BOISE, Idaho – Close games can be a blessing or a curse for a hockey team. It can be telling of a team’s wherewithal and determination to keep games tight and, eventually, capture a victory from the jaws of defeat. It can also be telling of a team that drags through the beginning of games, having to fight that much harder the rest of the match in order to keep things competitive.

The Idaho Steelheads are in the latter category, falling behind 2-0 in four out of their first five games. Saturday night’s game against the Utah Grizzlies became Idaho’s fourth instance of a two-goal deficit of the young season. Sadly, the Steelheads have only been able to convert one of those games into a win, with their 2-0 hole ending up in a 2-1 loss to the Grizzlies.

“It’s tough to play catch-up,” Idaho Head Coach Neil Graham stated after the tight loss. “As emotional as it was to get that victory last night, that takes a strain on the body mentally and physically. So it was important for us to get off to a hot start, which we didn’t accomplish. We played hard again…guys really battled the final 40 (minutes)…but at the end of the day, it’s tough to continually play catch-up.”

After both teams combined for 11 goals the night before, Utah leaned on their top two scorers (and a red-hot goaltending effort) to down Idaho in a low-scoring affair. Caleb Herbert and Joshua Winquist had the two tallies for the Grizzlies, while netminder Kevin Carr stopped 27 of 28 shots for his first victory of 2018-19. Idaho’s only goal came from play-making forward Justin Parizek in the second period.

As was a carryover from the previous evening, tempers flared and fists flew between the Mountain Division rivals. Both tilts occurred in the second period: Idaho’s Jeff King & Utah’s Tim McGauley faced-off at 4:58 of the middle frame, while Steelheads defenseman Keegan Kanzig squared off with Utah d-man Teigan Zahn at 8:28 of the second. The Kanzig-Zahn battle was a bit more brutal, as the 6-foot-7 Kanzig bludgeoned Zahn with multiple rights before refs stepped in along the boards to break things up.

Utah and Idaho alternate captains Teigan Zahn (L) and Keegan Kanzig (R) circle one another in anticipation of their eventual fistfight in the second period of Saturday night’s Grizzlies-Steelheads match-up. Photo Credit: Noah Saucerman Pitts

Herbert’s previously mentioned goal occurred on a breakaway chance at 8:25 of the first period, with the former Steelheads forward placing a backhand by Idaho goaltender Philippe Desrosiers. Winquist’s score came a little over two minutes later, as the Alberta-born lefty deflected a Kevin Davis slapshot into the net for a power-play goal at 10:51 of the beginning frame. Winquist would leave the game after falling awkwardly following a tie-up with Idaho forward Connor Chatham early in the second period. He had to be helped off the ice by teammates Ryan Walters & Teigan Zahn and did not return.

The lone Idaho goal from Parizek came from a solid passing series between he and Alexander Dahl during a short-handed penalty kill. Dahl set Parizek up heading into Utah’s zone, skating down the right wing to confront Carr in net. Parizek’s powerful wrist shot zoomed right by the Utah netminder, bringing Idaho within one late in the second.

Idaho forward Justin Parizek celebrates his shorthanded goal Saturday night against the Utah Grizzlies. It was the Steelheads’ only tally of the evening. Photo Credit: Noah Saucerman Pitts / The Sin Bin

“(Alex and I) have been playing really well on the (penalty) kill,” Parizek admitted. “We’re both really quick players…we know that they’re a really skilled team, and that if they turnover the puck on the power play, we’re probably going to get a scoring chance. They’re not going to backcheck as hard as we’re going to forecheck. (Alex) made some nice passes, and I was just lucky enough to score one.”

Unfortunately for Idaho, the score would remain the same through the rest of regulation. An explosive third period saw the Steelies catch up on the shot sheet by a tune to 10-1, but returned fruitless in regards to goals. Pulling the goalie in the final 90 seconds, although effective the evening prior, yielded no similar result for the Steelheads Saturday night.

Idaho definitely isn’t in panic mode regarding their slow starts. But, with five straight one-goal games (and two-goal deficits faced in each one), some tinkering needs to occur so that substantial beginnings complement the already-present hardy endings.

News of Note

The Texas Stars announced before Saturday’s game that they had loaned forward Elgin Pearce to the Steelheads. Pearce played 61 games for the Jacksonville Icemen last season, netting 23 goals and 27 assists for a solid 50 points in 2017-18. He signed an AHL contract with Texas on September 26 and skated one game for the Stars before being re-assigned to Idaho.

Steelheads forward Elgin Pearce skated with Idaho after being loaned to the team by the AHL’s Texas Stars. He wore the number 46 and had two penalty minutes in his team debut. Photo Credit: Noah Saucerman Pitts / The Sin Bin

The Steelheads dressed the goaltending combo of Philippe Desrosiers and Tomas Sholl on Saturday after Ryan Faragher picked up a 6-5 overtime victory on Friday. By the looks of it, Idaho may use a three-goalie rotation — as long as Desrosiers is available and no injuries occur amongst the Dallas and Texas Stars goaltending ranks.

Idaho dives into a six-game road trip these next two weeks, starting in West Valley City for a two-game stint with the Grizzlies on October 26 and 27. The Steelies then head to the midwest to take on Central Division foes Indy (October 30), Toledo (November 2 and 3), and Kalamazoo (November 4) before coming back to Boise on November 7 for a three-game set with the Tulsa Oilers.

Be sure to follow Mark Grainda (@SinBinFuel) and Alexander Wolff (@SinBinWalleye), for The Sin Bin’s coverage during the Idaho road stretch!

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