Preview: Silvertips at Cougars (GM #18)
The Prince George Cougars are back home after nearly a month hiatus, as they face the Everett Silvertips at the CN Centre, kicking-off a weekend double-header. The Cougars haven’t played at home in over three weeks, as they last played in Prince George on October 14th.
Tonight, is also the second of three straight games against the Silvertips, as they two teams played last Friday in Everett, with the ‘Tips prevailing 3-1. The Cougars are looking to snap a three-game winless streak and the Silvertips are looking to bounce back after a loss last Saturday to Portland.
Head Coach: Dennis Williams
Road Record: 5-6-0-0
Last Game: 3-1 loss vs. Portland Nov 4th
Goals For/Goals Against: 52/63
Power Play: 16. 5 % (18th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 83.6 % (3rd in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Patrick Bajkov (9-16-25), Matt Fonteyne (9-11-20), Connor Dewar (10-9-19)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Connor Dewar: The ‘Tips second-leading scorer has a team best 10 goals and has 19 points in 18 games. Dewar finished with a goal and an assist last Friday against the Cougars, setting up the game-winning goal by Patrick Bajkov, and capped off the night with an empty-net goal. Dewar is one-third of the ‘Tips top-line, that also includes Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne. Head Coach Dennis Williams has split the three up in the past but they were put together in the game last week against the Cougars and conjured up the game-winner in the dying minutes of regulation.
Patrick Bajkov: The 20-year-old leads the Silvertips in points (25), assists (16) and game-winning goals (3). Bajkov scored the game-winner last Friday, scoring with just 1:22 left in the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie. He’s 12th overall in the WHL scoring race and two of his three game-winning goals have come with less than two-minutes left in regulation; he’s clutch.
WHO’S ON D:
Kevin Davis: Wrote about him last Friday but Davis is someone the Cougars will have to keep tabs on from the blue-line. Davis is 7th in scoring among defencemen in the WHL, with 17 points (2-15-17) in 17 games. He has a heavy shot from the blue-line and is a threat on the power-play. Davis has been held pointless in his last two games but had points in 13 of his last 14 before the recent dry spell. He’s also fast approaching a rare milestone, as the Kamloops, BC, native is just seven games shy of 300 in his WHL career.
Gianni Fairbrother: The first-year defenceman made an impact on the scoresheet last Friday, as he got into a tussle with the Cougars’ Liam Ryan and both were kicked-out of that contest. Prior to that fight, Fairbrother threw a heavy hit on Ryan and that bad blood likely led to the two shedding their mitts. Fairbrother has two assists in 15 games but plays top pairing minutes and likes to play with an edge. The Cougars will have to keep their head on swivel when number 24 is on the ice for Everett.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Carter Hart: After missing over a month due to a reported bought of mononucleosis, he returned last Friday and stopped 23 of 24 shots to pick up his first home win. That start one week ago, was Hart’s first since he picked up a win on September 29th in Kelowna. The Sherwood Park, Alberta, product took the loss last Saturday at home to Portland, but it’s just a matter of time before Hart gets his legs under him and climbs the goaltending rankings. Remember, he was one of Canada’s goalies at last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship and all signs point to him being the incumbent number one next month. He just posted a shutout Monday in Team WHL’s 7-0 win over Russia, in the CIBC Canada-Russia series in Moose Jaw.
Goaltending: Everett has hung around the pack without the services of arguably the best goaltender in the WHL for the past month. Yes, they’re fifth in the ultra-competitive US Division, but they hold down the second Wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Hart is already showing signs of rounding into form, as he has a .930 save percentage in four games this year. Don’t forget, he’s the reigning back-to-back WHL Goaltender of the Year.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Head Coach: Richard Matvichuk
Home Record: 1-4-2-0
Last Game: 3-1 loss at Everett Nov 3rd
Goals For/Goals Against: 46/54
Power Play: 14.5% (20th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 88.0% (1st in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Kody McDonald ( 9-7-16), Jared Bethune (4-12-16), Dennis Cholowski (5-9-14)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Pavel Azhgirei: The former Silvertips’ forward makes his home debut tonight at the CN Centre, and may have some added juice playing his former team. Azhgirei you’d think will have a chip on his shoulder, after the Silvertips did put him on Import Waivers; he’ll want nothing more than to prove his former team wrong. With a week’s worth of practice, getting to know the Cougars’ system, you’d also think he’ll feel more comfortable than he was last Friday. He’s not expected to tear up the scoresheet tonight, but he can be a guy who can bring some energy upfront.
Jackson Leppard: He’s one game in from coming back from injury, and like Azhgirei, the week off should have done him some good. Leppard was having a terrific start to the season before missing two games at the end of October with an upper-body injury. He’s a key piece to the top-line, as he’s had great chemistry in the past with Jared Bethune and Kody McDonald. He’s got five goals and eight points in 15 games and can be a difference maker tonight.
WHO’S ON D:
Dennis Cholowski: He’s had a busy week, commuting from Saskatchewan and back for the CIBC Canada-Russia series but he’ll have to be a leader on the blue-line. Cholowski will play top pairing minutes, first unit power-play and take on the Silvertips top forwards; not an easy night by any means. Cholowski can be an x-factor from the back-end and that’s what the Cougars need tonight.
Joel Lakusta: He had a nice run in early October but has been held pointless in his last six. Lakusta has taken on an increased role with the injuries and inexperience on the blue-line but a return home may be the perfect remedy. Lakusta can be a difference maker from the back-end, and we’ve seen that from him this year. One of those classic Lakusta games could provide a big boost.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Tavin Grant: He’s got a .960 save percentage in his last three starts and is third in the WHL in goals-against average (2.54) and save percentage (.922). He’s the team’s MVP through the quarter-mark of the regular season. The Cougars leaned up him several times during the road trip and he responded very well. They’ll need that same type of effort against a tough opponent in Everett.
Home Cooking: It’s no secret the Cougars have struggled at home out of the gate but this weekend is a perfect opportunity to reverse the misfortune. One win in in their first seven home games doesn’t sit well with anybody and that sense of pride will be a key factor tonight. The CN Centre was a tough place for opposing teams to play in last year and this squad wants nothing more to bring that feeling back in the building.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The Cougars penalty-kill is ranked first overall in the WHL and hasn’t allowed a power-play goal since October 13th. They’ve killed-off 37 straight penalties.