Monday, February 13, 2017

Goaltending optional in Portland's throwback 8-5 loss in Seattle

The Portland Winterhawks and Seattle Thunderbirds have a pair of potent offenses. They put on a show in front of the fans in Kent on Saturday night. They combined for five first period goals and a total of 13 on just 62 combined shots. Seattle's Matt Barzal had one goal and five assists for his first career six-point night. He had 15 assists in one week of WHL hockey. The Thunderbirds battled through a rash of injuries that had them down to 16 healthy skaters and still they found a way to rack up eight goals in an 8-5 win over Portland. Ethan Bear and Ryan Gropp also had four points in the game for Seattle while Cody Glass led the way for the Hawks with three points.

Just 1:39 into the game Seattle got things going offensively. After Portland turned the puck over at the blue line, Barzal fed Tyler Adams and he drove into space, got Portland goalie Cole Kehler to go down and then backhanded a shot past him. The goal was Adams' first with the Thunderbirds and second of the year. The Winterhawks tied things up on a rebound in tight on Seattle goalie Rylan Toth. Keoni Texeira's slap shot created the second chance opportunity and Jake Gricius got two chances at the loose puck. The goal was Gricius's sixth this season. Just over a minute later Portland took the lead on a next-level play by their leading scorer. Brendan De Jong sent a nice pass down the left wing for Glass to skate onto and he roofed a backhand shot under the bar in tight on Toth. Seattle quickly knotted things back up though as Skyler McKenzie fanned on a great chance in the slot, leading to a breakout the other way. Ryan Gropp's shot on the rush was expertly tipped in by Mathew Barzal. It was one of the nicer tip-ins you will see at this level of hockey as Barzal put his stick between his legs to get the blade on it. In this track meet of a hockey game continued late in the first period as a pad save on an Evan Weinger breakaway by Toth at one end sparked a goal by Reese Harsch at the other. A rebound came right out to the d-man and he powered a shot past Kehler for the 3-2 Seattle lead.

The T-birds extended their lead with a short-handed marker to start the second. Caleb Jones tried to adjust and get a shot through, but tripped over himself, leaving Alexander True to skate onto the puck for a breakaway. He finished it off with a low shot through Kehler's five-hole. Seattle made it 5-2 on a five-on-three power play. After some great penalty-killing a worn down Portland unit could not get over in time to block an Keegan Kolesar one-timer of an Ethan Bear pass. The Hawks would not go quietly though as they erupted for two more goals in the period to cut the Seattle lead back to one. Ryan Hughes won a battle over Aaron Hyman for a 50-50 puck behind the Seattle net and smartly left the biscuit for Joachim Blichfeld who was skating the other way. A confused Toth thought Hughes still had it and he never even got to the other post to contest the Blichfeld wrap around chance. Then on the power play Glass fed a slick cross-ice pass to Blichfeld for a one-timer and the game was 5-4 entering the final frame.

After Portland had several great opportunities to tie the game up, Seattle scored a gut-wrenching goal to make it 6-4.  After Ryan Hughes took a hooking penalty, Seattle converted once more on the power play. The goal was of a familiar variety as Matt Barzal slid a saucer pass across to Ethan Bear for the one-timer. Kehler had no chance to get over in time. Portland once again cut the lead to one but you got the feeling they just could not stop Seattle enough on Saturday night to come all the way back. Cody Glass won a face off to Rylan Toth's left and Skyler McKenzie wired a shot past a screened Toth to make it 6-5. The goal was McKenzie's team-leading 35th of the year. Seattle got some insurance just 33 seconds later as they stretched out Portland's defense and Kolesar slid a shot/pass right onto the tape of Ryan Gropp at the back door. The N.Y. rangers' prospect buried it. He has now scored in six straight games. After Kehler was pulled for an extra-attacker Gropp netted another into the vacant twine to give its final score of 8-5.

Kehler had one of his worst statistical games as he stopped just 20 of the 27 shots he faced. Toth at the other end was a little better as he turned away 29 of 34.

Game Notes:
-Portland had quite a few defensive lapses in the game and really never limited Seattle's puck movement on the rush with back-checking.
-Glass is all the way up to 77 points in 54 games. He sits in seventh place, just one point back of Lethbridge overage forward Tyler Wong.
-Skyler McKenzie is seventh in goals with 35, just one back of Lethbridge's Zak Zborosky.
-Blichfeld has four goals in his last two games. With 48 total points he is now fifth in rookie scoring just one behind Medicine hat's John Dahlstrom.
-With Spokane beating Tri-City 4-3, they cut Portland's lead for the last playoff spot down to eight points. The Chiefs have one game in hand.

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