Saturday, November 5, 2016

Hawks comeback falls short in Kennewick as they fall to Tri-City 5-3

The first period for Portland in Kennewick Friday night was symbolic of their current six-game losing streak. They controlled large segments of play, out shot their opponent, but were undone by bad turnovers by some of their most talented players in falling behind 4-1.

After the disastrous first 20 minutes that saw goalie Cole Kehler give up three goals on five shots and his replacement: Michael Bullion give up one goal on two shots, there were signs of life. Bullion settled down and stopped the next 24 shots he faced and Portland picked up two second period goals to draw within one at 4-3. That score has not been a lucky one for Portland in match ups with Tri-City though as they fell by that same score their last two games against the Americans. This one would end with an empty netter and Portland would not get even a loser point for the sixth straight game.

It's tough to win hockey games at any level when your best players are struggling and that was definitely the case Friday. Caleb Jones is relied upon to create a lot of the team's offense by swiftly moving the puck up the ice with a brilliant stretch pass. Instead of connecting early in the first period though, Jones fanned on such a pass, leaving the puck with swarming Americans' players looming. Tyler Sandhu was first to it, forcing Jones to tie him up and giving Michael Rasmussen all the room he needed to loft a wobbling shot over Kehler's blocker. Portland would get that goal right back as a slick transition play by defenseman Henri Jokiharju helped start a rush the other way and Ryan Hughes, with Parker AuCoin all over his back fired a shot that sneaked through Tri-City goalie Rylan Parenteau's pads.

Tri-City added a power play marker to retake the lead as a point shot from defenseman Juuso Valimaki was stopped by Kehler but slipped through enough to be dug out by Rasmussen. The potential first round NHL draft pick got the puck right to Morgan Geekie, who quickly beat Kehler. The Americans added to their lead as Valimaki got to the puck first behind the net and Jones decided to play the body instead of the puck. This allowed Valimaki to slip a backhand pass right to Rasmussen, who beat Kehler and prematurely ended his night. Despite pulling the struggling netminder, Portland was still hemorrhaging scoring chances. The Americans stretched their lead to three while on the penalty kill. Caleb Jones' drop pass hit Skyler McKenzie in the skates. This allowed an active Parker AuCoin to take advantage and break in alone on new goalie Michael Bullion. He went forehand, backhand before beating Bullion. The drop pass is used so frequently on the power play, that any missed connection can be taken advantage of by an active penalty killer like AuCoin.

Portland cut into the three-goal lead in the second on a brilliant series of plays by defenseman Carter Czaikowski. He made a play in the neutral zone to gain possession and then sprinted to the net as a pass from Cody Glass near the Tri-City blue line was fired to the far post. This was deflected home by Czaikowski for his first career WHL goal. As far as first WHL goals go, they don't get much prettier. Keegan Iverson then took playing a full 200-foot game to another level by breaking up a scoring chance with a deft stick and then charging the other way one a three-on-two rush, before picking the corner on Parenteau. This made the game 4-3 Tri-City with 22:24 of game time left.

Portland had their chances to tie the game early in the third and were given an opportunity to tie it late as well, due to a superb penalty killing effort. Bullion made several quality stops in a row and Alex Overhardt clogged up the shooting area, despite not having a stick. Their best chance to tie late came on a shot between the face off dots by Jochim Blichfeld. Both Skyler McKenzie and Keegan Iverson were right there for any rebounds, but alas there were none to be had. Morgan Geekie added an empty-net-goal for his second of the night and a 5-3 final.

Rylan Parenteau got his third straight win over Portland, stopping 31 of the 34 shots he faced.

Portland's power play came up empty on five opportunities, while Tri-City went one-for-seven. The Winterhawks PP fell to fourth in the wHL with a 27.8 percent success rate. Tri-City vaulted ahead of them with their goal for third overall with a 28.2 percent success rate.

Game Notes:
-Glass's assist gives him 24 points in 17 games. He is in a three-way tie for third in WHL scoring with Spokane's Kailer Yamamoto and Moose Jaw's Nikita Popugaev.
-Jokiharju's assist ties him for first in the WHL in rookie defenseman scoring. He has one goal and eight assists for nine points, just like Medicine Hat's Kristians Rubins.
-Rasmussen is tied for first in the WHL with Regina's Sam Steel in goals. Both of them have 14.
-Juuso Valimaki has seven assists in his last four games.
-Alex Overhardt's pointless skids hits eight games. He has just one point in his last 13 games.
-Iverson loves playing against Tri-City this year. He has scored in every game he's played vs. the Americans and has four markers overall.
-Brad Ginnell replaced Colton Veloso on the wing with Overhardt and Iverson. The hope, I believe was to place a creative young player with two bigger forwards. However, Ginnell has also played so well defensively this season, that this could just be another effort at a shutdown line. Iverson and Overhardt have not scored as much as fans have wanted this season, but they have been the team's best back-checkers. In an up-tempo system like Portland's back-checking is key to stopping any goals off the many rushes that you inevitably give up.
-Portland's top-line continues to create a lot of great scoring chances, but was not quite able to finish a lot of them. Blichfeld seems to be a great fit with McKenzie and Glass as the three of them play at such a quick pace. Any loose pucks are swiftly gobbled up and turned into shots or passes towards the net.
-Portland gets another chance to break the losing skid Saturday night in Everett. The Silvertips have won four straight and are 12-2-2-0 this season.

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