The Everett Silvertips in recent seasons have been a team that prides itself on its discipline.
Everett led the WHL in fewest penalty minutes the past two seasons and leads the Western Conference this year despite having the sixth-fewest league-wide.
But the Silvertips took an uncharacteristic five penalties Wednesday including three in the decisive third period in a 3-0 loss at Portland.
Head coach Dennis Williams is looking for his team to play with greater composure tonight in Kelowna as the U.S. Division-leading Silvertips take on the B.C. Division-leading Rockets for the first game of a weekend home-and-home series between the top two teams in the Western Conference.
“I thought our discipline was poor and that’s uncharacteristic of our group,” Williams said. “Discipline not just with emotions and penalties, but within our systems… There were a lot of times (Wednesday) when guys tried to do more individually, pressing too much on their own. We have five guys out there on the ice. Let’s all work together. We don’t need an end-to-end rush every time. We need to make sure we manage pucks smart and use each other wisely.
“I thought we got away from that a little bit (Wednesday) night so I’m hoping that was a bit of an eye-opener for our group for what we have to do to win hockey games.”
The Rockets (32-14-3-1, 68 points) are perennial contenders and have reached the Western Conference finals four consecutive seasons. The Tips (32-17-1-2, 67 points) knocked off the Rockets 4-3 in a shootout at Kelowna on Sept. 28 in their third game of the season.
Everett hasn’t seen Kelowna since. The Tips will rely more on film in preparation for tonight than on memories of that game more than four months ago.
“There’s probably going to be a little bit of a feeling-out process for both teams because we haven’t seen each other,” Williams said. “I do expect it to be a fast-paced game with lots of high octane in it, in terms of speed and transition and both teams have guys that can score goals and I expect it to be an exciting two-game series.”
The Rockets have five players near or above a point-per-game average. They’re led by Kole Lind (27 goals, 43 assists), Carsen Twarynski (32 goals, 22 assists), Dillon Dube (22 goals, 27 assists) and Kyle Topping (17 goals, 48 assists). Standout defenseman Cal Foote (11 goals, 34 assists) and younger brother Nolan (12 goals, 25 assists) are also offensive weapons.
Kelowna has questions in net. Rookie Roman Basran has the best numbers, but he is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. None of Kelowna’s other goaltenders have a save percentage better than .897.
The Rockets do boast the league’s fifth-best power play, further emphasizing the need for Everett to play with discipline.
Matt Fonteyne, who Thursday was named the WHL Player of the Month for January, leads Everett with 30 goals and is second in points with 67. Linemate Patrick Bajkov (23 points, 51 assists) is one point away from setting the Everett franchise record. Garrett Pilon (23 goals, 34 assists), Connor Dewar (27 goals, 21 assists) and defenseman Kevin Davis (six goals, 42 assists) are additional potent weapons.
Goaltender Carter Hart was named January’s WHL Goaltender of the Month and has now won the award three straight months. He’s 19-4-0-2 with a 1.53 goals-against average, a .953 save percentage and six shutouts. He leads the WHL in those final three categories.
“We really have to get back to having a constant image of who we are and what our M.O. is and what we want to be known for,” Williams said. “So our challenge is that we want to put on our work boots and our work hat, and we want to make sure we make it difficult for teams to play against us, and make sure they come 200 feet and make sure to manage pucks smartly and do a good job of all those little things that add up to wins.”
The teams reprise their rivalry Saturday night beginning at 7:05 p.m. at Angel of the Winds Arena.
For the latest Silvertips news follow Jesse Geleynse on Twitter.