GAME PREVIEW: GM #29 Cougars at Portland Winterhawks
COUGARS OPEN FIVE-GAME ROAD TRIP IN PORTLAND
The Prince George Cougars (11-14-1-2) kick-off their five-game pre-Christmas road trip against the Portland Winterhawks (16-10-0-2) in a weekend double-header. The Cougars are coming off a 5-3 win over the Victoria Royals on Sunday, splitting a weekend double-header in PG and ending a four-game winless skid in the process. Tonight, is the first of four meetings in the regular season between these two teams.
COUGARS PRE-SCOUT: Tonight, the Cougars start the December grind, 11-straight on the road. This is five-game pre-Christmas break road trip that ends December 16th against the Giants. After the Christmas break, it’s six-straight on the road, starting December 28th in Seattle. Their next home game isn’t until January 11th against the Kelowna Rockets. The Cougars come into this weekend sitting fifth in the B.C. Division, one point back of the fourth place Kamloops Blazers and third place Victoria Royals. The Cougars ended a four-game winless streak on December 2nd, knocking-off the Royals 5-3, splitting a weekend double-header in Prince George. This weekend is the Cougars only two regular season games in Portland, as they face the Winterhawks in Prince George on March 8th & 9th to wrap-up the season series. The Cougars were 1-3-0-0 against the Winterhawks last season, wining 3-0 on the road on October 1st, 2017. The Cougars are 4-5-1-0 on the road this season but have won just one of their last five road games (1-3-1-0). Their last trip to the U.S. wasn’t kind, as they lost to the Tri-City Americans 5-2 and 4-0 to the Spokane Chiefs late last month. The Cougars are 2-3-0-1 against the U.S. Division. Vladislav Mikhalchuk leads the Cougars in scoring with 21 points (8-13-21) in 28 games. He’s followed by Cole Moberg (7-10-17) and Josh Maser (8-8-16). Maser and Mikhalchuk are tied for the team goal-scoring lead, as each has eight goals. Taylor Gauthier leads the Cougars in games played (21), minutes played (1223), wins (7) and saves (563). Isaiah DiLaura leads the Cougars in goals-against average (3.07) and save percentage (.902). Both DiLaura and Gauthier each have one shutout. Ilijah Colina has four points (2-2-4) in his last two games. Vladislav Mikhalchuk (4-0-4) has four goals in his last four games. Josh Maser (1-2-3) had three points in Sunday’s win over Victoria. The Cougars power-play is 3-18 in the last five games, surrendering one short-handed goal. The Cougars penalty-kill is 22-27 in the last five games. The Cougars are 2-4-0-0 in their last six games in Portland.
WINTERHAWKS PRE-SCOUT: The Winterhawks won both games at home last weekend, crushing the Spokane Chiefs 8-2 and the Kootenay ICE 10-2. Their 18 goals in those two home games is the most in back-to-back home games since March 2013. The Winterhawks sit second in the U.S. Division with 34 points but they’re 13 points back of the first place Everett Silvertips. The Winterhawks nemesis this year has been the ‘Tips. In seven games against their U.S. Division rival, the Winterhawks are just 2-4-0-1. They’re 14-6-0-1 against the rest of the league. The Winterhawks may have the best duo in the WHL in Cody Glass and Joachim Blichfeld. The two have combined for a staggering 95 points in 24 games together. Blichfeld, the 20-year-old Danish forward, leads the team in scoring with 54 points (25-29-54), closely followed by Glass who has 51 (11-40-51). Glass’ 40 assists are second only to Trey Fix-Wolansky in the WHL. Blichfeld is property of the San Jose Sharks and Glass has the distinction of being the Vegas Golden Knights’ first ever draft pick. He was taken sixth overall in the 2017 NHL draft. Their line-mate, Reece Newkirk, has had a great season too, as he’s third in team scoring with 31 points (16-15-31) in 28 games. Their highest-scoring defenceman is 20-year-old Jared Freadrich. The former Victoria Royal has 24 points (3-21-24) in 27 games. Shane Farkas has been the workhorse in goal for the Winterhawks, playing in 26 of the Winterhawks 28 games. Farkas is 15-8-0-2, sporting a 2.82 goals-against average and owns a .901 save percentage. His partner is 16-year-old rookie Dante Giannuzzi, who’s played in three games this season. The Winterhawks are 11-5-0-0 at home this season, winning three of their last five home games. Their power-play is 7-21 in the last five games. Their penalty-kill is 19-22 in the last five games, scoring one short-handed goal.
Goals: (8) Josh Maser, Vladislav Mikhalchuk
Assists: (13) Vladislav Mikhalchuk
Points: (21) Vladislav Mikhalchuk
Power-Play Goals: (3) Vladislav Mikhalchuk, Cole Moberg
Short-handed Goals: (1) Jackson Leppard, Tyson Upper
PIMS: (67) Austin Crossley
Goals: (25) Joachim Blichfeld.
Assists: (40) Cody Glass
Points: (54) Joachim Blichfeld.
Power-Play Goals: (9) Joachim Blichfeld
Short-handed Goals: (2) Reece Newkirk
PIMS: (43) John Ludvig
- Slow down the Winterhawks Dynamic Duo: Obviously but no easy feat. Joachim Blichfeld and Cody Glass have been terrorizing WHL defences this season. The two are arguably two of the most skilled players in the WHL. They’ve combined for 95 points this season and at times look unstoppable. The Cougars will need to find a way to contain these two snipers and make the Winterhawks get offence from elsewhere. The Cougars need to take time and space away from the pair. Lean on them. Can the Cougars slow these two down?
- Discipline: Two fold. One, sticking to a structure for 60-minutes. Two, not getting into penalty trouble as the Winterhawks power-play is lethal. A key to beating super skilled, high-end teams like the Winterhawks is being committed to a defensive system from start to finish. If the Cougars stray away, get out of their structure, the Winterhawks will make them pay; the feast on mistakes. Everyone will need to be pulling in the same direction. They also have to stay out of the box, as the Winterhawks own the second-best power-play in the WHL, which is clicking at just under 27 percent. Blichfeld and Glass have a combined 47 power-play points already.
- Physicality: A big key to beating more skilled teams is being physical. Now, that doesn’t mean running around and hitting everything in sight. It’s an aggressive, yet disciplined approach, attacking on the fore-check and through the neutral zone. Skilled teams love that up tempo possession game. The Cougars have to take that away by pressuring the Winterhawks puck carriers and disrupting their transition through the neutral zone. Get the Winterhawks offence off balance.