The Idaho Steelheads are down to the final eight home games on their regular season hockey schedule. With that in mind, here are eight things to know as the Steelheads jockey for ECHL postseason position:
Idaho plays its first game at CenturyLink Arena since Feb. 11 when it gets a rare visit from the Cincinnati Cyclones on Friday night. Idaho is 2-1-0 all-time against Cincinnati in the regular season, but the Cyclones have ultimate bragging rights since they defeated the Steelheads in the 2010 Kelly Cup Finals.
The Steelheads are coming off a stretch in which they played eight consecutive away games. They went 7-1-0 during that road swing.
“Anytime you do that you’re laughing,” forward Kyle Jean said. “It’s nice to come back here with all those wins.”
Steelheads coach Neil Graham agrees.
“If you can go 7-1, home or away, you’re playing some pretty good hockey,” he said. “But to do it on the road and build some momentum on that long trip, it was very important for our team.”
TOP SCORER HAS EMERGED
Forward Anthony Luciani came to Idaho in the offseason with an offensive reputation that he earned during his junior and pro career.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pounder has seven goals and 12 points in his past 13 games, and leads the Steelheads in goals (25) and points (54).
“Something I don’t think he’s been getting as much credit for is the defensive side of the puck,” Graham said of the 26-year-old Canadian. “With his physicality and his leadership in the dressing room, you can just tell he’s matured as a hockey player.”
SPECIAL TEAMS CLICKING
Idaho is one of two teams ranked in the top five in the ECHL in power play and penalty killing. The penalty kill ranks third (84.6 percent) and the power play enters the weekend fourth (22.6).
“It’s been fun to see, because guys have been putting in the work to make sure (the rankings) stay there,” Graham said.
Landon Bow is putting together an impressive rookie campaign (15-4-0). The 6-foot-5 netminder is second in the ECHL in save percentage (.933) and goals-against average (2.15). The 21-year-old has recorded two 1-0 shutouts in his past four starts.
“Anytime it’s 1-0, you know both goalies played extremely well,” Graham said. “But what I like especially about Landon is his compete. You can see it as the game is developing and both goalies are dialed in like that. You can the killer instinct in (Bow’s) eyes. He wants to get the better of the other (goalie) and he wants his team to be successful.”
DEFENSEMAN ON THE ATTACK
If Joe Faust scores again, it will be his 14th goal of the season. That would set a Steelheads single-season ECHL record for goals by a defenseman.
Idaho was short bodies as it went through a six-game losing streak from Jan. 25 to Feb. 4. Since then, Idaho has won 9-of-11 games.
Injuries get partial blame for the skid. Having healthy bodies back has contributed to the success. Case in point: Brian Nugent. The forward had been out with an injury since Nov. 25, but has been a revelation since returning to the ice in early February. He has five goals and seven points in his past seven games, including a pair of two-goal games.
“We were down so many bodies for a while it was about rest and it was about timing,” Graham said. “But we just had a hard practice (Wednesday) because we finally had the bodies to do it.”
EYE ON THE PLAYOFFS
Idaho finishes the regular season April 8 at the Alaska Aces, who are folding after the season. The Steelheads will play the next 14 games with two goals: Qualify for the playoffs and secure as good seed in the Mountain Division.
Idaho enter Friday’s game in third place in the division. The top four teams qualify.
“There’s still a lot of hockey to be played … but I think we’re trying to peak at the right time and elevate our game at the right time,” Graham said.
Added Jean: “We’re doing really well, but the message is: Keep it going.”
Idaho home for five games
- Who: Cincinnati (31-25-4) at Idaho (33-18-7)
- When: 7:10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- Where: CenturyLink Arena
- Radio/TV: 1350 AM/Cable One channel 72
- Tickets: CenturyLink Arena box office or IdahoSteelheads.com
- Up next: Idaho hosts Rapid City for three games next week (Wednesday, March 17-18).