The Everett Silvertips embarked Wednesday for what is generally their second-longest road trip of the season as they play games Friday and Saturday against the Prince George Cougars at CN Centre.
Every other season the Tips take a trip to either the WHL’s Central or East Division with the other division coming to Everett. The approximately 530-mile Prince George trip occurs every season and is longer than the distance to Everett’s nearest Central Division opponent — the Kootenay Ice who play in Cranbrook B.C. — a mere 485 miles northeast of Everett.
So the team spent Wednesday night in Kamloops and made it to Quesnel, B.C., Thursday — the hometown of former Silvertips captain and long-time assistant coach Mitch Love — for an on-ice session before continuing to Prince George.
Everett (7-10-1, 15 points) fell 3-1 at home to Portland Saturday to snap a three-game winning streak. That included a 3-1 victory over the Cougars last Friday at Xfinity Arena, but head coach Dennis Williams emphasized caution in taking Prince George lightly.
“We caught (Prince George) on the end of their (road trip) where I definitely thought we had the speed on them there that Friday night, but I think we’re going to see a whole different team up there rested and in their rink,” he said. “We have to understand that it’s not going to be the same Prince George team that we saw Friday night.”
The Tips have continued to create plenty of scoring chances despite tallying only four goals in last weekend’s two-game homestand. Everett had 50 shots in the win over Prince George and 44 in the loss to Portland. Prince George, which boasts the WHL’s top penalty kill, held Everett scoreless on eight power-play chances including four 5-on-3 opportunities.
Everett is now 0-for-19 on the power play going back to a 3-1 win at Kamloops on Oct. 27. Williams said the coaching staff might be looking to mix up the power-play groups, but cautioned against reading too much into the recent lapse on the man advantage.
“Going into the last three games we were clicking along all right so I don’t want to panic too much with it,” he said. “But it is worrisome because you take a couple (power-play) goals Friday and it could have put us in a more comfortable situation per se in the third period.”
Tuesday’s emphasis, once again, was getting net-front pressure on both ends of the ice. The three goals Carter Hart surrendered last weekend all came on breakdowns when the Tips lost possession in their own defensive zone.
“We need to continue to do a better job in front of our net defensively, clearing pucks and playing strong and boxing guys out, as well as offensively,” Williams said. “We can’t have those loops and curls. We gotta get net-front, sustain a presence net-front and pay the price net-front in order to score goals. That was our emphasis (Tuesday), was both offensively and defensively is that blue paint.”
Williams also wants to see his team improve at capitalizing on turnovers by their opponents.
“Good teams capitalize on (turnovers in their own zone) and that’s what we’ve got to start doing, is taking advantage of the other team’s turnovers and mistakes,” he said. “You can’t leave those guys in the slot area and give them a half-second to get a shot off quickly.”
Speaking of Hart: the two-time defending WHL Goaltender of the Year rejoined the team Wednesday for the trip to Prince George following his stint with Team WHL in the Canada-Russia Series earlier in the week. Hart started in a 7-0 Team WHL shutout victory on Monday in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Hart has a 2-2 record with a .930 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average in limited action after recovering from an early-season bout of mononucleosis. Backup Dustin Wolf is 2-0 with a .965 percentage and a 1.50 GAA.
Patrick Bajkov (nine goals, 16 assists), Matt Fonteyne (nine goals, 11 assists) Connor Dewar (10 goals, nine assists), Kevin Davis (two goals, 15 assists) and Riley Sutter (seven goals, six assists) are Everett’s top point producers.
The Tips remain down a pair of forwards after rookies Mark Liwiski and Ethan Browne each went home last week — Liwiski for breaking team rules and Browne by request. Everett dressed seven defensemen and just 11 forwards in the loss to Portland. Forward Dawson Butt has been brought along slowly from an upper body injury and Williams said Everett’s lineup Friday will depend on if Butt is deemed capable of playing regular minutes.
Kody McDonald (nine goals, seven assists), Jared Bethune (four goals, 12 assists) and Dennis Cholowski (five goals, nine assists) are the top point producers for the Cougars (5-8-2-2, 14 points).