Game Preview: Game #39 Cougars at Spokane Chiefs
COUGARS LOOK TO SWEEP THREE-GAME ROAD TRIP, FACE HIGH-FLYING CHIEFS
The Prince George Cougars (14-21-1-2) look to sweep their three-game road trip this evening, when they battle the Spokane Chiefs (22-13-2-2) at 7:05 pm. The Cougars made it two-straight wins last night, scoring a 1-0 shutout win over the Tri-City Americans. The Cougars started the trip with a 2-1 shootout win in Kelowna on January 4th. The Chiefs last played on January 5th, beating the Kootenay ICE 8-4 on the road. Both teams come into tonight’s game, riding two-game win streaks.
COUGARS SCOUTING REPORT: The Cougars made it two-straight wins on Tuesday, blanking the Tri-City Americans 1-0. It was Taylor Gauthier’s second career shutout, as he kicked out 36-shots for his 10th win; he was named the game’s first star. Ethan Browne scored the game-winning goal in the second. Browne scoring his sixth goal of the season and first since November 23rd. The Cougars enter tonight’s game sitting fifth in the B.C. Division, with 31 points in 38 games. They’re two points back of the Kamloops Blazers who hold down the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. A stiffer challenge awaits in the Chiefs, who are third in the U.S. Division and have won six of their last eight games. The Cougars have had a tough go at the Spokane Arena recently. They’ve lost three-straight in Spokane dating back to last season. In fact, they’ve been outscored 19-4 in those three games. The Cougars last win in Spokane was on March 11th, 2017. It’s a great challenge for a group that has won three of five out of the Christmas break. The Cougars haven’t won three-straight on the road since, coincidentally, their last win in Spokane. It’s also a great challenge for Gauthier after his big performance against the Americans. Spokane is arguably even more talented than Tri-City and have the likes of forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan and defenceman Ty Smith back from the World Junior Hockey Championship. Can the Cougars put together back-to-back-to-back consistent efforts? Vladislav Mikhalchuk still leads the Cougars in goals (13), assists (15) and points (18). Josh Maser and Cole Moberg are tied for second, as each has 21 points. Mikhalchuk also leads the team in power-play goals with four. Taylor Gauthier, who starts again tonight, has won three of his last five starts and has a 1.27 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage over those five games. Gauthier leads the team in games played (29), minutes played (1637), wins (10) saves (788), goals-against average (3.08), save percentage (.904) and shutouts (2). Gauthier has a 3.11 goals-against average and a .900 save against the Chiefs this season. To date, the Cougars are 4-7-0-1 against the U.S. Division. They’ve won two of seven games on the road against U.S. teams. Ilijah Colina (upper-body), Reid Perepeluk (illness) and Cam MacPhee (upper-body) are still listed on the injured reserve.
CHIEFS SCOUTING REPORT: The Spokane Chiefs sit third in the five-team U.S. Division, five-points back of the second-place Portland Winterhawks and six-points up on the Tri-City Americans. The Chiefs won both their games last weekend, beating Kamloops 4-1 at home on Friday and doubling up the Kootenay ICE 8-4 on the road Saturday. Coming into tonight’s game, they’ve won six of their last eight games. They open a four-game home stand tonight, as they face the Americans on Saturday, then the Vancouver Giants pay a visit on January 18th, followed by the Americans coming back to town on January 19th. Four games over 11 days, before a three-game road trip starting on January 22nd. The WHL Trade Deadline is tomorrow at 2 pm PT, but the Chiefs may feel like they’ve already made their biggest moves, as they got Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Ty Smith back from the World Junior Hockey Championship, along with Czech defenceman Filip Kral. Anderson-Dolan and Smith suited up for Team Canada. Anderson-Dolan played both games last weekend, his first two games for the Chiefs since October 27th; he’s only played four games this season after he suffered a broken bone in his hand back in October. Impressive run so far for the Chiefs, considering they’ve got to this point with one of their best players. It’s not all good news, as their top scorer, Riley Woods, is injured and listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Woods has had a terrific season to date, putting up 44 points (23-21-44) in 38 games. Smith, is second in team scoring and reclaimed the WHL scoring lead among defencemen, after his five-point weekend. This, despite missing three-weeks due to the World Juniors. Eli Zummack is third in team scoring with 42 points (11-31-42). Rookie Adam Beckman has had a breakout season, as he sits second in the WHL in rookie scoring, with 30 points (17-13-30). More bad news on the injury front was the Chiefs losing goaltender Dawson Weatherill for the remainder of the season. Bailey Brkin had been carrying the load in recent weeks. After the injury to Weatherill, the Chiefs went out and acquired goalie Reece Klassen from the Lethbridge Hurricanes as an insurance policy. Brkin is certainly the guy going forward, leading the team in games played (27), minutes played (1486), wins (16), goals-against average (2.66), save percentage (.919) and shutouts (2). He shutout the Cougars back on November 28th, making 27-saves. The Chiefs are 13-5-0-1 at home and 4-1-0-1 against the B.C. Division.
|Goals: (13) Vladislav Mikhalchuk||Power-Play Goals: (4) Vladislav Mikhalchuk|
|Assists: (15) Vladislav Mikhalchuk||Short-Handed Goals: (1) Jackson Leppard, Tyson Upper|
|Points (28) Vladislav Mikhalchuk||PIMS: (92) Austin Crossley|
|Goals: (23) Riley Woods||Power-Play Goals: (9) Luc Smith, Riley Woods|
|Assists: (41) Ty Smith||Short-Handed Goals: : (1) Luke Toporowski, Eli Zummack|
|Points: (44) Ty Smith, Riley Woods||PIMS: (48) Luke Toporowski|
- CTRL + C CTRL + V, Again: Overall, the Cougars will look to build off of last night’s 1-0 win. Yes, they made some mistakes but the coaches will live with that, as long as they’re competing. Associate Coach Steve O’Rourke said as much on the post-game show. They will certainly need to tidy things up in certain areas but they need to dig deep and duplicate that effort they had last night. The Chiefs are a stiffer challenge and a team that plays with a lot of pace and skill. Can the Cougars knuckle down and grind out another win? It’s going to take everyone pulling in the same direction.
- Gauthier, Part II: Does Taylor Gauthier have more magic for tonight? His team in front of him will be a bit tired and road weary, as this is the last of 11-straight on the road. The Chiefs are going to get their chances, they’re just that good. The key is can Gauthier be there to erase the mistakes that may pop up? Big challenge for the 17-year-old to play at that level on back-to-back nights but it is part of his maturation process. It could be a great moment of growth if he can keep up his red-hot play since the Christmas break.
- Discipline: Though their penalty-kill was perfect against the Chiefs in their last meeting, the Cougars have to cut down the penalties if they’re going to get points out of tonight’s game. They surrendered nine, yes, nine power-plays to Spokane in that 4-0 loss in November; that’s almost an entire period spent on the penalty-kill. This is the end of the road trip. Legs are heavy. Minds may be wavering. The Cougars have to be give themselves the best chance at winning and that is keeping this game at five-on-five as much as possible. The Chiefs power-play is dangerous, ranked third in the WHL.