The Prince George Cougars (9-13-2-2) are back home and facing the Vancouver Giants (11-12-2-2) in a crucial two-game weekend series at the CN Centre. The Giants are four points up on the Cougars heading into the weekend, as they sit third in the BC Division and sixth in the West. The Cougars are fifth in the division but just two points back of Kamloops and just three points outside of a wildcard spot in the West.
Prince George comes into tonight’s game with a 4-7-2-0 record at home this year but have split their last six at the CN Centre, going 3-3-0-0. They will have a chip on their shoulder, as they’ve dropped their last four games and are coming off a self-admittedly subpar effort in Kelowna Wednesday. The Cougars will be highly motivated to not only bump the four-game slide but turn around their fortunes at home. If history tells us anything, they like playing at home against Vancouver, as they were 3-0-0-1 against the Giants last season at the CN Centre. They were 6-1-0-1 against the Giants last season.
Vancouver snapped a three-game slide of their own on Tuesday, beating the Seattle Thunderbirds 4-3 in overtime at the Langley Events Centre. Ty Ronning tied the game inside the final minute on a power-play, and Tyler Benson was the hero, as the Giants finished off the come from behind win in OT. Prior to Tuesday, Vancouver dropped games to Everett (5-2), Kelowna (3-2) and Lethbridge (5-2); two of those three were at home. Vancouver has dropped three straight on the road and four of their last five away from the LEC. The Giants last road win was back on November 4th in Kamloops, a 5-4 win at the Sandman Centre. Since, they’ve lost in Kelowna (5-4 OT), Kamloops (6-2) and Everett (5-2). Through 14 games on the road, the Giants sport a 4-6-2-2 record.
It’s a crucial stretch of games for the Cougars, as four of their next five are against divisional opponents. So far, they’re 3-5-2-0 against the BC Division and if they’re going to make hay, the time is now. Vancouver is 4-7-1-1 against their own division and 1-3-1-1 on the road against BC Division opposition.
Dennis Cholowski (Detroit, 1st Round, 2016) comes into the weekend riding a four-game point streak and in fact, has points in six of his last seven games. He scored Wednesday against the Rockets, which gives him eight goals on the season which is third-highest on the team. Cholowski is now second in team scoring as well, with eight goals and 22 points in 24 games. He also has a goal and a assist against the Giants, as he and Ryan Schoettler (1-1-2) are the only two Cougars with multiple points against the G-men.
Ty Ronning (New York Rangers, 7th Round, 2016) has been shooting the lights out for the Giants. The 20-year-old already has 25 goals, matching his output from last season and in 41-less games. Ronning at one point had an 11-game goal streak that spanned four-weeks; the longest goal streak in franchise history. The Burnaby BC, product is the centrepiece to the Giants offence, as they’re 9-6-1-1 when he scores, 5-6-1-1 when he doesn’t.
Former Cougar and Prince George native Brad Morrison is also having a fine season as an over-ager. Morrison is third in team scoring with seven goals and 27 points in 27 games; he leads the team in assists (20). Morrison was traded to the Giants in the off-season to complete the Radovan Bondra trade.
Jason McKee has been splitting his goaltenders, as he has rotated starts between Todd Scott and David Tendeck. In fact, the Giants have alternated goaltenders in seven of their last nine games, as Tendeck was the only one to have earned back-to-back starts since November 10th. They both have very similar numbers as well, so expect both of them to see action this weekend.
Speaking of goaltenders, the Cougars have had some mixed results in net in the last couple of weeks but they’ll need a big performance tonight and tomorrow, against a potent offence like Vancouver’s. Tavin Grant was terrific in the first encounter with the Giants, as he was named the game’s second star in that 2-1 win on October 27th. He stopped 31 of 32 shots, including a breakaway save on Ronning in the third period to preserve a 2-1 lead. Does that performance two months ago get him a start tonight?
A big area of focus for the Cougars tonight is their start, more notably the first 10-minutes. In the last two games, they have gone down 2-0 in the first nine-minutes. The Cougars have only scored first once in their last five games and only three times in their 10 games. When the Cougars score first, they’re 6-4-0-1 but when they lead after the first period they’re 6-1-1-0. A good opening period is critical tonight.
Dennis Cholowski 1-1-2
Ryan Schoettler 1-1-2
Jared Bethune 0-1-1
Tyler Benson 1-0-1
Dylan Plouffe 0-1-1
Brendan Semchuk 0-1-1