GDB 59.0 WRAP UP: MOJO?
If you’re familiar with the Austin Powers movies, you will know of the importance of mojo. Without it, Austin is a less than attractive English weirdo… with it however, he’s the ultimate sleek ladies man super spy. In the second Powers film, Austin has his mojo stolen and the rest of the story unfolds from there.
Tonight wasn’t an awful performance by the home team, but compared to the hockey we’ve become accustomed to here in Lethbridge, something just seemed “off”. This loss, in combination with the defeat on Wednesday, has me feeling the Hurricanes are in a similar boat to Powers. When they have their mojo, they’re world beaters, but then they don’t… well…. they look a little average.
It didn’t’ take the ‘Hawks long to get on the board. Just over 30 seconds into the game Skinner was unable to corral a soft dump from Keoni Texeira and Rodrigo Abols roofed the rebound for a 1 – 0 Portland lead. After the early goal, the game settled down and both teams were rolling their lines.
Lethbridge would manage to kill off two penalties in the opening frame but the residual effect was that Portland generated momentum and carried much of the play in the first. There weren’t too many stand out moments after Abols goal, but to the alarm of ‘Canes fans, Colton Kroeker was on the receiving end of an unfortunate knee on knee collision with Keegan Iverson. Kroeker needed need help off the ice and would not return (Kroeker had been skating on the top line with Burke and Wong).
Due to the kneeing major assessed to Iverson and a tripping minor issues to Bellerive, things opened up in the final moments of the period. The two teams traded odd man rushes but neither side was able to convert. Overall, both teams had their chances in the first frame but if you asked me who won it, I would give the edge to Portland.
The second period opened to the remnants of the Iverson and Bellerive penalties. Shortly after the teams went back to 5 on 5, Cory Millette banged home a rebound to tie things up a 1. Much like the opening frame, after the early goal things kind of settled into a rhythm. Both goaltenders were the story in the middle frame. Hill and Skinner made some sensational saves. There was one particular flurry where Skinner made five or six desperation saves in a row, earning a standing ovation from a handful of Canes fans in the building.
Unfortunately for Skinner, a broken play at his blueline later in the period would result in a ‘Hawks goal. Portland attacked the zone with speed and caught the Hurricane defenders standing still. It was enough to generate the time and space necessary for Schoenborn to fire one past Skinner. The period would end with the visitors up 2 – 1. Lethbridge had a 29-27 shot advantage.
Things seemed slightly more tentative to start the 3rd. There were enough offsides, blown passes, and icing calls to effectively disrupt some of the game’s flow. Ryley Lindgren had a glorious chance in the slot near the halfway mark of the third, and had he been a left handed shot it likely would have been a goal. In the time it took to get leverage on the shot, Hill was able to slide over and make a good desperation stop.
The ‘Hawks took over and sealed the deal in the final ten minutes of the game. First, Schoenborn would get his second of the game on a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play, then Abols would follow it up a few minutes later with his second. It was a powerplay marker that essentially evaporated any hope of a potential Hurricanes comeback. The Hurricanes would connect on a late powerplay when Burke and Wong connected for a one timer that beat Hill. There wasn’t much cause for celebration as the game was all but over. Final score, 4 – 2 Portland.
- Stuart Skinner was phenomenal for stretches tonight. The opening goal was probably one he would want a second crack at, but goaltending certainly wasn’t the issue for the home-side tonight. There were a number of sequences in the 2nd and 3rd periods that probably should have resulted in sure goals for the ‘Hawks. Skinner was stellar and ultimately gave his team the chance to win.
- Carter Folk stood out to me tonight. Folk was throwing his weight around, skating hard, and generally making life difficult for the Winterhawks.
- Not enough high quality scoring chances. Sure the Canes generated a lot of shots, but I’m confident they got out chanced and that’s a much better indication of how this game unfolded.
- After a bad game Wednesday, the Canes surrendered a first minute goal. It was the exact start you would hope to avoid if you’re fired up to have a bounce back outing.
- I’m going to be careful not to complain considering how injuries aren’t exclusive to the Canes…. but the potential loss of Kroeker to an (apparent) knee injury is pretty deflating. The injury bug is in full force right now. Wong also looks to be playing through a few injuries. He appeared to be laboring on one of his legs and the explosive speed we saw earlier this season isn’t what is was.
- Portland isn’t a massive team and the Hurricanes didn’t play them physical enough. Aside from Folk, I didn’t think many other players really engaged enough in the hits department.
- The Canes breakout and passing left something to be desired tonight. They simply weren’t sharp enough. There were countless blown passes that ended up becoming turnovers throughout this game and it cost Lethbridge dearly.
THIS AND THAT
- It took him some time to settle in, but Adin Hill made some great saves tonight for the visitors. I thought he was really impressive when he needed to be, and even if the Canes didn’t make it very difficult, Hill did everything asked of him.
- I would love to have seen this Portland team with the services of Paul Bittner.
- Kisio shook up the top two lines after the disappointing effort on Wednesday. He moved Babenko down to the second line with Bellerive and Vandervlis. Kroeker was moved up to the top line, but after his injury in the 1st, Ben Duperreault replaced him alongside Burke and Wong.
- Hill is massive between the pipes. He covers so much when he’s in the right position I can see why shooters might have a hard time finding holes.
- With the top two lines in disarray (primarily due to injury), the Canes offense is really starting to look like a shell of its former-self.
Before I go on to talk about the Hurricanes, I want to take a moment to recap from a Winterhawks perspective. Portland played themselves a pretty consistent game. They jumped out to the early lead, and while Lethbridge did have a few chances, I never got the feeling that the Winterhawks were in deep trouble. They pretty much contained the Hurricanes forwards all night and Hill was there to take care of shots from the point when called upon.
It was, at least in my eyes, a good road win for Portland. The Hurricanes didn’t make life too difficult on them and the ‘Hawks did well to clog up middle of the ice. Sure the Canes had nearly 50 shots, but only a select few had any hope of going in. Most were from range with very little traffic in front of the behemoth Hill. Overall, the lack of scoring chances for the home team is both a credit to the ‘Hawks and a failure on the part of Lethbridge.
For the second time in two games, the Hurricanes were the second best team on home ice. Coming back to the “mojo” concept, I can’t help but feel like we are watch a very different Hurricanes team right now. It’s becoming increasingly clear to me and (I assume) the opposition that, without Estephan and Gutierrez in the lineup, the Hurricanes can be contained. The mojo just isn’t there. The team looks less organized, more frustrated, and generally ineffective in areas they previously excelled.
Tyler Wong cannot be operating at full health right now. He’s put his body through a lot this season and taking repeated hard hits has a way of grinding a player down. Wong’s foot speed isn’t what it has been. If I were to guess I would say he is fighting through injuries that are inhibiting his ability to fly down the wing and push back defenders. All that and he is being forced to play centre when it’s not his natural position. It’s one of many factors that I can’t help but feel is contributing to the dissolution of confidence and offensive chemistry.
With the top line a shadow of itself, the absence of Gutierrez and regression of Babenko has rendered the second line equally as toothless. The high flying, ultra-dynamic offensive juggernaut we were watching earlier this season has been ground down. Players are being put in positions out of need, not preference. It’s tough because with another injury tonight, the forward ranks are even further depleted.
The good news is mojo (our new favorite buzzword), while elusive, can be re-obtained.
Again, this is not the time to panic. The Hurricanes still have all the horses that got them here… they’re just not at healthy as they used to be. There’s still 13 games before the end of the season – time to rediscover the mojo and affirm their swagger. This is still a very good team, and while this week has been a big letdown, there’s no reason to get too concerned… yet.
The injuries have to be a real concern for anyone with a vested interest. Let’s just hope things get better on that front and not worse.
Lethbridge will resume their search for mojo tomorrow in Calgary.