Monday, October 27, 2014

A Changed Team? Hawks Win 2 Straight to Close Out Trip

The Portland Winterhawks closed out their East Division road trip with two rather convincing wins over a couple struggling teams. They started to look like the team that we were expecting them to be to start the season. They did this by possesing the puck more and utilizing their D-men in putting the other team off balance. This is something they have shown a little here and there but not with the amount of consistency they did to end the trip.

Portland 5 @Prince Albert 2 (10/23/14):
Portland out shot the Raiders 11-4 in the first period and spent almost the entirety of the period in their zone. Shades of Bolton Pouliot's poor game in Swift Current last time out, started to show through though as Jayden Hart tipped home a Brendan Guhle point shot to give P.A. the 1-0 lead. Instead of letting off though, this just inspired the Hawks to control the play more on their way to goals by Mile Koules and Keegan Iverson to close out the period with a 2-1 adgantage.

Prince Albert and mostly Mackenzie Stewart failed to go away quietly though as he threw several massive checks to start the period and was rewarded with the goal on a bouncing puck in front of Pouliot. Bolton looked much better in the second period and finally seemed to get comfortable for the first time with the Hawks. Portland responded well to start the 3rd though as the power play capitalized on a Hunter Warner holding call as Layne Viveiros' point shot got home 3:06 into the 3rd. Portland got it's second mouthguard violation though at this point as Nic Petan was given a 10 minute misconduct. Again the Hawks responded to the adversity by Viveiros again firing from the point. This time big Paul Bittner deflected it home and Portland was up 4-2.

Alex Schoenborn, whose season has not gone the way a NHL draft pick would expect, took another stupid penalty, boarding Reid Gardiner in the neutral zone. He was given a 5 minute major, a game misconduct and later a 4 game suspension for the hit which caused Gardiner to get 16 stitches in his forehead. Gardiner also broke his nose on the play. Portland's penalty kill stole the game though, as they played much better then their 19th ranked %, killing off the 5 minute power play and later cementing the win with an Anton Cederholm empty netter.

Pouliot got his first win with the Hawks, stopping 29 of 31 shots. P.A. had a solid performance by Nick McBride, who stopped 29 of 33 in the loss. Portland's power play went 2 of 3 on the night, while P.A.'s went 0/4.

Game Notes:
-Alex Schoenborn has got to be in Coach Jamie Kompon's dog house. He has 2 goals and 1 assist in 15 games this season but also leads the team in penalty minutes with 37, while posting a -6 so far. This is a lot of PIMs considering he does not have a fight to his credit yet. He spent some time playing on the top unit with Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, as well as, the 2nd line with Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson, but now finds himself on the 4th line with some combination of Alex Overhardt, Tyson Predinchuk and and Ethan Price. He has put his team short handed way too many times this season for Kompon to feel comfortable with giving him a lot of ice time. It also does not bode well for him that without him in the lineup,the Hawks had their most dominant win of the season in Saskatoon.
-I was impressed with Skyler McKenzie as when 6'4" 216 lb Mackenzie Stewart was throwing his weight around and causing issues in Portland's defensive zone 5'5" 140 lb McKenzie would not back down and he was the one getting in Stewart's face (or as close as the smaller man could). One would think that a diminutive man cnetering your 3rd line would be a major weakness but he has really responded and played very well since being put in this role.
-The 2nd line of Dominic Turgeon centering Paul Bittner and Miles Koules combined for a total of 6 points on the night and continued to be probably the most dominant puck possesing lines Portland has.
-I really did not understand why Schoenborn was given a double minor in a scrum with Mackenzie Stewart 5:26 into the 2nd. Schoenborn was tangled up with a Raider that ended up falling to the ice. The Stewart came in far after the whistle and the inital scrum was over and he started a new one with Alex. To the best of my understanding, the very late guy coming in should be penalized more...

3 Stars:
#3: Paul Bittner:
-Should give this to the entire second line as they continue to play extremely well together, especially at keeping the puck in the opponent's zone. Bittner had 1 goal and 1 assist and was just a beast on the puck all
#2: Mackenzie Stewart:
-Even while playing up as a forward, Stewart was by far the best Raider on this night. In the 2nd period, when it appeared the Hawks were just going to run away with the game, he almost singlehandedly keppt them in it with a lot of nice hits and a goal.
#1: Layne Viveiros:
-This the Viveiros I wish we could get every night. He carried the puck more into the opponent's zone then I've seen him do all season and seemed to be feeding upon playing against the team his Dad won a Memorial Cup for. Layne had his first 3 point night of his career.

Portland 6 @Saskatoon 1 (10/24/14):
Portland has another great 3rd period out shooting the Blades 19-9 and somehow only got one puck past Alex Moodie. Chase De Leo was the one that solved Moodie, but it could have been many others as he had a great first period. The game got a little more tight in shots in the 2nd period but not in goals, as Anton Cederholm followed up on a Keegan Iverson try on the power play to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead. Former Seattle Thunderbird Adam Henry buried the point shot on a power play 10:48 into the 2nd period, after Keoni Texeira took another minor penalty after being caught out of position.

Even though Portland was possesing the puck way more and had a 30-18 2 period shot advantage, the score after 2 periods was only 2-1. This is when the Oliver Bjorkstrand show began to play. Bjorkstrand had many chances in the P.A. game, but did not take the puck to the net in an aggressive manner. He finally started to do this in the 3rd period and got quite the results. He made the score 3-1 off a Nelson Nogier turnover at the Blade's blue line. Then, after Miles Koules scored on a 3 on 2 rush, Bjorkstrand score a goal on a tight angled rebound chance and lastly scored a highlight reel goal by dancing around 3 Blades defenders to earn the hat trick and a 6-1 Portland win.

Portland out shot the Blades 40-25 and was 2/4 on the power play. The Hawks were 47% on the raod trip on the man advantage and now sits 4th overall in the WHL with  23/7% on the season. The Hawks killed off 3 of the 4 Saskatoon power plays and is now 16th in the WHL with 77.4%.

Bolton Pouliot followed up his first win as a Hawk with his second in as many nights with 24 saves on 25 shots. Alex Moodie was great in the first 2 periods, but wilted in the 3rd as he made 34 saves on 40 shots for the Blades.

Game Notes:
-Winnipeg Jets 2014 4th round pick Nelson Nogier continued his rather rough season as he made several huge turnovers that led to Portland scoring chances. He now has 1 goal and no assists in 11 games and is a -15. Nogier will continue to get the tough match ups as he did this night against the Nic Petan line and he needs to rise to the occasion in order for the Blades to win more games.
-Speaking of matching up lines, Portland has found gold on their second line with Turgeon, Koules and Bittner. Paul in particular has made a huge impact on this line and now has 9 points on the season. His line is getting a lot of the other team's top line offensively, but their 2nd defensive pairing. Bittner just seems like he has really figured out how to use his body and is too much for 2nd pairing D-men on most WHL teams to handle.
-Bittner also benefits from linemate Miles Koules' quickness. Koules is great at creating space for himself and his linemates with his quick cuts back and fort in the other team's zone. I also love how much of a bull dog he is in his own zone as well. He had 1 goal on the night and has points in 4 straight game and 6 out of 7.
-Tyson Predinchuk took Alex Schoenborn's place on the 4th line with Ethan Price and Alex Overhardt.
-Another former T-bird, Sam McKechnie nearly had a goal for the Blades, but it was ruled no goal as he deflected it in with his stick over the cross bar. After further review it appeared that Sam may have struck the puck again below the cross bar, but video replay did not give a good enough angle to prove this.
-Evan Weinger continues to impress on the Hawk's 3rd line with McKenzie and Keegan Iverson. Weinger had one sequence where he just completely outmuscled a Blade's player off the puck at their own blue line and created a scoring chance. I like the move to put him on this line and hope he can continue to get a lot of ice time, as I think his improvement as the season goes, will have a big impact on how far Portland goes this season.
-It was remarked by Les Lazaruk, Saskatoon's play by play guy that Pouliot plays really deep in his net. I can't help but wonder if this is in reaction to a goal he gave up in Swift Current, where he was burned by being too aggressive and playing himself out of posiotn. Hopefully he can find some balance, or he will leave himself vulnerable to point shots.
-Somehow Blake Heinrich only has 2 assists over 6 games with Portland. His impact should not be weighed just in points though as he has given Portland a pretty high level puck mover. His pairing with Keoni Texeira has been a bit of a godsend for Portland, as they both are great skaters that are at their best when they are exchanging turns in jumping up into the offensive zone. He also has a pretty solid backhnad shot and he almost scored with this a couple times on the road trip. Look for him to get more and more responsibilities as the season goes.
-Bjorkstrand's first goal could not have come at a better time in the 3rd period, as Portland was starting to show the wear of playing 4 games in 5 nights. This goal, not only gave Portland insurance, it provided the life they needed.
-Portland finished 4-2 on the road trip and outside of the loss in Brandon, looked like a much improved team.
-Portland next takes on Kelowna on Thursday and Saturday for a pair back home. 1 game will be in the VMC, while the other is in the Moda Center.

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