Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday's Portland Winterhawks News and Notes: Some Thoughts on Portland's Divisional Rivals

With 18 points separating the five U.S. Division teams and only 27-28 games left for the team, there is still a lot of different ways that the final standings in the division could go.

Portland has a home-and-home with Seattle this Friday and Saturday, before hosting Tri-City on Sunday.

Here is how the U.S. Division standings currently sit:

  1. Everett-44 Games Played-28 Wins-12 Losses-2 OTL-2 SOL- 60 points
  2. Seattle-44 GP-25 W-16 L-3 OTL-0 SOL- 53 points.
  3. Portland-45 GP-23 W-20 L-2 OTL-0 SOL- 48 points.
  4. Spokane-44 GP-20 W-19 L-2 OTL-3 SOL- 45 points.
  5. Tri-City-45 GP-20 W-23 L-2 OTL-0 SOL-42 points
Everett, in the span of only a few weeks has gone from second in the division to holding first with a tight fist. I was at their 2-1 win over Saskatoon this last Monday and came away so impressed at how much every single player within that system buys in. Last season, players like Ivan Nikolishin and Nikita Scherbak stood out, due too their excellent talent, but also due to playing outside of the system at times. This year, even their top scorers like Remi Laurencelle, Carson Stadnyk and Patrick Bajkov don't really jump off the page skill-wise, but due to all of them playing within coach Kevin Constantine's system and paying way more attention to controlling possession, developing a cycle and just getting pucks deep and grinding, they do not have to in order to be successful. On the defensive end, there are times when they protecting a late lead, where they not only take away any shooting lanes, but also take away passing lanes to dangerous areas as well. They lead the WHL in goals against at 94 and I would not be surprised if they also had a huge lead in shot attempts as well. They are going to be a tough our for any team in the playoffs.

Seattle has been somewhat of an enigma to me. They look to have the most high-end talent in the division with players like Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar. However, consistency has not really been their thing, especially on the road. Four-goal losses to Prince George and Everett, just should not be happening at this point in the year for a team with the potential that Seattle has. The addition of goalie Landon Bow has helped steady their most glaring weakness, but they need to show up every night in order to take a run at Everett and set up an easier postseason road. I'm really interested in both of Portland's games against Seattle this weekend, as the two teams seem headed for a second straight first-round match up.

Spokane has taken a bit of a nose dive after trading away Adam Helewka. As is usually the case with a Don Nachbaur team, they still have the ability to win against any team on any night, but it appears that management is going to try for a run next year or the year after instead. They currently have the second wild card spot and are slotted to play against Kelowna in the first round. Since Kamloops has 51 points, it actually looks like the easier path to a better opening round match up, would be to take third in the U.S. back from Portland. Their goaltending has got to be better though, as the pivotal loss to Portland last weekend, could be hung on the fact that Adin hill made the big saves when he needed to and Tyson Verhlest did not.

Tri-City chose not to trade away Brandon Carlo for draft picks and prospects and instead opted to try and make a run at the playoffs instead. I'm not one who saw the Americans closing the gap on the playoffs with three straight wins over Saskatoon, Regina and Vancouver. Jordan Topping is a player, who could come out of nowhere and get some attention around the league next year. He has a good shot, a knack for being in the right spot and has improved on deflecting point shots. He is on a tear recently, with three goals and two assists over the last three games. The Americans have not really had a consistent, non-overage scorer since the likes of Justin Feser and Brendan Shinnimin. I think Topping has the ability to be this next season as a 19-year-old. Topping currently has 42 points in 45 games played. As far as this season is concerned, I just do not think they have enough scoring depth to overtake Spokane, unless the Chiefs really tail off. Their collection of 16 and 17-year-old talent has got to have them excited about 2018 though.

Winterhawks in the NHL:
-Derrick Pouliot finally got the long expected call up to the Pittsburgh Penguins, due to injuries. He has been scratched the lat couple of Pens' games including tonight vs. Philadelphia.
-Andrew Ference is reportedly having season-ending hip surgery. He had only played six games, so far this year with Edmonton and not all of the scratches were due to health. At this point, one has to think that Ference's career is coming to an end. The hard-nosed d-man, who won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins and a Memorial Cup with Portland, has played 907 career NHL games, potting 225 career points.
-Brandon Dubinsky scored on a rebound  to tie Columbus' game with Calgary at two in the second period. Unfortunately for Dubinsky and CBJ, they ended up falling to the Flames 4-2. Seth Jones extended his point streak to four-games with an assist on his team's first goal of the game.

-Sven Baertschi scored a nifty goal for Vancouver and kept his recent hot streak going in the Canucks' 4-2 win in Boston. Jannik Hansen also had an assist for his first point since returning from an injury.
-Ryan Johansen scored his ninth goal of the season on the power play and added an assist, as Nashville held off Winnipeg 4-1.

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