Friday, November 21, 2014

Portland @ Kelowna 11/21/14 Preview

Portland (9-12-0-3, 21 pts, Tied for 3rd in U.S.) @Kelowna (21-1-2-0, 44 pts, 1st in B.C.)
In a game that will be aired on Sportsnet in Canada and NHL Network in the United States, two star laden tams face off in the first of back to back games in the Okanogan. Kelowna has managed to only lose 1 game in regulation, despite losing as many as 6 players at one time to injury. They are coming off getting 3 points out of a possible 4 in back to back games in Victoria on Tuesday and Wednesday. Kelowna has done this by scoring a WHL leading 118 goals, while giving up a 3rd in the WHL 56 goals. Portland hopes to steal a couple games this weekend from a team that is playing their 5th game in 8 days tonight and 6th in 9 tomorrow.

Season Series:
-10/30/14: Kelowna 5 @Portland 0:
Portland jumped on the Rockets for 15 shots in the first period, but were held goal-less by Kelowna goalie Jackson Whistle. They gradually took the game over and were led by 3 points apiece form Austin Glover and Justin Kirkland.
-11/2/14: Portland 3 @Kelowna 2(OT):
Paul Bittner put together one of his best shifts of the season, dominating possession in the Rockets zone in over-time and finding his own rebound to provide the heroics.

Series Point Leaders Through 2 Games:
1)Rourke Chartier 3 (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
1)Justin Kirkland 3 (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
1)Austin Glover 3 (3 Assists)
4)Madison Bowey 1 (2 Assists)

1)7 players all have just 1 point.

-16 year old forward Dillon Dube and 6th leading scorer Austin Glover are listed as out for 1-2 weeks. 5th leading scorer Justin Kirkland should be out 1-3 weeks. D-man Dalton Yorke is expected to be out 3-5 weeks and D-man Mitchell Wheaton and forward Tanner Wishnowski are out indefinitely. Rodney Southam, who was recently acquired form Tri City, due to injuries was suspended for 1 game due to earning his 3rd Game Misconduct of the season in Wednesday's game @Victoria.

-Should be 100% healthy. Dominic Turgeon took a puck off his jaw Wednesday  @ Kamloops, but continued to play in the game.

Players to Watch:
-#10 C Nick Merkley:
Merkley somehow only has 1 point so far against the Hawks. This despite the fact that he leads the WHL with 42 points in just 24 games. He has found magic with line-mates Tyrell Goubourne and Rourke Chartier this season en route to tearing the league up offensively. These 3 seem to know where the others are on the ice and can make a defense get caught puck watching, while one of them gets to a prime shooting lane and capitalizes. Merkely will be highlighted most of the night as he and Paul Bittner are  both "A" rated 2015 NHL draft prospects and will get a chance to show their wares in front of Bi-National T.V. audiences.

-#2 D/LW Jesse Lees:
The latest in a recent line of successful transitions from Defense to Forward for the Rockets. Lees has a very quick release and finally looks comfortable enough to shoot at will. He has found recent success as he has 10 points in his last 5 games. He has played really well with Tyson Baillie and Tomas Soustal, giving the Rockets some scoring support, despite the injuries.

-#4 D Madison Bowey:
Has been forced into carrying a large amount of the load defensively recently with the injuries to Wheaton and Yorke, but has still found a way to contribute offensively with 28 points in 21 games so far this season. They have tried to manage his minutes but if either of these games continues to be close look for him to be forced into logging a lot of minutes.

-#27 RW Oliver Borkstrand:
8 points in his last 4 games but has left a lot more points on the ice. He missed a wide open net and struck a cross bar on two great chances in Kamloops. If Portland is to steal some important points this weekend, they will need some scoring from their Danish sniper. The chemistry finally seems to be there with linemates Paul Bittner and Nic Petan but they have not proven this enough on the scoresheet yet.

-#23 C Dominic Turgeon:
Only 2 assists over the last 4 games, he needs to be more consistent for the Hawks. Recently he has been lined up with Alex Schoenborn and Keegan Iverson and has gotten matched up with the other team's top line a lot. If this line can outplay the other team's top line or at least make it difficult to come out of their own zone, the Hawks will most likely win. The lack of consistent play among this group has been a big issue this season.

-#2 D Anton Cederholm:
Quietly does  a lot for the Winterhawks back-end and seemed to make a concerted effort early in the season to get pucks on net and/or carry the puck into the zone. Whether it has been the coaching staff's decision or his, he has not really stuck with that as the season has gone. He has been paired often with Layne Viveiros and seems to not want to jump up into the play. Whether this is because of a lack of confidence in Viveiros or not I don't know. As a leader on this defense, they really need him to start forcing the play more. Also, in his own zone, recently his positioning has not been the greatest. He seems like he relies upon his strength to reach out and separate the other tem's forwards from the puck, rather then concentrating on his skating and separating without having to do this.

Game Outlook:
-Portland can make a loud statement with a win on the road against the #1 team in the CHL. If there was ever a time to beat this team, it is now as they are depleted due to injuries and have played a lot of close hockey games recently, requiring their stars to play a ton. If Portland can play a solid team defensive effort tonight, they can wear down a Rockets team that is without some of their larger bodies. Portland's D-men need to do a much better job of covering Kelowna forwards in their own zone rather then just sit back and watch the play, thinking their positioning is perfect, when it really is not.

Something Portland did well in their blowout win over Everett last Sunday but did not do on Wednesday was puck support. Too many times a Blazers won 50:50 puck battles along the boards and created scoring chances. It should be easier for Portland to win these battles tonight playing a team that is only playing 10 forwards.

Winning the penalty battle (drawing more then you take) will also be key as Kelowna has the #1 Power Play in the WHL at 31.7%.

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