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.

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