The Idaho Steelheads are a very, very good minor-league hockey team.
Early in Wednesday night's game in Boise, the Alaska Aces made their hosts look like the explosive Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.
The Aces surrendered three first-period goals for the first time this ECHL season -- Alaska did not even manage a shot on goal until Idaho had unloaded 14 shots and generated a two-goal cushion -- and got hammered, 4-0, at CenturyLink Arena.
Tyler Beskorowany's 29 saves marked the first time the Aces have been shut out this season, and the four-goal spread matched Alaska's most lopsided loss this season.
To add injury to insult, Aces center Nate Thompson did not play after the first period, which made him the latest casualty on the club's lengthy list of injured players. Alaska entered the evening with seven players already injured, including Scott Gomez and Brandon Dubinsky, who like Thompson are NHLers playing for their hometown team during the lockout.
Aces coach Rob Murray told KFQD radio that Thompson suffered an upper-body injury and is unlikely to play Friday and Saturday at Utah.
Early signs indicated the Aces (18-8-0), who have lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly six weeks, were in for a long night against the league's most potent offensive club:
• Alaska surrendered the first two goals of the game inside the opening 10 minutes for the second time in the last four games.
• Idaho's 20 first-period shots on goal were the most the Aces have given up in any period all season.
• Alaska did not manage a shot on Beskorowany until more than 10 minutes had been played.
Idaho (17-5-3) pushed its streak of games unbeaten in regulation to seven (6-0-1).
"I hope the guys were embarrassed,'' Murray told KFQD, "because I was embarrassed to be standing on the bench.''
The Aces of late have been lamenting their too-frequent poor starts to games, but they did nothing to alter that trend Wednesday. Idaho captain Ben Ondrus and Austin Smith scored goals a minute apart midway through the first period. Justin Dowling added another first-period goal.
Smith's goal extended his point streak to 10 games and marked his 12th goal in that stretch. Dowling pushed his point streak to eight games.
David de Kastrozza's goal less than two minutes into the second period ballooned Idaho's lead to 4-0. Although the Aces pushed back on the shots front in the second period -- they outshot Idaho 14-8 -- Alaska still trailed 4-0 at the second intermission.
And even though Alaska outshot Idaho 24-12 in the last two periods, that was an empty stat. Teams that own big, early leads inevitably play much more defensively and don't concern themselves greatly with adding more goals.
Shuffling the deck
With Thompson out the final two periods, defenseman Alain Goulet moved to wing. Defenseman Chris Haltigin also logged shifts at wing.
The Aces' five-game road winning streak was snapped.
After giving up at least one power-play goal in three straight games for the first time all season, the Aces kept the Steelheads by cashing in with a man advantage -- that's because Alaska did not commit a penalty. That's the second time this season an Aces opponent did not enjoy a power play -- Stockton didn't get one in Alaska's 6-2 win in California on Nov. 28.
Aces rookie winger Jarred Smith led all skaters with a career-best six shots on goal. He has the two-highest shot totals of his career -- six and five -- in the last two games.
Idaho's lineup for the first time included NHLer Nick Johnson, who signed with the team recently and last season earned 8-18--26 totals for the Minnesota Wild. In Johnson's only previous season in the ECHL -- as a rookie in 2008-09 -- he accumulated 14-10--24 totals in 18 games for the Wheeling Nailers.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 0 0 0 -- 0
Idaho 3 1 0 -- 4
First Period -- 1, Idaho, Ondrus 1 (Tousignant, Blain), 8:57; 2, Idaho, Smith 15 (de Kastrozza, Carroll), 9:57; 3, Idaho, Dowling 9 (Tousignant, Ryder), 15:49. Penalties -- None.
Second Period -- 4, Idaho, de Kastrozza 5 (Case, Fyten), 1:49. Penalties -- King, Idaho (hooking), 9:09.
Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Case, Idaho (goaltender interference), 7:02; Case, Idaho (boarding), 16:15; Cullity, Idaho (tripping), 18:21.
Shots on goal -- Aces 5-14-10--29. Idaho 20-8-4--32.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 for 4. Idaho 0 of 0.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 5-2-0 (32 shots-28 saves). Idaho, Beskorwany, 7-5-1 (29-29).
A -- 4,930 (5,006). T -- 2:18.
Referee -- Brett Sheva. Linesmen -- Scott DeBaugh, Andrew Wetzel.