By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
Here’s a midseason report card for the Everett Silvertips, who entered the Christmas break at 13-22-0-2 and in fifth place in the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division:
Goals scored: 91 (2.5 per game), t-17th (out of 22) in WHL Power play: 18.4 percent, 15th in WHL
Everett was one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league last season, and that trend has continued this season. The 2.5 goals per game is the same number the Tips scored last season, when Everett finished a whopping 141 goals behind the league’s top-scoring team, Portland.
Everett’s offensive options are limited. Nineteen-year-old veterans Joshua Winquist, Reid Petryk and Manraj Hayer have been solid contributors, but none rank among the league’s top 70 scorers.
Overager Ryan Harrison, the team’s leading returning scorer from last season, has yet to find his rhythm. And while Everett’s younger players have shown flashes, none has yet emerged as a regular point producer. It’s telling when overage defenseman Landon Oslanski, who was frequently forced into a winger role because of player unavailability, is the team’s joint leading scorer with 25 points in 37 games.
The power play has highlighted Everett’s offensive woes. Oslanski has been a welcome addition as his big shot from the point has proved a valuable weapon. But too often the Tips have difficulty executing cleanly, and Everett hasn’t been able to get much traffic in front of the opposing goaltender.
Goals allowed: 132 (3.6 per game), 18th in WHL Penalty kill: 77.6 percent, 16th in WHL
The Tips haven’t been a sieve when it comes to allowing goals, but they have been leaky.
A big reason for the difficulty in keeping the puck out of the net was the result of instability in the team’s goaltending. Seventeen-year-old Austin Lotz was handed the No. 1 role, and he struggled to adjust. Cole Holowenko was brought in to provide a veteran presence, but he appeared in just four games before he was found wanting and released. But Daniel Cotton, who was brought in as an emergency fill-in, provided some stability, and Lotz’s play has settled down recently.
Everett’s blue line suffered a major blow when captain Ryan Murray was lost for the season because of a torn labrum in his shoulder. Murray’s loss, along with Oslanski’s time at forward, has forced Everett’s young defenseman to grow up in a hurry.
Everett’s penally kill has struggled, with opponents often having plenty of time in the Tips zone to make plays. Everett is also one of the most penalized teams in the league, therefore giving opponents plenty of opportunities against a struggling kill. As a result, the Tips have allowed 38 power-play goals, and only two teams have allowed more.
There are two factors that mitigate Everett’s struggles, both in scoring goals and in preventing them.
The first factor is the team’s age. Everett acknowledged it would be a building year, and the Tips began the season with a young roster. Because of the loss of veterans and the addition of rookies since the season began, the roster has become even more green. If Murray is taken out of the mix, the average age of an Everett player is 17.8 years.
The second factor is injuries. Hockey is a physical sport and injuries are inevitable. Everett probably hasn’t had many more injuries than the average WHL team. The difference is in which players were injured. Almost all of Everett’s injuries have affected top players. Everett has two players who were drafted by NHL teams, and of those two Murray is done for the season and defenseman Nick Walters has also missed games. Among Everett’s top five forwards in terms of points per game, four have missed time because of physical ailments. Even Lotz spent time in the stands injured.
Everett is coping with those issues. There’s been noticeable progress made by Everett’s young players, with several now playing key roles, thus earning valuable experience. The Tips absorbed the injuries without seeing too much of a drop off in results — Everett is 6-8 since Murray’s injury, which is actually better than the 7-14-0-2 the Tips were before.
On the other hand, Everett has lacked consistency, with coach Mark Ferner regularly imploring his team to play a full 60-minute game. The penalties are also a problem as the team can’t afford to be on the penalty kill so frequently.
For the third straight season the Tips find themselves toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings, and once again Everett is in a battle to keep its streak of making the playoffs in every season of franchise history intact. But the Tips are ahead of last season’s pace, when Everett had just six victories at the Christmas break, and this season’s crop of youngsters is showing more promise of developing into impact performers. It was a rough first half, but at least the Tips appear to be building a foundation to work from.