Friday, April 10, 2015

Everett-Portland Series Preview: Keys to Victory and Prediction

Everett and Portland start their 2nd round series on Friday night at 7:35 pm in the Xfinity Arena. While both teams split the 10 season series games at 5 wins apiece, Portland has won 4 of the last 5 games. The Silvertips have advanced to the 2nd round for the first time since 2007 and their reward is a team that has advanced to the WHL Final 4 straight years.

So, with all of that history in mind, what are some keys to victory for both teams?

1)Get Nikita Scherbak Going.
-Scherbak was the team's leading scorer in the regular season with 82 points in 65 games. Where was he then in the first round, as he notched only 3 points over the 6 games?
-Time and time again we have been shown that your best players need to play at their best, for you to be successful in the playoffs. I think it's safe to say that if Scherbak has only 3 points in the Portland series, the Winterhawks are advancing. The First round Montreal Canadians draft pick needs to start realizing that immense talent for Everett to advance.

2)Saskatoon Platoon Has an Offensive Boon (see what I did there).
-Kohl Bauml, Carson Stadnyk and Dawson Leedahl showed a lot of chemistry around January, helping save the team from a late season falter.
-If Leedahl is healthy (he didn't play Games 4-6 of the Spokane series), these three will be counted on to play a complete game. They will be tasked a lot with matching up with the Nic Petan line and have shown that they can do enough to get Petan and Co. to play defense; which is the surest way to keep them off the scoreboard.
-Stadnyk and Bauml are #1 and 3 in playoff scoring for Everett, while Leedahl had 2 pts in the 3 games he played.
-Great chemistry among linemates can go pretty far to make up a gap in talent level and could lead to these three doing enough at both ends to counter-act what the Petan line does.

3)Continue to Draw Penalties.
-Everett was the best team in the WHL at drawing penalties, while not commiting a lot themselves.
-Portland's PK was the worst in the WHL in the first round, as Seattle operated at 35.3%. While this does not necessarily mean that Portland has a poor PK, it does mean that Seattle was quite successful at making the Hawks pay for their mistakes.
-Everett will need to capitalize on as many opportunities as possible as they are given, especially if Portland is able to get past Everett's defense and score some goals themselves.

4)Stay Within Your Defensive System.
-The Silvertips biggest weakness in years past vs the Hawks, has been their tendency to "puck watch" while Portland's play-makers controlled possession and created scoring chances.
-There is a fine balance between staying within your defensive position and "puck watching." The Silvertips need to find this balance to be successful vs. Portland. They must get into the corners defensively and win the 50:50 pucks, while not over-stretching themselves and opening up some looks for Portland's snipers.
-Key in this will be Everett's forwards coming back and back-checking; taking away shooting looks.

5)Ride the Hart Magic.
-Carter Hart has been incredible this year for Everett, supplanting a 19 year old Goalie, who spent time at training camp with the Vancouver Canucks. There were times over the Game 6 3-OT win over Spokane that Everett's play was lackluster, leading to great scoring chances for the Chiefs. Hart made several big stops and gave his team the chance to win it, which they did. He will be given the same task vs. Portland, during the times, that the Winterhawks offensive stars get good looks. The 16 year old rookie has put together quite the run, but has struggled against the Winterhawks. If he can keep the magic going, Portland's shooters could get frustrated and try picking corners, as they did at times in the early going of the Seattle series.

1)Don't Let Constantine Distract You.

-Everett Head Coach Kevin Constantine knows how to work the media. He made statements about Spokane's forwards "diving" like it was an olympic sport. He also was ejected from a game vs. Portland earlier this year and reacted by doing the slow walk acorss the ice and flipping a pen high in the air on his way out.
-Portland's players are experienced enough that I do not think that they will be affected directly by Constantine's comments, but I do worry that Everett will try and turn this series into a messy one, where tempers will flare, dangerous hits are made and words are exchanged through the media. This simply does not fit how Portland likes to play.

2)Don't Let the Fore-Check Get to You.
-Everett relies upon your D-men making key mistakes, to set up their scoring chances and they are probably the best in the Western Conference at doing so.
-Portland's top 5 D-men (Anton Cederholm, Layne Viveiros, Keoni Texeira, Blake Heinrich and Adam Henry) need to weather these fore-checks and make sure they are supporting each other, setting themselves up for good passing lanes and not sending any blind passes in their own zone.
-Zone exits have been key for Portland to succeed this season. When they are at their worst they are being careless with puck aroudn their own blue line, setting up quick chances for the other team. Everett will capitalize on these if they are given to them.

3)Shooting Accuracy.
-Portland's best snipers had plenty of looks in the early going of the Seattle series, but failed to get shots on frame a lot. Everett's Carter Hart is playing lights out for them right now and Portland needs to make him make a save, rather then give him the easy out of a shot high off the glass.
-I know that Oliver Bjorkstrand's incredible pace towards the end of the season, is impossible for him to maintain forever, but I still think that he can be much closer to it then he was through the first 3 games of Portland's first round series.
-Paul Bittner had 2 goals and 4 total points in the first round, but can defintely be better, as he missed the net a fair amount himself, as did Miles Koules.

4)Make Everett's D-men Pay.
-Tristen Pfeifer and Noah Juulsen's health is in the air right now entering the second round. -Regardless of whether they play or not, Portland needs to get hits in on Everett's D-men consistently.
-Not only will physical play, wear down an already tired unit, it will create scoring chances off of turnovers for the Hawks.
-Portland needs their checkers (Evan Weinger, Keegan Iverson, Alex Schoenborn and Skyler McKenzie) to body up on Everett's D-men and get them to second guess the next time they retrieve a puck in their own zone.

5)Hope Hill Has Regained Form.
-While he had a shut out in Game 4, I really do not think Adin Hill looked much like himself until Game 6.
-He is a tough goalie to get a read on. With Brendan Burke, we knew he was great with loose pucks around his feet, but would sometimes lose his net. With Mac Carruth, we knew he had un-shakeable confidence and was at his best when he was pissed off about something. With Adin Hill, I'm starting to believe that he may be at his best, when flopping all of over the place and not really sticking true to one specific goaltending style. He made several saves late in Game 6, where he came out on the shooter and cut off angles with his big frame.
-If he can ride his hot play from the extra session of that game, he could start being the kind of Goalie that can carry his team. As of right now, he has not been asked to that too much.

-To be completely honest, I was more worried about the match up with Seattle then I was about one with Everett. Seattle had a shut down line that had some success in the regular season and they had several elite players that could contend with Portland's star power.
-Everett meanwhile, does not have elite players that have had a ton of success vs. Portland. They will need a lot of depth scoring and a very young goalie to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
-The Silvertips though have found a way to get these things at times this year.
-I think Portland will earn a split in Everett and jump out to a 3-1 lead, before closing them out and keeping the drive for 5 going. Portland in 6.

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