GAME PREVIEW: GM 24 Cougars versus Kamloops Blazers

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LAST GAME: The Cougars picked up their first win in nine games, beating the Kamloops Blazers 4-3 Friday night. Prince George snapped their eight-game winless streak (0-7-0-1) and ended an 11-game losing streak against the Blazers at home. Friday was the Cougars’ first win at the CN Centre against the Blazers since March 18th, 2017.

Connor Bowie scored twice in the win last night and Josh Maser and Rhett Rhinehart also scored. The Cougars, after scoring three goals in their previous three games combined, scored three times in the first period last night to lead 3-2 after 20-minutes. Bowie’s second of the game, which was the game-winner, broke a 3-3 tie midway through the third period.

Taylor Gauthier was excellent and so too was the penalty-kill. Gauthier stopped 41 of 44 shots, including 15 in the third period. He played a big part in the penalty-kill going 6-6 against the league’s second-best power-play. The Cougars killed-off a four-minute Blazers power-play with five and a half minutes left in game, while nursing a 4-3 lead. Impressive stuff.

Zane Franklin scored twice for Kamloops and Orrin Centazzo had the other goal. In fact, the Blazers top line did all the scoring, as Centazzo, Franklin, and Connor Zary combined for seven points.

After shutting out the Cougars a week ago, Rayce Ramsay was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots in 20-minutes. Dylan Garand stopped eight of nine over the last two periods.

TONIGHT: The Cougars are looking to win back-to-back games for the second time this season and for the first time since October 11th. That’s when they defeated Kelowna (Oct 5th, 4-1) and Spokane (Oct 11th, 3-1). It won’t be a small feat, as the Blazers haven’t lost two in a row since November 2nd.

Last night was just the second time the Cougars scored four goal this season. That after scoring just three in their previous three games combined. General Manager & Head Coach Mark Lamb spoke this week about the team being more selfish in the offensive zone and not passing up on opportunities. We saw more of that last night, as Bowie scored twice off the rush and both times he kept the puck on an odd-man rush.

The Blazers will have a chip on their shoulder tonight and the Cougars have to be prepared for that. Kamloops will push right from puck drop. The Blazers are 3-3-0-0 coming off a loss, outscoring their opponents 25-15 in those six games. Pretty solid numbers. The last time they came off a loss they obliterated the Seattle Thunderbirds 10-1 in their next game.

The Cougars should certainly feel good about last night and be confident but they can’t be complacent. Kamloops will make them pay if they are.

LINE UP: Don’t expect any major line up changes for Prince George. Taylor Gauthier should get the start in net. He’s 1-1 against the Blazers and has a .955 save percentage in those two starts. Ethan Browne returned to the line up and it shouldn’t come as a surprise the power-play finally produced. Having Browne in the line up adds another layer to the Cougars’ attack. His vision and play-making ability is second to none.

Kamloops went with 11 forwards and seven defencemen last night. Dylan Garand will get the start, no doubting that.

COUGARS’ FOCUS: Shutting down the Blazers top line. That’s the big focus for Prince George. Centazzo, Franklin, and Zary are as good as any first line in the WHL. The three are first, second and fourth in team scoring. They’ve combined for 44 goals, which accounts for 47 percent of the team’s scoring. Can the Cougars neutralize those three and test Kamloops’ depth?

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