Monday, October 31, 2016

Skid hits five games as Kelowna sweeps weekend set from Portland with 3-2 win

Portland played 34 minutes of quality hockey against Kelowna Sunday night. They owned possession and had far more quality scoring chances than the Rockets, but were only able to out two of those home. Then the wheels fell off as they gave up a short-handed goal late in the second and two more goals in the third to drop their fifth straight game. All of these were lost in regulation, so Portland is thus pointless in five straight. The last time they lost five straight games this way, was at the start of the 2014-15 season under former coach Jamie Kompon. The Winterhawks had countless opportunities to pad their minuscule lead in the first two periods, but were either turned away by the goaltending of Brodan Salmond, or just failed to convert open looks. Portland has found themselves unable to add to small leads ever since returning from their East Division trip and with the high-tempo system they play, this has been a recipe for disaster. In fact, the last time Portland held a lead of three or more was, 11 games ago on October seventh at Moose Jaw.

Portland got the scoring started for the second straight night and it was the same face doing it. After controlling possession in Kelowna's zone, they hit pay dirt when Joachim Blichfeld tipped home the shot from the point by Henri Jokiharju. This was Blichfeld's fifth goal of the year. He has scored in every game since he was moved to the top line to play with Cody Glass and Skyler McKenzie.

Portland actually added to their lead in the second period and again the goal was netted by a player who had scored the previous night vs. Kelowna. Whole on the power play, Cody Glass created the play by driving the zone and threading a pass in traffic to Keegan Iverson. The Winterhawk captain deftly dropped a pass to Skyler McKenzie and the winger drove the right, flicking a backhand back the other way. The puck found a way past Salmond and Portland had their first two-goal lead in four games. Just like that two-goal lead though, this one was also destined to evaporate. While on the power play defenseman Keoni Texeira had his pocket picked by Nick Merkley and the Arizona Coyotes' first round pick threw a pass out front to Rodney Southam. The Rockets' captain faked a shot and drove around the out of position goalie Cole Kehler. He then, quite easily tucked the puck into the vacant net. After playing well and controlling most of the play, the Hawks found themselves nursing a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, all because of one big mistake.

As expected, the Rockets finally woke up in the third period. They outshot Portland 19-11 and scored twice to win the game. First, while on the man advantage Calvin Thurkauf fired a cross-ice pass right onto the tape of Merkley's stick. The sniper then one-timed the puck right to the top shelf. After failing to score in his first nine games this season, Merkley scored in two straight vs. Portland. The winning goal for Kelowna was scored thanks to a fortunate bounce as a shot from Kole Lind was blocked by Henri Jokiharju. The puck took a strange bounce, eluding a poke-checking Cole Kehler. Tomas Soustal got to the biscuit first and filed it home, giving Kelowna the 3-2 lead. The Winterhawks had their chances late in the game, including a couple where a bouncing puck did not take the same fortunate hop for them as it had for Kelowna. Unfortunately, Salmond was game to the task and Kelowna left the Rose City with a sweep of the weekend's games. Kelowna has now won six straight games, recovering from a lackluster start to the season.

Game Notes:
-Cody Glass assisted on both Portland goals and now is just two points back from the WHL-leading Mason Shaw. With 23 points, he is just four away from tying his career high of 27.
-With his 10th goal, McKenzie is tied for third in the league and sits just two behind WHL-leading Michael Rasmussen and Zak Zborosky.
-Blichfeld's five goals has him tied for fourth in league rookie scoring.
-Alex Overhardt's pointless streak has hit seven games so far. Just like last season, he has really struggled with finishing the scoring chances he has been given. He has provided strong defensive play and has won a majority of his face offs, but he just isn't providing any offensive production right now.
-Another Winterhawks' forward who has struggled during this slide is Ryan Hughes. After hanging around with the league scoring leaders for most of October, he has just two assists in his last five games. He was set up on a brilliant feed from Ilijah Colina, but missed an empty net with a one-timer.
-One of the reasons, I think that Evan Weinger and Hughes have not had consistent production, has been the constant rotation of Lane Gillis and Colina in as their centers. Coach Mike Johnston is doing these two wingers a disservice by having them play with Gilliss one night and Colina the next. True chemistry will be hard to find this way.
-Portland next plays on the road in Tri-City Friday. Gettign back on the road might be a good thing for Portland, who has lost four straight at home.

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