upon, and time expired with a final count of 3-1 in favor of Tulsa. The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for Idaho, and brought the road trip through South Dakota and Oklahoma to an end with a 4-1 record. Idaho is now 20-11-1-2 on the year.
Special teams were an issue on Sunday, with the second-ranked Idaho power play going 0-for-6 on the afternoon. To make matters worse, they allowed several shorthanded chances the other way, and allowed the eventual game-winner while a man up in the second period. The penalty kill was the bright spot for the Steelheads special teams, killing all four Oiler advantages. Even still, it was the Tulsa two-man advantage spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second provided the momentum that wrote the script for the rest of the night.
As a Texas Stars writer watching Idaho, I had a close eye on Point (2-1-1, 3.19 GAA .891 SV% in Idaho) in net all night. The Dallas Stars prospect played well overall, making 28 saves on 31 Tulsa shots. He held the Oilers off the board for the first 28 minutes, and battled to keep the Steelheads in range once the lead was lost. His two best saves, one each in the first and second, came on plays were a quick cross-ice pass appeared to leave him dead to rights before he got post to post to rob the home squad. He had shot goal he’d probably like back, the insurance marker in the third that snuck under him on a partial break, but the other two goals were well-placed shots from close range.
Overall, a very solid performance for the rookie, especially considering his lack of ice time over the past month. He has been affected by a logjam of talented keepers in the Stars system, and spent a few weeks as the third man behind Landon Bow and Philippe Desrosiers in Texas. His last appearance with Texas came on November 25.
He then got called up to Idaho, where Tomas Sholl continues to have a standout season in net. This all led to Point going all the way from November 25 to December 31 without a start. He was pulled from that outing after allowing five goals on 18 shots and was replaced by Ryan Faragher, but bounced back well with his outing Sunday. He will only get better as he gets consistent ice time and can begin to adjust to life as a professional netminder.
After the game, I spoke with Idaho bench boss Neil Graham about the game and the play of his first-year goalie.
On the effect special teams had on the loss:
“Well, I’ll tell you what, it didn’t help,” Graham stated. “I don’t think you can fully hang it on the special teams, because our kill was pretty good, but, when you talk about momentum, that plays a big factor in the mindset and you can build a lot of momentum off a power play whether you score or not.”
“We started chasing a little bit there when we started taking a few penalties, then the flip side of that is our power play wasn’t good tonight, and it’s been very good. Going into the game we were at 23.5%, and really building confidence off of it, so tonight when it was off, we weren’t executing what we wanted to execute, and you could kinda see that deflate our group a little bit. That was a big momentum shift, and I think they were able to build momentum on their power play despite not scoring, they still had some good touches.”
On the performance of Point and the challenge of finding him ice time:
“Point was fine tonight,” Graham began. “You know, He’s still finding his rhythm, right, he was off there for a couple weeks, so he’s getting his timing and his rhythm, and I thought he looked more settled, but that’s going to continue to get better, and That comes with repetition and minutes played. I think he might want one of those back there , but overall I thought he made some good saves, when it was 1-0 for us he kept it 1-0, and he made some nice saves on the penalty kill as well.”
“You know what, It’s a good problem,” Graham said, speaking on having several talented goalies. “When you have three good goaltenders, that’s my job to make sure guys are getting their minutes and guys are developing at the same time. You know, Faragher is up in Stockton right now, and he got into their game friday night so we were happy to see that for him, he’s earned that opportunity. Sholl has been good all year, he’s a guy that’s been very consistent, he’s a pro, he goes about his business very quietly and you know what you are going to get from him. I think he is a great guy for Pointer to lean on a little bit and look up to as well.”
“so when you have guys like that fighting for the net, pushing each other in practice, it’s a good thing. The camaraderie really of all three has been very solid, they’ve been supportive of each other, we had Faragher inserted into a game in Rapid City and Point was the first to congratulate him after the game. So, when you see guys supporting each other, you know everyone is going to get their minutes, and it’s important to think big picture, everyone is going to get their starts, but you gotta make sure you’re supporting the guy that’s in.”
On learning from the negatives of today’s loss and the positives of a 4-1 road trip going forward:
“Without a doubt, you know, there’s going to be lessons to learn from the loss tonight, there’s been lessons learned from the victories in the first four, and I think as long as you’re adapting, and you are willing to acknowledge that there’s areas of improvement and there’s areas you want to replicate, you’re going to continue to win hockey games. So, we’re in a good place,” coach concluded.
“You know We have to get right back on it here, it’s a quick turnaround, we fly tomorrow (Monday) and don’t get in until late, then we play a very very good Toledo hockey club Wednesday, Friday, Saturday at home, so it’s important we manage our bodies over the next couple days and make sure that we recenter ourselves for the next week.”
The Steelheads will look to get back in the win column on Wednesday, at 7:10 p.m. MT, when they face the 23-8-3-0 Toledo Walleye in Boise.
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