Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Portland Shows Life, But Cannot Overcome Three-Goal Deficits and Lose 5-3, Now Down in Series 3-0 to Everett

Matt Fonteyne had a goal and an assist in Everett's Game Three win
The Portland Winterhawks finally gave their fans something to cheer about in the second period of their Game Three loss to Everett, scoring three times and cutting a 3-0 and then 4-1 Everett lead to 4-3, with a period left. Everett and goalie Mario Petit stood tall in the game's final frame though, keeping Portland off of the board and then putting the game away for a 5-3 win. It was not just the fact that Portland scored the three goals (more than they'd scored over the entire first two games of the series in Everett), it was how they scored them that got the fans into the game. They showed commitment to imposing their style and breaking free from the stifling, ground and pound style Everett made them play for almost the entire first two games of the series. Long, breakout passes, freed them up for odd-man rushes and activated defense caught the seemingly unbreakable system that Everett had been playing, off guard, setting up many great scoring chances. Everett's Petit proved that he could take Portland's best punch though and turned in another great game; playing his best in the third period.

Despite signs that Portland was ready to play early, Everett scored first on a good cycle and perfect shot. The Silvertips' Matt Fonteyne found some room behind the Portland net and found linemate Patrick Bajkov alone in the slot. Bajkov showed patience in waiting for Adin Hill to go down before he picked the blocker-side corner on him to open the scoring. Then with 18 seconds left in the first, Remi Laurencelle threw a pass form the right wing into an area in the slot, where Portland had two defenders. His long-time linemate Dawson Leedahl got there first though and deftly one-touched a shot over Hill and right into the corner. It was very clear from the beautiful play that these guys know where each other are on the ice at all times This type of chemistry is something Portland glimpsed, but never fully grasped from their forwards this year. Everett carried a 2-0 lead into the second period.

Everett took a 3-0 lead in the early part of the second period on the power play. It was  strange goal, in that the puck took a strange bounce off of Hill's pad and sat right there for Carson Stadnyk. The Everett forward received only a glancing blow from Blake Heinrich, who then got himself out of position. The then, left-alone Silvertip deftly got the puck right into the crease behind Hill, where Remi Laurenelle poked it home. Despite being down 2-0 in the series and 3-0 in the game, Portland roared back and while both sides had four skaters, they scored their first goal of the game. Skyler McKenzie, who had been bumped up to the role of first-line center, with Dominic Turgeon out for the year, threw a check, while on the forecheck and forced a rare Everett turnover. Caleb Jones collected the puck and used his body to shield off Everett defenders, while hitting Rihards Bukarts with a drop pass. Bukarts used the room Jones created to snipe a shot past Petit. Everett responded right away as they got a good cycle going after both sides returned to five skaters each and Brycen Martin's wrist shot from the blue line slipped past Hill. The Portland goalie appeared to be heavily screened and likely never even saw the shot. Going back down by three goals let the air out of the building and very well could have let the air out of the home team as well. Instead, Portland used a great response shift from Ryan Hughes, Evan Weinger and Colton Veloso to establish zone time and then took advantage of the tired 'Tips to cut the lead to two. Rihards Buakrts got to a loose puck along the left wing and quickly fired a great pass to Alex Schoenborn at the far post. The overage right wing poke the puck home and it was a 4-2 game. Portland scored again. This time, they finally got a bounce in the series, with Cody Glass getting to the puck in the corner first and throwing it right off of Petit, Everett d-man Brycen Martin and in. The Winterhawks had some more looks at the end of the second period and were buzzing, but simply ran out of time.

Everett gathered their emotions before the third period and played a brilliant defensive game in the third, in order to hang onto their lead against a very desperate team. Portland's best scoring chance in the third was when Colton Veloso took a page out of Cody Glass's book and threw a puck in on the skates of an Everett d-men. This time it bounced off of Noah Juulsen and very nearly snuck under Petit. If Juulsen hadn't reached out and gotten just enough of the puck after it struck him, it likely would have. Portland got a power play with 1:47 left, but was not able to get many good scoring chances, foiled by a puck that just would not settle and stellar board battling by Everett. Matt Fonteyne won a board battle himself and forced the puck the length of the ice, scoring an empty net goal and sealing a 5-3 Everett win.

The Winterhawks fall to 0-3 in the series and are now forced into a win-or the season is over game Wednesday night.

Adin Hill did not have to do as much, but really did not have much of a chance on three of the Everett goals. He stopped 21 of the 25 shots he saw. Meanwhile, Petit was able to stop 30 of the 33 shots that he faced. While Carter Hart was back at practice on Monday, he was still scratched from the lineup, leaving Petit the net. If he is able to close out Portland with another good performance Wednesday night, it is likely that Everett will let Hart take as much time as he needs coming back from injury.

Game Stats:
Link here.
Game Notes:
-Right before game time it was announced that Portland captain and leading scorer Dominic Turgeon had been shut down for the season and, in fact, had shoulder surgery earlier in the day. Turgeon's play had been suffering over the past several weeks, so my guess is that he suffered the initial shoulder injury some time on the Alberta trip, if not before. His physical play dropped off at about that time and the checks that he did throw seemed like they were hesitant. Turgeon is a signed prospect for the Detroit Red Wings, so it can be assumed that they played a role in the decision for Turgeon to call it quits on the season. I think what happened with Nick Heid last season, may have affected the decision on the Portland side as well. In an interview early this year, Heid admitted that he felt something tear in his shoulder and then played for another month before Portland finally shut him down. I do not have to make this decision and I know that parents and in the case of Turgeon, the pro team will have their say and Portland has to take all of these parties into consideration before making the decision, jointly with the player. With the way Turgeon played all year, this could not have been something that was easy for him to do. I wish all of the best of luck to Turgeon and look forward to what will certainly be a great NHL career.
-Portland played a much riskier style Tuesday night, in an effort to break their offense from it's unnatural slumber. They tried countless long passes in an effort to set up odd-man rushes. It was nice to finally see them get comfortable and play a style that they are used to playing.
-The style itself seems to be what is coming under fire recently. Early this season, in close, low-scoring games vs. Everett, Portland played a tight-checking game that required them to forecheck and backcheck like mad. At about the time when Rihards Bukarts joined the team, they decided to jump fully into a free-flowing, puck-rushing style and takes a lot of risks, in order to catch the other team off-guard and create scoring chances. What is becoming abundantly clear, is the fact that they do not have the high-end talent that will enable them to fully play this style and be successful. This style is risky because often your d-men will be caught out of position and, as was clear in games vs. Kelowna and Victoria, allows them a lot of cross-ice passes that set up fantastic scoring looks. Now, when you do allow these looks and you have a guy like Adin Hill that can make spectacular saves, you better have the talent that will score on most of the looks you are creating. At times Portland has shown glimpses of this talent, but they have been far too inconsistent and that is just not good enough.
-I will leave the "where do they go from here..." for the offseason, but unless Portland can pull a 1996 Spokane miracle, that could be very soon.
-Tanner Nagel was inserted into the lineup, in the opening left by Turgeon and he was fantastic. He set up Brett Clayton with a great chance, by outworking a Silvertip on one play and threw a check to set up a chance for Alex Overhardt on another.
-Speaking of Overhardt, he played his best game in a long time, despite centering the "fourth-line." Maybe his play in this game, will be enough to get him removed from coach Jamie Kompon's doghouse. His talent should enable him to play more minutes then he played in this game.
-Immediately replacing Turgeon was Skyler McKenzie. He centered the teams' top line with Alex Schoenborn and Rihards Bukarts on his wings. This is  the biggest bone I have to pick right now with Portland's coaching. McKenzie was tried out early last season at center and was taken out of that role, after not playing well (my opinion). They did not try him out at center, until late in the season and only put him back in the middle after apparently losing patience with Overhardt. McKenzie is miscast as a top-line center and putting him in this spot in a very pivotal game is a mistake. If Portland is successful in imposing their style, the center is even bigger than in other systems, as they are relied upon to be the driving force up the ice and still backcheck like crazy and win board battles, deep in their own zone. McKenzie was plus-one in the game, but still, putting a player, who has only played in the middle a handful of times over the past two years is a very risky move.
-Game four goes Wednesday night back in the Moda Center. Portland has been backed into a corner and will try to avoid getting swept by the Silvertips.
Winterhawks in the NHL:
-Derrick Pouliot returned to the lineup for Pittsburgh and had an assist in their pivotal 3-2 overtime win over the N.Y. Rangers.
-Sven Baertschi scored goal number 15 on the year for Vancouver, but they fell to Chicago 3-2.
-Cody McLeod potted an assist for Colorado, helping them to a 3-0 lead. They would hang on for a 4-3 win over Nashville.
-Nino Niederreiter had a goal and an assist for Minnesota as they took down Chicago for their sixth straight win. Marian Hossa scored the Blackhawks' only goal, which takes him just one away from 500 in his NHL career.
-Ryan Johansen had an assist for Nashville as they fell 5-2 to Dallas.
Winterhawks in the AHL:
-Brendan Leipsic helped put a win or Toronto with the insurance goal in a 5-3 Marlies' win over St. John's.
-Two assists for Taylor Aronson in Milwaukee's 5-4 shoot out loss to Texas, give him a career-high 30 assists on the year. He is tied for eighth in the AHL in assists among D-men.
-Brendan Leipsic had a goal and an assist for Toronto as they shut out St. John's 4-0.
-Craig Cunningham notched his 19th goal of the year, but Springfield was edged by Wilkes Barre/Scranton 4-3.
-Another two assists for Milwaukee as they beat Grand Rapids 4-1.

Winterhawks in the ECHL:
-Tristan King scored his 12th goal of the year for Allen, but it was their only goal and they fell to Missouri 3-1.
-In a 4-2 losing effort to South Carolina, Atlanta got a goal from Thomas Frazee.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Everett Holds Home Ice, Takes Down Portland 3-1 in Game Two

Matt Fonteyne had the game-winner Saturday

The Portland Winterhawks wanted a split of the first two games, desperately Saturday night at Xfinity arena in Everett. They showed a lot more desire, by throwing their weight around, to the effect of 109 checks (40 more than the previous  night), but they still faced a hot goalie in Merio Petit, who has now stopped 57 of the first 58 shots he has seen in the series. 26 of which Portland launched in this one. Everett, once again had far too much time and space and is using it to throw off Hill, by faking a shot and getting him to commit and then promptly picking a corner. On the defensive end, they again did a great job of taking away the outlet and stretch passes that Portland loves and making them earn their way up the ice and only let them create scoring looks, after winning numerous boards battles.

Portland did open the scoring Saturday night, as Rihards Bukarts scored his eighth goal of the year vs. Everett, after corralling the rebound of a shot from Dominic Turgeon on the power play and putting it past a down and out Petit. Everett tied up the game later in the period as Brandon Ralph found some space and after getting a great pass from Devon Skoleski, got a shot on net in tight. The rebound came right back to him and he poked the rebound home. It was Ralph's second goal in the series. Then after Dario Winkler earned Everett a power play, Matt Fonteyne scored on the man advantage, by looking off Portland's defense and goalie with a shoulder fake, before beating Adin Hill, giving Everett the 2-1 lead.

Throughout the game's second period, Everett took advantage of the long change, by trapping Portland;s players on the ice, while they changed. This was how they would score their insurance goal, as Remi Laurencelle found a pocket of room and the tired Hawks could not close on him as he caught a pass in the slot and quickly beat Hill. After the Laurencelle goal, Portland started to throw around the body a lot more and tightened up their defense around their net and in the corners, but it was too little too late.

Twice in the game's last period, they got pucks in the crease in behind Petit, but both times, there was just not quite enough to force going to get them to trickle past the 'Tips goalie. There is a phrase that gets used a lot in hockey and that is that a goalie is "seeing the puck well." That phrase encapsulates Petit's play so far this series. He never seems to be out of position  and has gotten some help from the right roll of the puck. The first time they got a puck behind Petit, Alex Schoenborn got a rebound the almost snuck it past Everett's goalie. The quick-thinking netminder was able to look back and sweep it out of danger, just in the nick of time. The second time, Portland's Cody Glass made a great pass to Evan Weinger, in behind Everett's defense and Weinger beat Petit through the right armpit. It was not quite enough to get it to roll over the line, though, before Petit sprang into action. In that case, Colton Veloso was there, but was flat-out tackled by Everett's Brian King, before he could get his stick on the puck, on what would would have been a tap-in. There was no penalty called on the play. The other great look in the game's final frame came when a rebound came right to Dominic Turgeon and the Hawk's captain could not quite get his stick on the puck, even though he had a wide open net to shoot at.

Everett's Petit stopped 25 of the 26 shots he saw, while Portland's Hill stopped 34 of the 34 he faced.

Game Stats:
Link here
Game Notes:
-Portland completely mixed up their lines in what has to have been a desperate attempt to shake some offense out in the mix up.
-They put Rihards Bukarts with Dominic Turgeon and Alex Schoenborn and while it took awhile to get going the three of them created some chemistry towards the end of the game. Those three have played a lot together in the waning moments of tight games, so it was not exactly like starting out at ground zero.
-Alex Overhardt is in coach Jamie Kompon's dog house again. He was moved all the way down to the fourth line and was replaced as third line center, first by Ryan Hughes and later by Skyler McKenzie. The latter has spent most of the season as a left wing and only recently has he been placed in the center role. It's clear Portland's coaching staff wants more from the talented center.
-Keegan Iverson is finding a home in the playoffs. He was one of Portland's best players all night, as he created room for his linemates, by throwing checks early and often. I would like to see him get more shots net though, as he has a wicked wrist shot. Iverson and Rodrigo Abols have made quite the pair as they created a lot of room, by throwing a lot of checks. I liked them best, when they were working with Cody Glass. They were moved around to Glass, Hughes and McKenzie during the game.
Everett has several players, who practice the whole holding your stick in their ribs and then falling down move. This appeared to be what Winkler did to earn the power play that they scored on in the first period.
-Ryan Hughes is struggling to get going in the playoffs. He is one of the smaller guys on the ice and it is clear he is not used to the style of game that is being played. In one instance, he tried to stickhandle around somebody, right in front of his own net and lost the puck.
-This could be a big reason, why McKenzie had to be thrown into the third-line center role.
-Towards the end of the game, Everett's Noah Juulsen got Portland's Rihards Bukarts in a combination arm-bar/headlock. He then threw him to the ice in a move that could have easily dislocated the Portland players shoulder. Bukarts was given a game misconduct after he argued with the referee after no call was made.
-At the end of the game, Everett fans were seen throwing debris at Portland players, as they left the ice. I was in attendance a few years ago, when this happened at the end of a lopsided Portland wins. Seeing it now, after a big win is disturbing. There is obviously a small group of fans in Everett that are completely classless. They are giving the rest of the very warm and welcoming fans I've met up there a bad name.
-Game three goes Tuesday night at the Moda Center. Portland will be a very desperate team, as they hope to get within a game in the best-of-seven series.
Winterhawks in the NHL:
-Ryan Johansen had an assist for Nashville in a 5-1 win over his former club, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Winterhawks in the AHL:
-Brendan Leipsic scored the insurance goal for Toronto in their 5-3 win over St. John's.
-Taylor Aronson potted two assists for Milwaukee in their 5-4 shoot out loss to Texas.
Winterhawks in the ECHL:
=Anton Cederhom had an assist for Kalamazoo as they beat Wheeling 5-1.

Portland Gets Blanked by Petit 3-0. Drops Game One in Everett

Friday night at Xfinity arena, Portland had to be licking their chops. They were about to face a franchise, whose season they had ended twice over the past three seasons and they had learned that WHL Western Conference (and possibly the entire WHL) Goalie of the Year Cart Hart was out with a lower-body injury. The goalie they got instead though, was every bit as good, if not better, than Hart has been against Portland this season. Backup goalie Mario Petit, who only started nine games over the entire season, stopped all 32 shots (my count) Portland threw at him, in leading the Silvertips to a 3-0, opening game of the series win. On the offensive end, Everett got two goals from a guy who had only played in two games over the last month and fired 50 shots, a season high, on Adin Hill.

Everett set the tone early, by bumping, hitting and getting in the face of Portland goalie Adin Hill every chance that they got. It was extremely clear that throwing Hill off of his game, was a big part of their series game plan. Dawson Leedahl, who has been battling a hand injury over the last month, threw three hits in his very first shift and set up a style of hard-nosed play that it was clear Everett was more comfortable with. Leedahl later bumped Hill with his hip/shoulder and sent the goalie flying. Portland did not get awarded a goalie interference related power play until Yan Khomenko backed right into and fell on top of Portland's goalie. Portland had one of the best looks in the early going when Dominic Turgeon received a pass in a prime scoring area and was turned aside by the rookie goalie. Everett's best scoring chance in the scoreless opening frame was when Hill sprawled out to rob Brian King with his glove.

Everett straight up dominated the game's second frame in practically every aspect. They hung two goals on Portland, while establishing a potent forecheck and fired 22 shots on the Hawks' net. The Silvertips were certainly helped to that lopsided shot count by a five-on-three power play. They were unable to score on that advantage, but scored the game's opening goal moments after it was killed, undoubtedly helped by momentum they gained. The second penalty was called when Portland's Blake Heinrich bumped Carson Stadnyk from behind near the net and the Everett forward went flying onto Hill. In multiple views of the play, it seems clear that Stadnyk went down very easy and almost certainly re-directed himself to land on top of Hill. Regardless, Everett's first goal was scored by Brandon Ralph, who skated in and looked off Hill, like he was going to pass, before beating him over the left shoulder. It certainly appeared to be a shot, that Adin Hill could have stopped. Then, Everett created confusion in the Portland zone and when both Cody Glass and Keoni Texeira went to take away the guy at the far post, Dawson Leedahl skated right in on Hill and beat him easily. It was a full defensive meltdown and gave Everett needed insurance.

In the third period, Portland got some great looks, two of which were for Caleb Jones, who was stoned twice by Petit, when he got behind the defense. Jones's second chance was stopped by the right toe=pad area of Petit. Then Portland's defense failed Hill again as Carson Stadnyk faked a shot and deftly passed the puck to Leedahl at the far post. Leedahl had boxed out Texeira, giving him an easy lane to both receive the pass and beat Hill. Portland got consecutive power plays later in the period, but Petit stood tall and turned them away.

Mario Petit was the unexpected star of the game, stopping all 32 shots that he saw. Meanwhile, Adin Hill turned away 47 of the 50 that he faced.

Game Stats:

Link Here
Game Notes:
-It seemed like everyone of Everett's players bought into their game plan and the team as a whole got into Portland passing lanes and took away their best skill, open-ice passing. Without clean passes through the neutral zone, they struggled with creating odd-man rushes. This is where Portland does a lot of their damage. Everett head coach Kevin Constantine created a good game plan for frustrating Portland's skill players. It only worked though, because Everett had incredible puck support. Every time that a Portland player stickhandled around one Everett player, there was another there. A lot of the time, that next player was throwing a check and taking them off of the puck.
-Meanwhile, Portland turned an uneven defensive effort. Every time an Everett player got around one Winterhawk, there was boatloads of ice for them to skate into and oftentimes a three-on-two rush. Portland has to have better puck support. If the style of the game is not open and loose, they cannot let themselves play that way. I really thought that this team was more adaptable to different styles, but it appears that they have had too many bad defensive habits in order to do that.
-The worst defense of the game was played by Portland's Keoni Texeira. He made a poor decision on Everett's second goal and just got outmaneuvered and out-muscled on the second one. He had a lot of bad defensive lapses about halfway through the season, but had been playing better, as of late.
-The WHL has had their officials make calls that were statements against goaltender interference over the last couple of seasons. In this game and over the past few months, I've seen far too many liberties taken on the game's most valuable position. With four of the 16 teams in the playoffs, without their top goalies, you would think that the league's officials would be making more of an effort to protect them.
-On the flipside, the old school side of me thinks that if the officials are not calling bumping the goalie, well after the whistle, do it at the other end as well. Everett, at this point, does not have a backup that has ever played at this level, so you might as well take some liberties of your own. At the very least, the Silvertips may back off of taking so many cheap shots on Hill.
Winterhawks in the AHL Friday:
-Mac Carruth came into the game in relief of the starting Rockford goalie and stopped nine of the 10 shots he faced. His squad fell 51 to Lake Erie.
-Craig Cunningham had an assist for Springfield in a 4-3 loss to Portland.
-Taylor Leier had an assist for Lehigh Valley in their 4-3 victory over Providence.
-Ty Rattie extended his point streak to three games with an assist as Chicago beat Iowa 3-2.
Winterhawks in the ECHL Friday:
-Kevin Young had an assist and scored the game-winner for Reading, as they beat Manchester 4-3.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Portland vs. Everett Round One Play Off Preview: Part Four: Special Teams and Final Prediction

Bukarts had four power play goals vs. Everett this season
In part of a running series that started on Tuesday, I have been taking a deep look at each of the positions on the Portland Winterhawks and Everett Silvertips, prior to the start of their series, tonight at 7:35 pm in Everett. On Tuesday, I looked at goalies, Wednesday, I previewed defensemen and last night, I took a long look at all of the forwards. Today, I will take a look at special teams give you my final prediction.

Special Teams:
-The Silvertips had the second worst power play in the entire WHL this year. They scored 46 goals on 271  chances (17.0%), while allowing six shorthanded goals. The only team that had a worse power play then Everett, were the last-placed Kootenay Ice. Despite 37 power play chances in their 10 games vs. Portland, Everett only scored four goals for an awful 10.8% rate. Those four goals were spread across four different forwards: Devon Skoleski, Patrick Bajkov, Dawson Leedahl and Connor Dewar. The Winterhawks penalty kill has been vulnerable to screened shots from the blue line or one-timers (Ethan Bear anyone?), but Everett has not had much success with this. The Silvertips' penalty kill was surprisingly average at 16th overall, allowing 47 goals on 206 overall kills. They were shorthanded 34 times less then the next team in the WHL, as they just do not take a lot of penalties. Their three shorthanded goals for, were second worst in the entire WHL ( of note-Moose Jaw only had one shorthanded goal all season-with Brayden Point on the roster that is shocking). Portland scored eight of those power play goals, Everett allowed.

-The Winterhawks' power play has been much like the rest of the team; inconsistent. They scored 59 goals on 291 opportunities(20 more than Everett). This was good for 19.6% and 14th overall. They have allowed eight shorthanded goals against (two more than Everett). As mentioned before, Portland's power play has torched Everett for eight power play goals on 29 chances. Rihards Bukarts scored four of those goals and Rodrigo Abols, Jack Dougherty, Caleb Jones and Alex Schoenborn had the others. Bukarts had three of his four PP goals in just one game. Meanwhile, Portland has only allowed four power play goals from Everett on 37 chances (89.2%) and have allowed 60 power play goals on 286 opportunities for 79.0% and ninth in the WHL. Without the Seattle games factored in, one has to think that Portland's PK would be top-five in the league.They also had eight shorthanded goals, which is 13th in the WHL. Portland had one shorthanded goal vs. Everett and it was scored by Alex Schoenborn. I would not look for this to be a common occurrence in the series.

Who Has the Edge:
-I have to go with Portland in this as Everett's power play has been pretty awful this year and they do not really succeed much, at what Portland is most vulnerable to. Portland, meanwhile, has been very effective against Everett on the PP and has used it to bring themselves back from deficits to Everett in several of the games.

Final Prediction:
-Portland was 5-4-1 this year vs. Everett, but in the last two losses, really put themselves in bad spots with 3-0 deficits. In both cases, the stormed back, but did not have quite enough. The key for Portland is to just not let themselves get down big. A 1-0 first period deficit is fine, but anymore then that and you are flirting with disaster. Portland has dominated a majority of the thirds periods in the season series and I would look for that to continue.
-It's certainly looking more and more like Carter Hart will miss the first couple of games at the least, which is big for Everett. They will have to rely upon rookie goalie Mario Petit to carry the weight for a team that just cannot afford anything close to sub-par from their goalie.
-If Portland is not able to steal at least one of the first two games in Everett, with Petit in goal, it will be extremely tough sledding. If they are able to take both, there is no way Everett comes back . I think they split the first two and Portland wins both in the Rose City, en route to a series win in six games. Adin Hill will provide some fantastic saves and shake off the performances he's had vs. Everett the last few times out.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday's Portland Winterhawks' News and Notes: My Playoff Predictions

So the playoffs start tonight with the Edmonton Oil Kings visiting the Brandon Wheat Kings in a battle of royal nicknames. With the start of the playoffs, I have some thoughts on each series and who will win. Of course, I will not be posting who I think will win the Everett-Portland series until tomorrow.

East Division Bracket:
1)Brandon Wheat Kings vs. 4)Edmonton Oil Kings:
-The Wheat Kings are on a roll winning nine games in a row to close out the regular season. Included in those nine wins were seven that were by four goals or more. They should roll over the Oil Kings with Jayce Hawryluk(106 points) and Nolan Patrick(102 points) leading the way. Edmonton chose not to trade off guys like Brett Pollock and dysin Mayo and still needed a play-in game in order to sneak into the playoffs.
-If this series goes five, it will be because Edmonton goalie Peyton Lee stole a game.
Brandon in Five

2)Prince Albert vs. 3)Moose Jaw:
-This should be a tight series. The Raiders are led by Reid Gardiner, who has provided some overtime heroics this year. They also have stellar goaltending from Rylan Parenteau. The Warriors though, have probably the most talented player in the league in Brayden Point and the second leading scorer in the WHL in Dryden Hunt (112 points), to go with the Eastern Conference's goalie of the year Zach Sawchenko. I have to go with Moose Jaw, as the elite players can take over a series and Point has the ability to do that.
Moose Jaw in Seven

Central Division Bracket:
1)Lethbridge vs. 4)Regina:
-The Hurricnaes have been the darling of the WHL this year, as they have come out of nowhere to not only make the playoffs, but win their division. Brayden Burke and Stuart Skinner lead the way for the Hurricanes. Regina has the leading scorer in the WHL Adam Brooks (120 points) and can score in bunches, as evidenced by the 9-8 thriller they had with Lethbridge recently.
Lethbridge in Six

2)Red Deer vs. 3)Calgary:
-The Rebels do not want to go to the Memorial Cup through the back door, but have a really dangerous match up in the first round with Calgary. The Rebels not only are without starting goalie Rylan Toth, they lost Conner Bleckley for the season, after he received a cut to his arm from a skate blade and required surgery. They still have some great individual players in Adam Helewka, Haydn Fleury, Jake DeBrusk and Luke Philp, but need them to start playing better as a group in order to advance and avoid a couple months off before the Memorial Cup. Calgary has the likes of Jake Bean and Travis Sanheim on their blue line and they do a great job of providing some blue lien scoring.
Despite the injuries, I think Red Deer will pull through in seven. 

B.C. Division Bracket:
1)Victoria vs. 4)Spokane:
-Things could not have worked out much better for the Royals. In getting Spokane instead of Portland or Tri-City, they avoid a healthy team that still has their top goalie and top center available. They get to take advantage of the fact that Tyson Verhlest and Wyatt Johnson are out for the Chiefs. Joe Hicketts provides them veteran leadership and I would look for the Royals to ride their captain through a pretty easy first round.
Victoria in Five.
2)Kelowna vs. 3)Kamloops:
- The Rockets, like Spokane, are without their starting goalie and one of their best forwards in Jackson Whistle and Nick Merkley. Unlike Spokane, they still boast some elite scorers like Tyson Baillie, Rourke Chartier and Dillon Dube, Kelowna has some inexperienced d-men, but still have a solid goalie in Michael Herringer. If they were facing Victoria or Seattle, I would be concerned they would drop the series, but Kamloops does not look to have enough to take advantage. Connor Ingram provides them with some elite netminding and Collin Shirley and Gage Quinney can score enough to make this a long series. If the series goes seven, I trust Baillie or Chartier to grab the moment and score the big goal when it's needed.
Kelowna in Seven. 

U.S. Division Bracket:
1)Seattle vs. 4)Prince George:
-There are few hotter teams then Seattle, as they finally started to become the team that we thought they would be at the start of the year. Few teams can contend with what the T-birds can do offensively and goalie Landon Bow has given them some amazing goaltending since being acquired from Swift Current as well. Prince George has really struggled since January began and has taken a lot of bad penalties, putting themselves at a disadvantage way too often. Seattle's power play will make them play, if they do this against them.
Seattle in Five.

Winterhawks in the NHL Thursday:
-Tyler Wotherspoon had his first NHL assist of the season in his 10th game. Nino Neiderreiter scored a goal for Minnesota and his Wild were able to take down Wotherspoon's Flames 6-2.
-Sven Baertschi had an assist for Vancouver as him and the Canucks took  Nashville to the shoot out. In the circus though, Johansen made his attempt and Baertchi did not leading to the Preds winning 3-2.
-Oliver Bjorkstrand and Brandon Dubinsky each had an assist for Columbus in their 3-2 loss to Carolina.

Winterhawks in the AHL Thursday:
-Mac Carruth gave up four goals on 35 shots and his Rockford IceHogs fell to Lake Erie 4-2.

Winterhawks in the ECHL Thursday:
-Patrick Wellar had an assist for Alaska in his team's 6-5 shootout loss to Rapid City.

Portland vs. Everett Round One Playoff Preview: Part Three: Forwards

In my running series previewing the first round playoff series between Everett and Portland, I have been taking a deep look at different areas of each team. On Tuesday, I looked at the goaltending match up and yesterday, I took a look at how the two team's defensemen compare.
Tonight, I will take a look at each team's forwards:

(#8)Patrick Bajkov:
-The 1997 born Nanaimo, B.C. native had a breakout season last year, jumping from having 19 points as a 16-year-old all the way to 45. This year, he only improved by one with 18 goals and 28 assists for 46 points. He was ridiculous on the power play last year, utilizing a hard and accurate one-timer to score a lot of his goals. This year, he has again spent a lot of time on the left half-boards for Everett, but has not seen the same success.Against Portland this year he had two goals and an assist for three points, while posting a minus one and notching four penalty minutes. He's mostly found himself skating on the second line for Everett along with Matt Fonteyne and a mix of other wingers. While he has not been as lethal, Bajkov still sports a heavy wrist shot and could make a big impact in this series.

(#12)Dawson Leedahl:
-The heavy forward and team captain is the emotional leader for Everett and when he is out there throwing checks and mixing it up after the whistle, they are a better team. If he is able to play through his broken hand, he could very easily be the biggest thorn in Portland's side in the series. He played a lot of the season on Everett's top line with Remi Laurencelle and Carson Stadnyk, but found himself being replaced by the hot, Connor Dewar, even when he was healthy enough to play. I think if Everett is able to win this series, they will do so with Leedahl back on the top line, creating more room for his line mates. He had 12 goals and 15 assists for 27 points this season and one goal and two assists for three points, in eight games vs. Portland. In those eight games, he tied for the team-high in plus/minus with a plus four and also had 10 penalty minutes.

(#13)Remi Laurencelle:
-Everett's leading scorer (58 points) and top-line center has also led the Silvertips vs. Portland with one goal and five assists for six points in 10 games. He has also won nearly as many face offs as he has lost vs. Portland's top center: Dominic Turgeon. A lot of these wins were during pivotal moments in very tight games. Is Laurencelle the prototypical top-line center for a team hoping to make a deep playoff run? No, likely not. But, he plays Everett's system to the letter and is one of the best players in the league at finding loose pucks around the net and swiftly beating the goalie with them. This is why he is the net-front presence on their power play and also the way he scored a lot of his goals. This is his overage season and he will carry a heavy load for the 'Tips this round, getting the match up with Turgeon and co. and trying like hell to shut them down. I'm looking forward to this match up.

(#14)Riley Sutter:
- Sutter broke his leg back in January and has not played since. He has been seen practicing this week and could be healthy enough to play by game one. I don't think he will see much action, even if he is strong enough to go. He had one goal and three assists in the regular season and no points in the three games he played in vs. Portland.

(#16)Carson Stadnyk:
-He was a Winterhawks' killer early last season, but did not have that much of an impact during the playoff series last year and had a let-down of an offensive output this year. He had a 20 point dip in points, in the same amount of games, which made him second on the team with 49 in 71 games. In 10 games vs. Portland, he scored four goals (most on the team) and had an assist, while posting a plus four plus/minus rating and eight penalty minutes. Three of those five points were in the 7-5 shoot out the two teams had. Stadnyk has been a bit of an enigma for me. He showed so much potential last year as a 19-year-old and even earned a look from the St. Louis Blue prior to the start of the season. He disappeared for large stretch of the season and in looking at his numbers vs. Portland, I was honestly surprised to see he did not miss any games, as I do not remember him having that much of an impact. He does play really well in his own zone and is one of the best forwards on his team, at getting the puck, quickly going the other way. Everett needs more form him, in order to win the series though.

(#17)Matt Fonteyne:
-Everett's second-line center has struggled vs. Portland this year. He had three assists in the 10 games, while posting a minus two, along with two penalty minutes. He did not fare very well at the face off dot, if I remember correctly and struggled, while being matched up against Cody Glass's line. Fonteyne does pretty well defensively (like most of these forwards) and while he is not much of a goal scorer (16 goals), but has pretty good ice-vision, posting a total of 32 assists (most on the team).

(#22)Graham Millar:
-He had 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points this season, but has spent a lot of time on the team's fourth line. I have not watched enough of the Silvertips to know whether this was due to poor defensive play (something Constantine will not abide by), but it does seem that this is an odd place to put one of your few goal scorers. In 10 games vs. Portland, he had only one assist, with a minus three. He is really good at getting his stick on point shots and deflecting the shot past the other team's goalie. When Everett is controlling play, you will likely see him drive the net and try to do just that.

(#28)Devon Skoleski:
-I was impressed with the rookie, the first time I saw him play live, during the preseason. He has great ice-vision and seemed perfectly comfortable playing with the puck on his stick. He has continued that trend this season and had nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points this year. A pretty good output for a young guy, in such a defensive system. He tied for second most points vs. Portland this season with three goals and two assists for five points. His ability to see a play develop, has helped him look at home in Portland's up-tempo style. If the Winterhawks are able to impose their style, Skoleski will be one of the guys to look out for coming back the other way.

(#33)Brian King:
-King is another guy who has had surprising success vs. Portland. He had four goals and six assists for 10 points in 60 games this year, but he had three of those goals and one of those assists in just seven games vs. the Hawks. So, in his 53 other games, he has just one goal and five assists. He has played well as a third line winger and unlike Skoleski, I'm not really sure why he's had such success vs. Portland.

(#43)Connor Dewar:
-The biggest surprise for Everett, this year has been the great play by their 16-year-old left wing. He has 11 goals and seven assists on the year. One of those goals and one of those assists vs. Portland this season. Unlike King, Skoleski and Yan Khomenko, he has not had as much surprising success so far vs. Portland. All this can change as the small forward seems to have a knack for scoring the big goal. This knack led to him getting a lot of top-six ice time and he has not looked out of place at all.

(#44)Spencer Gerth:
-He has been mostly absent out there, in the seven games he played in vs. Portland. He was minus six in those games and had two penalty minutes. Those two penalty minutes were the most memorable thing he did as he collided with Portland's Adin Hill and got into a melee with the big goalie.

(#68)Dario Winkler:
-The Austrian forward was acquired from Brandon earlier this season and had seven goals and five assists in the 48 games since being brought in. In six games vs. Portland he has zero points. Winkler plays bottom-six minutes, but has shown a flare at times as a play-maker.

(#71)Brandon Ralph:
-Another forward from the Eastern Conference, Ralph plays a very different style then Winkler. He plays heavy, throwing lots of checks and trying to create turnovers for his mates. He has just five goals and three assists this season and none of those were against Portland. He has found a spot on the third line and could play a big role in trying to slow up Portland's third unit, or at least making them feel his presence out there.

(#77)Yan Khomenko:
-Along with King and Skoleski, Khomenko has been the other forward to have more success against Portland then the other team's he's played against. He has five goals and three assists this season and three of those goals were vs. the Hawks. He is a large, smooth-skating forward and has shown off the ability to make an effective power move to the net. This was how he scored one of his goals vs. Portland. If he continues to play so well vs. Portland, he may find himself playing further up in the lineup.

(#8)Cody Glass:
-The former first-round draft pick has gained some valuable experience this year, as he has played second-line center for most of the season. He is about to gain even more experience, as the WHL playoffs are unlike anything he's experienced as of yet. He had 10 goals and 17 assists this season for 27 points, but only had just one point (a goal) vs. Everett. He was also a minus three with two penalty minutes. This is somewhat surprising as he played a lot of those games with his line mate, Rihards Bukarts, who has had a lot of success vs. Everett. Glass has grown so much in his rookie year and, while inconsistent, he has made several passes that take you out of your seat. Were he to pull a Ty Rattie (Game Seven OT winner), I would not be surprised.

(#9)Rihards Bukarts:
-The "Tips killer had six goals and one assist in just five games, while with the Hawks and added another goal vs. Everett, while with Brandon. That's seven goals in just six games vs. Everett. How has he had suck success? Well, from what I have noticed, he has a great pump fake and makes the Everett D-men and forwards go down to try and block the shot, before releasing it, while using them for a screen on Carter Hart. He has also just had a knack for finding time and space under a lot of pressure in the Everett zone. Seven goals is also another sign that he knows where to shoot on Hart and what to do in order to confuse him, in so far as, where the shot is coming from. He needs to keep this up for Portland.

(#11)Bronson Sharp:
-The rookie played just one game vs. Everett and is still looking for his first WHL goal. He is likely just along for the ride this post-season.

(#13)Keegan Iverson:
-Iverson is a guy who at times, has played, like he is just along for the ride this post-season. He had 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points, a lot less then I expected him to have. Vs. Everett, he had just one goal and two assists in nine games.He posted a minus two with two penalty minutes. One thing that I would like to see Iverson do a lot more of is impose his will in and around the net. He has a large frame and yet does not get his stick on the puck often enough when he is in tight on the net. I think Portland could survive more sub-par Iverson in the first round, but likely would not in the second round. It seems a foregone conclusion that Iverson will not be signed by the N.Y. Rangers and will become a free agent after this June's draft. That is unless, he starts to unleash his powerful wrist shot more often and get a handful of goals.

(#15)Tanner Nagel:
-He will likely see limited action as a fourth line right wing, but when he is out there he plays with more passion then a lot of the more skilled Hawks. Nagel played just four games vs. Everett and posted an even rating.

(#17)Alex Overhardt:
-The Hawks' third line center has been an enigma for Portland this season. He is stellar at the face off dot and plays well in his own zone, but has been incredibly inconsistent point-production wise. He had nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points, but just one goal and one assist in nine games vs. Everett. He has shown a lot of ability, but nine goals is not as much as coach Jamie Kompon wants from him. He has been healthy-scratched twice this season and while he responded well the first time, he has not the second. He will likely play with Evan Weinger and Skyler McKenzie and this line has the ability to have a huge impact.

(#18)Rodrigo Abols:
-The rookie is simply fun to watch. He had four of his 20 goals and three of his 29 assists vs. Everett this year. There are few better centers in the league on an odd-man rush, but Abols needs to do a little more, while his team has zone-possession. While rushing the puck he takes advantage of aggressive d-men, by faking like he is going to shoot and finding a skilled line mate in alone. While Everett's d-men are usually good at staying home, Abols still has had success at suckering them as well.

(#19)Ryan Hughes:
-Portland's other rookie center, has played so much better, the more confidence he has gained. He has three goals and 10 assists this year for 13 points. This is not half-bad considering that Hughes has been limited in ice-time, spending most of the year as the team's fourth-line center. In 10 games vs. Everett, he has two assists. Hughes has had a lot of chances to set up some goals on the second-unit power play, but has not had much success in that role. Towards the end of the season, Glass has taken his spot as the center on that unit and they have had much better puck possession. I am really looking forward to seeing how much better Hughes is next season as he will likely be playing in the top-six forward group.

(#22)Alex Schoneborn:
-One guy, who unlike Iverson, grabbed his last chance to earn an NHL contract and ran with it. He has been Portland's most consistent forward this year and has scored in so many ways. He has also left it all on the ice, by diving for loose pucks and throwing huge, open-ice checks. He is not Portland's captain, but definitely seems to be a leader in the room. The speedy winger had 27 goals and 30 assists this year and two of those goals and five of those assists were against Everett. One of his goals vs. Everett, was of the short-handed variety and he is probably Portland's most dangerous PKer in that way. His 16 penalty minutes were, by far the most on the team and that is really his biggest weakness. He needs to play right on that line to be successful, but too often, he has been coaxed into going too far.

(#23)Dominic Turgeon:
-Portland's captain had 36 goals and 34 assists this year for 70 points, but somehow, I still feel like he left a lot on the table. He is the most skilled forward in this series and he needs to take control of it for Portland. He had three goals and three assists for six points vs. Everett, while posting a plus one. Turgeon will not only be relied upon to provide some scoring, he will be needed to try and keep Laurencelle and co. off of the board as well. Turgeon plays in every different area on the ice and it seems likely that his ice-time will reach the Nic Petan range of around 25 minutes a game.

(#24)Brett Clayton:
-In eight games vs. Everett, Clayton had one assist. He plays heavy out there, but will be on Portland's fourth line, playing limited minutes. Clayton and Nagel will probably trade in and out of the lineup, but Clayton could get first crack.

(#25)Evan Weinger:
-Along with Overhardt, Weinger has been healthy-scratched this season, in an attempt to get him to shake himself out of his lack of offensive production. It's clear that the coaching staff sees so much ability in him, by giving him a lot of top-line minutes, but he has not been consistent enough to stay there. Weinger will likely be on the third line and though he had two goals vs. Everett, he still had so many more good looks that he fired wide. Overall, this season, Weinger had 25 points, but will need a good playoff run, in order to get serious NHL attention for the draft.

(#39)Colton Veloso:
-Veloso, meanwhile, also had two goals and added an assist, while playing fewer minutes then Weinger or Overhardt. He has relished his spot as a penalty killer and has done a great job at getting into shooting lanes and blocking shots, as well as, taking away passing lanes. He had 11 goals this year and has shown a good scoring touch, especially when juicy rebounds are allowed.

(#43)Skyler McKenzie:
-The small forward had three assists vs. Everett this season and 25 points over the entire season. During stretches this season, he has been explosive and has created some really good looks for the Hawks, but he is not expected to do this consistently. Really, I think McKenzie is a perfect player for Portland's system as he has perfected the art of creating turnovers in the neutral zone and turning it the other way. This is something that really plays into what Portland likes to do, as it creates odd-man rushes.

Edge Goes To:
-If you made it to the end of this long post, you will not be surprised that I am going with Portland. While, I still think that there is still a lot more that Portland can get out of their skilled forwards, they still have more skill overall then Everett's do at this stage.

Wednesday's Portland Winterhawks' News and Notes: No Hawks on Western Conference First or Second Team

Western Conf. 1st All-Star Team:

G - Carter Hart
D - @Hicksy_2
D - Ethan Bear
F - Tyson Baillie
F - @Barzal_97
F - Parker Bowles
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 23, 2016

Western Conf. 2nd All-Star Team:

G - @CBIngram1
D - @Juuls16
D - @jasonfram95
F - @_SoySauce_
F - @chasewitala
F - @collinshirley12
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 23, 2016

For the first time since 2009, Portland did not receive any votes for the first or second team all-stars in the Western Conference.

Here are the Winterhawks that were named to either the first or second team along with any other awards that they won:
2014/15: Nic Petan (2nd), Oliver Bjorkstrand (1st-WHL MVP)
2013/14: Nic Petan (1st), Oliver Bjorkstrand (1st) and Derrick Pouliot-1st-CHL D-man of the year)
2012/13: Mac Carruth (1st-West Goalie of the Year), Seth Jones (1st-WHL Rookie of the Year), Nic Petan (1st), Troy Rutkowski (2nd), Tyler Wotherspoon (2nd), Brendan Leipsic (2nd), Ty Rattie (2nd)
2011/12: Joe Morrow (1st), Ty Rattie (1st), Sven Baertschi (2nd)
2010/11: Ryan Johansen (1st)
2009/10: Nino Niederreiter (2nd)

Even as someone, who would love to make an argument for a Winterhawk to make either the first or second team in the west, I can't honestly make that argument. Adin Hill was not consistent enough to warrant a nod over Everett's Carter Hart and Kamloops's Connon Ingram and while Dominic Turgeon had a good year it was not better than Victoria's Tyler Soy or Seattle's Mathew Barzal. I think that Caleb Jones is the best hope to get Portland back in the running next season, as he returns for his 19-year-old season, but that is a long ways off.
Winterhawks in the AHL Wednesday:
-Ty Rattie had a goal and an assist for the Chicago Wolves as they fell to Charlotte 7-3.

Ty Rattiejust scored a goal with his face.
— Erika S. (@rinkrebel) March 24, 2016
-Taylor Aronson had an assist for Milwaukee on the power play as the Admirals shut out Texas 2-0.

Winterhawks in the ECHL Wednesday:
-Kevin Young and Cam Reid each had an assist for Reading, in a losing effort, as they lost to Kalamazoo 3-2.
Winterhawks' Prospects News:

Honouredto be named League MVP and Best Forward in Alberta this evening! #AMMHL
— Bradley Ginnell(@bradginnell) March 24, 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Portland vs. Everett Round One Playoff Preview: Part Two: Defensemen

I will be doing a running series, where I take an in depth look at different areas on both Portland and Everett and make a decision on who has the edge. Yesterday, I previewed the goalie match up and today I will take a look at the guys right in front of them: the defensemen.

(#3)Noah Juulsen:
-The conversation about Everett's blue line does not just start with him because he has the lowest number. He is the heart and soul of the unit. The right-handed blue liner from Abbotsford, British Columbia was a first round draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens last June. He also played for Team WHL at the Canada-Russia Super Series and was a finalist to make Canada's World Junior Championship team. He had seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points in 63 games, while contributing 38 penalty minutes for the Silvertips. Against Portland, Juulsen has two goals (one of them an overtime winner) and three assists for five pints, which is tops among d-men on his team. He is also an overall +2 with 10 penalty minutes (also most for any d-man). He has usually been paired with Lucas Skrumeda, but is the quarterback for the first power play unit, alongside Brycen Martin. Juulsen, likely leads Everett in time on ice and is relied upon heavily, in any situation. Against Portland this year, he has thrown his body around a lot and has not allowed a lot of good quality chances on his goalie, due to expert use of his stick and body positioning. Juulsen is a great skater and showed this off in setting up the eventual game-winner in one game, by blowing past Portland's Jack Dougherty and taking advantage of the long change on his OT winner.
(#4)Brycen Martin:

-He was the big acquisition for Everett this season, as they sent a package to the Saskatoon Baldes in exchange for the Buffalo Sabres draft pick (third round-2014). At the time, he was acquired, Martin was among the league leaders in points with 24 in 25 games, while with the Blades. He was expected to provide a lot of points form the blue line and help the Silvertips score more. This has simply not happened. You could argue that Everett's system, just does not allow him to jump into the play more, but he still has seen a lot of power play time and is likely second on the team in time on ice, when he's been healthy. In 41 games with the Silvertips, he has only scored three times and added 10 assists for 13 points. That is a sharp drop off from where his numbers were with Saskatoon. Martin has only played three games against Portland this year, notching one assist and two penalty minutes, along with a plus/minus rating of +2. In his limited action, he has looked good, giving Everett another smooth skating d-man back there, who also has amazing positioning. He has been dinged up for a lot of the season and only just got back into the lineup last week, after his most recent absence. In his three games back in the lineup, he has been paired with Jake Christiansen, likely meaning that he was not 100% yet.
(#7)Tristen Pfeifer:
-Another injury-plagued d-man in his time in Everett. Pfeifer played a lot of last season and the playoffs, as a top-four d-man when he was on the ice. He skated in 60 games this year, an improvement on the 49 last season, but recently broke his wrist and has been in and out of the lineup since. How healthy that wrist is, could be big for Everett's depth on the blue line. He had 13 points, 37 penalty minutes and was a +13 overall this season and had zero points and zero penalty minutes in seven games vs. Portland. He was an overall +3 in those seven games, which is tops among d-men.
(#23)Jake Christiansen:
-The left handed, West Vancouver, B.C. native played 48 games in his 16-year-old season and while he had four goals and four assists for eight points in that span, three of those goals and one of those assists were against Portland. After seeing him turn the puck over, leading to two different Skyler McKenzie goals in the preseason, I thought Christiansen would really struggle this season, but this has not been the case. As it is the playoffs, I would expect him to play limited minutes, but his offensive success against Portland this year has to give Kevin Constanine and the rest of the coaching staff confidence enough to play him more if needed.
(#24)Lucas Skrumeda:

-He struggled a lot in the playoffs last season vs. Portland, especially against their most talented players. Due to injuries they had to play him, probably more than they really wanted. This year, Skrumeda has been much better in his own zone, earning a role in the top-four and playing well in that role. The "19-year-old" d-man had one goal again this season and added 13 assists. numbers nearly identical to those that he had last season, in just about the same amount of games. Against Portland this year, he played all but one game of the season series and had three assists and nine penalty minutes, while having an overall -1. If Juulsen is playing with him instead of Martin in the top pairing, I like Portland's quickest players to take advantage.
(#26)Cole MacDonald:
-He did yeoman's work in last year's playoff round vs. Portland, trying to corral WHL MVP Oliver Bjorkstrand. While the Columbus Blue Jackets' forward still ended up scoring plenty, including an overtime winner, MacDonald made his life harder in the meantime. He likes to play physical and that is built for the playoffs. His pairing with Kevin Davis, is one of the better second pairing units in the league. They should get a lot of Cody Glass, Rihards Bukarts and Alex Schoenborn in the series and how well they do at shutting down this unit, could be a big reason why either team wins the series. The overage d-man matched his output last season with 36 points in 71 games. Vs. Portland, MacDonald had one goal and three assists for four points, along with six penalty minutes, while posting an overall -3 rating. I would credit a lot of his -3 to not doing so well vs. Portland's second line.
(#38)Kevin Davis:
-MacDonald's d-partner took a significant step back offensively this season, notching 16 points in 69 games, nine less than last year. Against Portland, he had two assists and two penalty minutes, while posting a -4 rating (worst on the Everett blue line vs. Portland). His poor plus/minus rating should not be too surprising as MacDonald and Davis have not been able to generate the same offense vs. Portland that Juulsen has and they have been caught in bad positions, which is rare for them. Davis does such a great job at not overplaying the puck and anticipating where the next pass is going, that his struggles vs. Portland are somewhat surprising. When he played significant minutes as a 16-year-old, I expected him to be one of the best d-men in the league as a 19-year-old, but he simply has not taken that next step.

(#3)Caleb Jones:
-The Edmonton Oilers' draft pick took awhile to get used to playing in the WHL this year, but since about the time of the trip through Alberta, he's been Portland's best d-man. A lot of times during the early part of the year, he was hesitant to jump up into the play and would either not commit himself enough to make a play, or commit himself way too much and allow a breakaway the other way. Now, he jumps into the play at will, yet still does not leave himself too far up the ice, when the opponent starts moving the puck the other direction. Everett is not one of the better teams at scoring in transition, so Jones playing fast and loose should not burn Portland too much. Jones has also improved in his own zone and is becoming quite good at winning battles along the boards in his own zone. His switch to the right side, has also seemed to give him confidence in his shot, as he shoots more often now. Playing with Blake Heinrich, also seems to have helped his game significantly. Jones had 10 goals and 45 assists for 55 points in 72 games this season. This led all rookie d-men in the WHL in scoring and landed him third on the team, overall in points. Against Everett, he had one goal and nine assists for 10 points, to go along with 12 penalty minutes, while posting a +3 rating. This was by far the most points any d-man in the season series scored. He had a lot of success against Everett and besides Rihards Bukarts, he was the skater that seemed to be able to create the most room for himself while playing vs. Everett's tight defensive structure. I would look for Everett to try to develop a game plan, just to either stop or limit Jones's effectiveness, or to take advantage more of him rushing the puck.
(#4)Conor MacEachern:
-The Prince George, B.C. native had two goals this year in 46 games, while taking turns rotating in as the sixth d-man with Carter Czaikowski. It seems clear that Portland likes Czaikowski against Everett a lot more, as seen by the nine games he played vs. the 'Tips, compared to MacEachern's five. This could be due to how much Czaikowski has shored up his play in his own zone and gained confidence with moving the puck up the ice this season. I would expect MacEachern to be firmly slotted in as the seventh d-man and only get into the series, if Czaikowski makes a big mistake or two. In his five games, MacEachern had no points and posted a minus two rating.
(#5)Jack Dougherty:
-Everett is the team that the Nashville Predators' drafted and signed player has had some of his worst moments this year against. He got outworked by Everett's Brian King in a corner in his own zone, allowing the rookie forward to score the eventual game-winner. In another game, he let Noah Juulsen skate right by him and set up the game-winner. To go along with this, he has had another handful of poor moments against a team that is not necessarily the strongest offensive team in the league.  This year, Dougherty had 11 goals and 41 assists for 52 points, good for fifth on the team overall. While playing Everett, he only had one goal and two assists for three points, in nine games. He also was a team worse minus four in that span. Needless to say, Portland cannot get this time of performance in this series from Doguherty and still come out alive. He will continue shooting early and often on the power play and Portland needs him to be better against Everett in this role as well in order to succeed.(#16)Blake Heinrich:
-The overage d-man had four assists in 10 games vs. Everett and though he has shown glimpses of an offensive side this year, he will not be relied upon to score as much as Dougherty and Jones will be. The impact that he has had on Jones cannot be understated. Since joining him, Jones's game has reached another level. Also, the fact that Dougherty's game slipped, after leaving Heinrich and joining Keoni Texeira, should not be overlooked either. Simply said, he is Portland's most consistent d-man and he does not turn over the puck very often. Recently, he has taken his physical play to another level and if he is able to continue this, he can make life a lot harder for Everett's forwards, especially smaller guys like Connor Dewar. Overall this year, Heinrich has 31 points and over 100 penalty minutes, while posting a team-high plus 17 rating. His ability to limit how many penalties he takes, could be a deciding factor in the series. He took 12 penalty minutes in the 10 games vs. Everett . This not only gave the "tips a power play, it took one of Portland's best penalty killers off of the ice.
(#21)Brendan De Jong:
-The Victoria, B.C. native has gotten a lot better in his second year with Portland. He has now firmly placed himself as Portland's fifth d-man and will likely alternate playing with Dougherty and Jones, rather than with the sixth d-man (likely Czaikowski). He had one goal and seven assists for eight points in 72 games. He was a team-low minus 13 this season. Three of those minuses, came against Everett, along with two assists and two penalty minutes. He has a knack for getting his shot on net and thus could be guy who scores a pivotal goal in the series.
(#28)Carter Czaikowski:
-Like was said earlier, he seems to relish playing Everett. He has a plus two in his nine games along with one assist. He also has six penalty minutes. He played limited minutes this season and only had  four points in just 37 games this season. He would be a finalist for Portland though, in the "most improved" category as he is not as easily taken off of the puck and is a lot better at poking the puck off of the stick of an onrushing forward. He is also a much better puck-mover then MacEachern and seems to fit perfectly into the Winterhawks' system. He will likely only see five to eight minutes a night and will likely play vs. Everett's bottom six forwards.
(#44)Keoni Texeira:

-Texeira had eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points this season, which is less then I expected him to have. He had a miserable two-month stretch this year, where he could not seem to make the right play at all. He was caught in bad positions often and seemed to struggle with getting overpowered in front of his own net. Since about January though, he has played a whole lot better.  He still has not really improved the way a lot of Winterhawks' fans thought he would though, after seeing him provide several electric rushes up the ice two years ago, as a 16-year-old in the playoffs. He will still rush the  puck from time to time, but he seems to struggle with blowing past defenders, the way he did two seasons ago. He has played really well alongside Dougherty and will be relied upon to play heavy minutes, especially if there are some overtimes in the series. Against Everett this season, Texeira had one goal and six penalty minutes and was a plus one overall.

Who Has The Edge:
This is a category that is extremely tight in my opinion. I sided with Everett, due to the fact that Portland's blue liners turn the puck over more often and Everett plays a better defensive structure. Caleb Jones will continue to give Everett all kinds of problems with his skating and stickhandling abilities, but Everett's Noah Juulsen will likely do the same to Portland.  How much Portland's top-four d-men spend time in the penalty box, could be a major reason why either team wins the series. I'm still not completely sold on Skrumeda and he could get taken advantage of if Brycen Martin is not healthy enough to play top-four minutes. Dougherty though is really the biggest reason that I chose Everett. I cannot put my finger on exactly why, he has struggled so much vs. Everett, but if he is not able to buck this trend, Everett will continue to get big goals from players throughout their lineup. Here's hoping that Dougherty's play improves vs. the 'Tips.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday's Portland Winterhawks's News and Notes: Schedule and Injuries

Portland Celebrating a Game Three Win Over Everett Last Year
First off , here is the schedule for round one vs. the Everett Silvertips:
Western Conference – Round 1, Series H
Everett Silvertips vs. Portland Winterhawks
Game Visitor
Home Date Time Venue
1 Portland @ Everett Friday, March 25 7:35 XFINITY Arena
2 Portland @ Everett Saturday, March 26 7:05 XFINITY Arena
3 Everett @ Portland Tuesday, March 29 7:00 Moda Center
4 Everett @ Portland Wednesday, March 30 7:00 Moda Center
5* Portland @ Everett Friday, April 1 7:35 XFINITY Arena
6* Everett @ Portland Saturday, April 2 6:00 Veterans Memorial Coliseum
7* Portland @ Everett Monday, April 4 7:05 XFINITY Arena
-Portland has gotten used to hosting the prime games of the series in the first round(Friday and Saturday) and that is not the case this year as the #2 seed in the U.S. Division Silvertips have home ice over the #3 seed Winterhawks. Games three and four are in the Moda Center for Portland, but game six (if necessary) will be in the old barn (Veteran Memorial Coliseum). As it is the playoffs, I would expect Portland to get a crowd of 9,000 plus, despite them being weekday games. It's interesting that game six is at 6:00 instead of 7:00, most likely due to the Trail Blazers playing next door against the Miami Heat. Fans should keep this in mind, as game six, always seems like like it's the most likely game to go to overtime.

-Besides the injury everyone is talking about (Carter Hart), Everett had six players listed on the last injury report, put out on March 15th.

Everett Injuries
#6 Mackenzie Dwyer, D, lower body, indefinite
#12 Dawson Leedahl, F, upper body, TBD
#4 Brycen Martin, D, upper body, day-to-day
#7 Tristen Pfiefer, D, upper body, day-to-day
#16 Carson Stadnyk, F, lower body, day-to-day
#14 Riley Sutter, F, lower body, week-to-week
-Brycen Martin not only played in the last three games of the season for Everett, he had an assist each, in the last two. Martin has been Everett's most consistent defenseman, since being acquired from Saskatoon
-Dawson Leedahl, was a big factor in Everett's win a couple weeks ago over Portland and has really struggled to get back into the lineup since breaking his hand in early February. He is not only Everett's emotional leader and team captain, he provides a heavy presence that causes all kinds of problems for the other team, with big checks. Leedahl was a participant in practice today and it would take another setback, in my opinion, to get someone with his competitiveness to sit out game one.
-Carson Stadnyk also played in Everett's last three games and had a goal in that span. He has been inconsistent, but has the ability to put the team on his back and provide a big goal or two.
-Mackenzie Dwyer is a depth d-man, who will miss at least round one of the playoffs. The play of rookie d-man Jake Christiansen, makes this loss easier for them to withstand.
-Riley Sutter has been out since January 22nd, when he broke his tibia, but returned to practice this week. I would say that the rookie, will not be much of a factor in this series, healthy or not, but Evrett has gotten big goals from their rookies all year, so you cannot count him out.
-Tristen Pfeifer has missed the team's last four games and has not been in practice this week. He has been a top-four d-man at times this year for Everett and at the very least would play 13-16 minutes a night if he was healthy. If Pfeifer does not play this series, the top-four of Martin, Noah Juulsen, Cole MacDonald and Kevin Davis could get worn down, especially if there is a few overtime games in the mix.

Portland Injuries:
-Paul Bittner is the only injury for Portland right now and he should be out for at least the first round.

Winterhawks in the NHL Tuesday:
-18:49 of ice time for Oliver Bjorkstrand in Columbus's 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia. He was a plus one, with two shots on net, while blocking a shot. He was stopped on his shootout attempt, which is no surprise to Portland fans, who watched him surprisingly struggle in the circus in his WHL career. Seth Jones and Brandon Dubinsky each had an assist in the Blue Jackets' win.
-Colton Sceviour had a goal and an assist for Dallas as they blew out Chicago 6-2.