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GAME PREVIEW: GM 27 Cougars versus Portland Winterhawks

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LAST GAME: The Prince George Cougars were shutout for the fourth time in 26 games this season on Tuesday, losing 3-0 to the Portland Winterhawks at the CN Centre. Portland’s Joel Hofer made 23 stops for his third shutout this season. Taylor Gauthier stopped 30 of 33 in a solid effort despite the setback. Reece Newkirk, Seth Jarvis, and Jake Gricius scored for Portland, who had a goal in each of the three periods.

It was the second consecutive game the Cougars didn’t have the start they were envisioning. Saturday they were slow out of the blocks in Kelowna¬†and Tuesday was a similar story, as they were outshot 16-5 in the first 20-minutes and trailed 1-0. They turned it around in the second period, limiting Portland to just seven shots and surrendered 10 in the third. Scoring, or scoring opportunities was the main issue, as the Cougars had just five shots through the first period and 11 after 40-minutes.

After scoring nine goals in a weekend sweep of the Blazers, the Cougars have been held to just two goals in their last six periods. They’ll need to find a way to pepper the Portland net with more rubber.

Prince George Cougars (6-18-0-2 14 PTS) Portland Winterhawks (17-6-1-2 37 PTS)
5th B.C. Division | 10th Western Conference 1st U.S. Division | 1st Western Conference
Home: 4-10-0-1 | Away: 2-8-0-1 Home: 10-1-1-0 | Away: 7-5-0-2
Power-Play 14/98 14.3% (20th) Power-Play 23/97 23.7% (4th)
Penalty-Kill 23/90 74.4% (19th) Penalty-Kill 14/108 87% (2nd)
Last 10 2-7-0-1 Streak 0-2-0-0 Last 10 7-1-1-1 Streak 1-0-0-0

TONIGHT: It’s the second of four-straight between the two teams. After tonight, they reconvene in Portland for a weekend doubleheader that starts Saturday. The Cougars are looking to avoid their third-straight loss and going winless on this mini two-game home stand. The Winterhawks meanwhile have won five of their last six games and took sole possession of first place in the U.S. Division with their win Tuesday night. They’re two points up on the Everett Silvertips.

The Cougars are 4-10-0-1 at home this season and have won three of their last seven home games against the Winterhawks. Portland is 7-5-0-2 on the road this season and are 6-3-0-0 against the B.C. Division. Prince George is 2-5-0-0 against the U.S. Division. The Cougars sport a record of 4-8-0-1 in home doubleheaders.

LINE UP: No line up changes for the Cougars from last night. Taylor Gauthier makes his sixth-straight start and was very good last night, stopping 30 of 33 shots. Gauthier was named the team’s Player of the Month for November. Last month he went 2-5-0-1 but had an impressive .919 save percentage.¬†Blake Eastman remains out with an upper-body injury and Ethan Browne will miss his second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury.

Joel Hofer made his seventh-consecutive start last night for Portland and is the WHL’s Vaughn Goaltender of the Month for November. In November he was 8-2-1-0 and led all goaltenders with a 1.75 goals-against average an a .944 save percentage. He got the shutout last night. Does Mike Johnston go with him again? Or does the former Cougar, Isaiah DiLaura, get a shot at his old team?

COUGARS’ FOCUS: How do the Cougars slow down the Winterhawks? Portland used their speed effectively last night, as they wasted little time getting up the ice and had the Cougars pinned back in their own zone for long stretches. The Winterhawks are very aggressive in the offensive zone, constantly sending four players down low below the face-off circles. The Cougars need to find a way to counteract the aggressiveness shown by Portland and create chances in transition. They also need to find a way to neutralize their big guns. The line of Jake Gricius, Seth Jarvis, and Reece Newkirk combined for seven points.

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