Cougars Winterhawks Preview.
Tonight in Portland, the Prince George Cougars wrap up a stretch of four road games in a five night span. Standing in their way once again is the hottest team going in the WHL, the Portland Winterhawks who have won 16 straight games. The Cougars saw Portland twice last week, and lost both games 8-4 and 6-4 respectively. But the Cougars are coming off a hard-fought victory in Seattle, and are now just two points shy of a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference. Could they be the team to end Portland's streak?
Mike Johnston's Portland Winterhawks have seemed to rediscover their championship form from a season ago as of late. At 42-12-2-3, the Winterhawks boast the second best record in the Western Conference and first best record in the US Division. They have won 16 straight games, and have gone 18 straight games without a loss in regulation. They are a team that is loaded with talent and depth, and are 21-6-1-0 on home ice.
WHO'S UP FRONT:
With 32 goals and 100 points in just 50 games, Portland's Nic Petan finds himself atop the WHL's scoring race. His two-point per game pace is very impressively considering how he's only played in 50 games. His recorded at least one point in each of his past 12 games, and so far in seven February games Petan has seven goals and 16 points. Keeping Petan in check will be a top priority tonight for the Cougars, but obviously it will be easier said than done.
WHO'S ON D:
Portland's depth on the blue line cannot be understated. The foursome of Derrick Pouliot (59 points). Garrett Haar (47 points), Anton Cederholm (+33) and Mathew Dumba (an NHL first rounder with Minnesota) give them a number of talented and versitile weapons from the back end. Maybe moreso than any other team, the Portland Winterhawks use their defense on offense whenever possible.
WHO'S IN GOAL:
In eight games with the Portland Winterhawks this season, 20-year-old netminder Corbin Boes is 7-0-0-1 with a .900 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.94. With the injury uncertainty surrounding 18-year-old Brendan Burke, the odds are good that the Cougars will see Boes in net again tonight for the second time in a calendar week. Boes made some unbelievable saves last Wednesday in Prince George when the game was on the line to keep his team ahead.
Special teams are a glaring strength of the Winterhawks, which they showed in droves last week in Prince George. Over a two-game span the Winterhawks had five power play goals and three shorthanded goals against the Cougars. If they are given poiwer play chances, they will make you pay.
After dropping four straight games, Mark Holick's Prince George Cougars got back into the win column on Sunday night in Seattle. At 25-29-3-5, the Cougars are now just two points shy of the eighth placed Tri-City Americans, despite having played in three more games than they have to this point. Maybe the Cougars will make the playoffs, and maybe they won't, but either way it's impossible to ignore the statistical improvement made by the 2013-2014 Cougars with still 10 games remaining. Already the Cougars have improved by eight points in the standings from this time a season ago, and with 10 games remaining the Cougars could be in line for a much larger improvement.
WHO'S UP FRONT:
With two goals and an assist in Sunday's game in Seattle, Zach Pochiro brought his 'A' game at both ends of the ice, and was a forced to be reckoned with offensively. With 26 goals and 56 points, Pochiro is on the verge of becoming the third Cougar forward this season to reach the 60-point mark. Pochiro is at his best when he plays with an edge, and hopefully tonight the new-look trio of Zach Pochiro, Troy Bourke and Todd Fiddler can keep their solid offensive production going against a tough Portland team.
WHO'S ON D:
Defensively the Cougars will not be able to rely on a single player or pairing tonight against Portland. It has to be a collective effort involving all six skaters on the ice at a given time. If you make a defensive mistake, Portland will burn you. It's just that simple. Tonight the Cougars will need to tow that fine line between being physical and being undisciplined. If the Cougars can limit the time and space of Portland's top players, and also help by blocking shots, the Cougars are going to give themselves a legitimate shot at victory.
WHO'S IN GOAL:
Sunday night in Seattle was a terrific night for rookie netminder Ty Edmonds. He came into the game just seven minutes in, and stood on his head for the final 53 minutes, facing 40 shots and stopping 39 of them. That is the type of goaltending that has helped Edmonds garner a lot of interest from NHL teams. Hopefully tonight Edmonds can put forth a repeat performance and help the Cougars steal a point or two in Portland.
The Prince George Cougars will not win tonight without a solid complete effort from everybody. There can be absolutely ZERO passengers in the Cougars lineup tonight. If they stay disciplined and maintain a strong level of desire and 'compete' they could very well be tied for eighth place in the playoff hunt when all is said and done here tonight.
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