WEST VALLEY CITY — In their season opener on Wednesday night, the Utah Grizzlies started as strongly as their backers had hoped with a first-period 1-0 lead and 18-4 advantage in shots on goal.
The Cincinnati Mighty Ducks weathered that first onslaught and gradually gained control of the game in the E Center, one of two opening-night contests to kick off the 69th season of the American Hockey League. The Ducks took a 4-3 win following overtime and two shootouts.
Tonight, in the rematch at 7 in the E Center, new Utah coach Pat Conacher has to find a way to get his players to play the entire game as well as it started Wednesday.
Conacher figures any situation can be remedied if you try hard enough, so he and assistant coach Gord Dineen talked to the young team about the way mistakes piled up and made a video of the error situations to show the Grizzlies this morning.
Basically, he said, going into the second period Wednesday, "We didn't give the other team enough respect."
Cincinnati's defense protects the slot well, but the Grizzlies insisted on going right into the teeth of that strength making "high-risk" plays and wound up making turnovers that eventually turned into penalties. They also stopped skating hard, and the Grizzly defense got confused when the Ducks got their speed rush going.
Conacher and Dineen hope to get defensive assignments set straight and the offense geared to moving more wisely tonight.
He plans on using pretty much the same lineup, though he will probably use former AHL all-star goalie David LeNeveu, if the sore leg he's been nursing this week is well. In practice Thursday, LeNeveu indicated things were good, Conacher said. AHL all-star MVP Jean-Marc Pelletier absorbed Wednesday's shootout loss when Cincinnati's Jeffrey Lupul beat him as the first shooter of the second shootout. Lupul, a 2002 first-round pick by Anaheim, had a goal and two assists in regulation time as well.
Following tonights game, Utah plays at San Antonio Saturday night, then hosts Manchester Wednesday in the E Center and on Oct. 23 in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Manchester is the AHL affliate of the L.A. Kings, but Utah is designated as the home team for that game.