Monday, October 17, 2016

Winterhawks end trip on high note, edge Chiefs in the shootout

We knew coming into this year that Caleb Jones would be relied upon a lot as the young Winterhawks found their legs. The Edmonton Oilers' signed prospect has done just that and more through Portland's first 11 games. After scoring the overtime winner (his third in two seasons) in Regina Wednesday, he notched the shoot out winner Saturday night in Spokane. This kind of clutch production just doesn't come from a WHL defenseman that often.

With the win over Spokane, Portland finished their eight-game road trip with a remarkable 6-2 record. They are now 8-3 overall and sit one point behind the U.S. Division leading Everett Silvertips. With another intra-division victory, Portland is now 4-1 within the U.S.

Portland went through large segments of play, where they looked road weary, so a clutch win is all the more important and surprising. Portland proved they could win a game within the division, when they weren't at their best.  Maybe their record can maintain it's current trajectory and a season of rebuilding is not what's in store.

Spokane and Portland played a tight-checking game in the first period, but neither got on the scoreboard until there was 2:16 left in the session. Logan Foster took advantage of a miscommunication between Portland defenders and fed a driving Koby Morrisseau. The Chiefs' forward buried the puck past Portland goalie Cole Kehler and it was 1-0 Spokane after one. This was Morrisseau's first goal in the WHL.

Portland got that goal back, just over five minutes into the second frame. Ryan Hughes circled the Spokane zone and looked to pass enough that Spokane goalie Dawson Weatherill was lulled out of position. Hughes then picked a corner from a tight angle for his fourth goal of the season.

Spokane jumped on a tired-looking Portland team in the third period, not allowing a shot on their net through the first ten minutes and dominating possession. They got their second lead of the night off another Portland miscue. Jake Gricius could not handle a puck in his skates at the blue line and Kailer Yamamoto scooped up the puck. The younger Yamamoto brother then found a driving Curtis Miske, who tipped home his pass. The Chiefs had chances to add to their lead, but Portland's Kehler made some clutch saves. After Riley McKay was the second man in on a check and was whistle for interference, the Winterhawks woke from their slumber. They carried possession for several minutes and cashed in with 3:05 left in the game. The tying goal came when defenseman Brendan De Jong drove the left wing and fired a pass to Weatherill's left pad. The ensuing rebound came right to Cody Glass, who buried it. This was Glass' sixth goal of the year and ultimately forced overtime.

Portland survived overtime with the Yamamoto brothers, which is not an easy task when playing three-on-three hockey against two relatives.

The shoot out ensued and Weatherill and Kehler exchanged stops, before Jones won it with a backhand through the Spokane goalie's five-hole.

Cole Kehler was Portland's best player in this game, stopping 29 of 31 shots. His biggest save came with four seconds left in the game when he closed the angle on an open Evan Fiala and stoned Spokane d-man. Spokane's Weatherill made another bid for the starting job with 27 saves on 30 shots. He has played well this season and may be starting to supplant overage goalie Jayden Sittler.

Portland's power play was 0-for-3, while Spokane's was 0-for-4. Despite not scoring on it, Portland's power play off the McKay penalty was the turning point in the game.

Game Notes:
-Carolina Hurricanes' prospect Hudson Elynuik was scractched for the game as he serves the first game of a "T.B.D" suspension. The suspension was for a hit to the head in Spokane's loss to Everett Friday. That five-minute major penalty was pivotal as Everett scored twice on the power play en route to a 4-3 overtime win.
-Spokane found a tactic for interrupting the flow of Portland's high-flying offense. They threw two fore-checkers at Portland's defense and created a multitude of turnovers. They scored twice off the turnovers and held Portland from any sort of real possession their zone for large segments of the game. Portland countered by having their d-men carry the puck more out of the zone, which limited how quickly they could gain zone entry. It will be interesting to see if other teams try this tactic.
-The 6-2 road trip record is impressive. They now head home where they will take on Tri-City on Tuesday.
-Cody Glass now shares the WHL lead in points, as Sam Steel also has 17.
-Cole Kehler has six wins and appears to be getting the bulk of the starts for Portland.

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