Winterhawks have their work cut out
The Portland Winterhawks have a lot of work to do over the next couple of weeks.
Oh, there was plenty to like about their season opener — a 7-4 win at Everett on Saturday.
But for VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston and his staff, practices this week and next will be important.
In part, that's because the full roster is together for the first time. A stretch of six games in 10 days Oct. 6-15 also creates some urgency for the coaching staff.
"This time of year, you always have a long checklist of things that you want to do," Johnston says. "But it is important these next two weeks that we get some things done because there's a two-week span after that when we're not going to practice a lot."
Skill work, as well as defensive zone breakouts and coverage, will be areas of particular emphasis in these early-season practices, Johnston says.
The Winterhawks play their home opener at 6 p.m. Saturday at Moda Center against Seattle. (All Saturday home games start at 6 p.m. this season).
The Hawks will play host to Prince George at 5 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
Portland fans will get their first look at Kieffer Bellows. The Hawks' big offseason addition, who last week signed a three-year NHL entry level contract with the New York Islanders, scored two goals and had one assist in his Western Hockey League debut.
The combination of Bellows and Cody Glass (one goal and two assists at Everett) promises excitement for Portland and its fans.
Bellows scored both of his goals in a six-goal second period that put Portland in control after Everett had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period. Also scoring for Portland were Skyler McKenzie, Joachim Blichfeld, Alex Overhardt and defenseman Conor MacEachern.
"We created some turnovers with our back-check, and we put a lot more pucks to the net than we did in the first period," Johnston says. "We had a little more of a shooting mentality in the second period."
That the first period was a bit ragged should hardly be a surprise. Most of the players who were at NHL camps arrived on Friday and had one practice before heading to Everett.
That does not explain the penalty problems the Winterhawks created for themselves at Everett. The Silvertips had 10 power plays — the equivalent of playing an entire period up a man.
Among them were two extended five-on-three chances for the Silvertips.
"Most of them I think were poor positional penalties where we got caught on the wrong side of guys in certain situations and had to hook or hold," Johnston says.
That Everett converted only once — for a meaningless goal on its 10th power play — was encouraging.
Johnston says some extra penalty kill preparation work last week paid off and goalie Cole Kehler was good when Everett had its two-man advantages.
With every player who attended NHL camps back in Portland, Johnston and his staff entered this week facing a few roster decisions. One of those will be deciding which of the four 20-year-olds to part with. Kehler and defenseman Keoni Texeira figure to stick around, which means either Overhardt or Evan Weinger will need to be traded or released by mid-October.
Bellows and 16-year-old defenseman Clay Hanus were the only WHL rookies in Portland's lineup at Everett. Five rookies were among the seven Hawks who did not suit up. After that game, Johnston said he needed to soon reduce his roster by a couple of players.
Seattle won its opener Saturday at home against Tri-City, 4-3. The Thunderbirds are slated to play host to Prince George on Friday.
Prince George lost twice at home to Spokane last weekend, 4-2 and 5-1.