Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cole Kehler earns first shutout in 4-0 Portland win over Kamloops

Playing in his 76th career WHL game Monday afternoon in Kamloops, Cole Kehler picked a pivotal time to accomplish the first shutout of his WHL career. For one thing, he was less than two days removed from allowing seven goals to Seattle. For another he was taking on the team that traded him to Portland in the offseason for a seventh round bantam draft pick. His Winterhawks built a 3-0 lead going into the third period and Kehler stopped 41 total shots including 18 in the third period alone to backstop his team to a big 4-0 win. It was truly a tale of opposites as Kehler followed up the worst statistical start of his season with the best of his career. Joachim Blichfeld had a goal and an assist and Henri Jokiharju and Cody Glass both had two assists in the win. Team captain Keegan Iverson also had a goal in his return to the lineup after a one month absence due to injury.

Portland got things going with the lone goal of the first period 12:07 into the game. Cody Glass won a corner battle easily against Kamloops d-man Luke Zazula by lifting his stick. He then fed a pass right into the slot and to Keoni Texeira. The native of Fontana, California waited and picked his spot, beating Kamloops goalie Connor Ingram. The goal was Texeira's first since January 20th and 10th on the season.

The second period was Portland's best as they scored twice and sustained pressure throughout to the tune of 19 total shots. First, Cody Glass started the play by entering the Blazers' zone and dropping a pass to Blichfeld. The Danish sniper fired a pass across to Keegan Iverson and the Portland captain settled it before wiring it past Ingram. Then, after Ryan Hughes had his shot blocked, Blichfeld banked a backhand shot off of Ingram and in. The goal was Blichfeld's fifth in the last three games.

Portland then weathered the storm in the third period as Kehler stopped everything sent his way and his d-men did a great job of removing any rebounds from danger. The rebound goal has been Portland's bane this season and the improvement at clearing the puck was a big key in the shutout. Evan Weinger notched his 17th on the year into the empty net after Ingram was pulled for an extra attacker.

Connor Ingram lost for the first time in regulation to Portland over three seasons. He is now 5-1-0-1 against the Winterhawks all time. He stopped 34 of the 37 shots he faced.

Portland went 1/1 on the power play while Kamloops went 0/2. The Hawks are now third in the league on the power play at 25.4 percent. They trail just Regina and Medicine Hat who both lead their divisions. Interestingly enough, the Hawks are far better on the power play when playing away form home. They convert 30.6 percent of their chances while on the road. This is just one percent behind Regina for best in the WHL.

Game Notes:
-Portland took the four-game season series from Kamloops with a 3-0-0-1 record.
-10 of the 15 remaining games Portland has to play are within the U.S. Division. Of the five non-divisional games, three are against the last-place team in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Giants.
-With Spokane edging Prince George elsewhere Monday, the Winterhawks stayed eight points ahead for the last seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Chiefs use their game in hand Tuesday night back in Prince George. They can cut the Portland lead down to six points with a win.
-With the win Monday though, the Hawks now trail Victoria by just one point for the seventh seed. They are also just two points behind Tri-City for the third seed in the U.S. with a game in hand.
-Keegan Iverson was back in the lineup and was noticeably breathing heavy. When he gets back into game shape, the impact he will have on the playoff run cannot be undersold.
-After months of playing with Evan Weinger, Ryan Hughes appears to have found some chemistry with Joachim Blichfeld. While playing on Alex Overhardt's wings the duo has been impressive. Blichfeld is now on a six-game point streak, during which he has 10 points.
-Kamloops was missing defenseman Ondrej Vala to a suspension and forward Deven Sideroff to an injury.
-While being forced into a lot of minutes by Vala's absence, Dallas Valentine had a strong game. His best moment came when he tied up Cody Glass on sure goal off play by Iverson and Jones that got the puck to the back door.
-With Michael Bullion getting his first WHL shutout Saturday night in a 5-0 Medicine Hat win over Lethbridge, both 19-year-old goalies who started the year with Portland earned their first shutouts two days apart.
-Next up for Portland is a game Friday night vs. Red Deer. They then play a home-and-home series with Seattle during the weekend.

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