Cougars Into Critical Games
Tonight in Kelowna marks the beginning of the most important week of regular season hockey that the Prince George Cougars franchise has faced in a very long time.
This week the Cougars will face the two teams directly beneath them in the B.C. Division standings when they face Kelowna tonight and Kamloops twice on the weekend.
Simply put, the Cougars can do themselves a huge favor with some wins this week. A victory tonight in regulation would put eight points of separation between themselves and the Rockets for first place in the B.C. Division and would ensure at the very least that they head into this weekend’s double-header with Kamloops with a five point cushion. The Rockets though are red hot and have managed 35 goals in their past five games. Tonight the Cougars will look to slow down that attack when they face the Rockets for the eighth and final time this (regular) season.
Home Record: 17-9-3-0
Last Game: A 9-5 victory in Spokane on Sunday
Goals For/Goals Against: 242 GF/188 GA
Power Play: 24.8% (5th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 79.4% (12th in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Kole Lind (61GP – 28G – 50A – 78PTS), Calvin Thurkauf (51GP – 30G – 28A – 58PTS), Nick Merkley (54GP – 22G – 33A – 55PTS)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Nick Merkley: The Arizona Coyotes prospect has posted three goals and three assists in four games this season against Prince George. For the season he has 55 points in 54 games. Over his past seven games, he’s scored six goals and added seven assists for 13 points.
Reid Gardiner: The Rockets are 3-0 against the Cougars with Reid Gardiner in their lineup. The 20-year-old has 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 19 games and has three goals and two assists for five points in three games played against Prince George.
WHO’S ON D:
Cal Foote: With 48 points in 62 games played, Foote continues to lead the back-end of the Rockets offensively. He’s also had a solid season defensively as he sits with a plus-minus rating of +29.
Devante Stephens: The Buffalo Sabres prospect scored an important goal against the Cougars back when these teams last met on February 18th. He leads all Rocket defencemen with four points in seven games against the Cougars in 2016-17.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Michael Herringer: The 20-year-old is 3-3 against the Cougars this season with a .927 save percentage and a 2.34 goals-against-average. For the season he’s 26-14-3-0 and for his career against Prince George he’s 8-3.
Swagger: The Rockets are 7-2-1-0 in their last 10. They are healthy, they are confident and they are dominating the teams that they are defeating by some very lopsided scores as of late. There’s a lot of playoff experience on this roster, and right now they’re looking like a group that wants to go on a lengthy run come April and May.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Road Record: 20-9-2-0
Last Game: A 5-2 home ice victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday at home
Goals For/Goals Against: 220 GF/ 179 GA
Power Play: 16.0% (20th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 83.5% (3rd in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Jansen Harkins (56GP – 19G – 45A – 64PTS), Nikita Popugaev (63GP – 26G – 37A – 63PTS), Radovan Bondra (54GP – 29G – 24A – 53PTS)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Radovan Bondra: The Chicago Blackhawks prospect is coming off a three point effort last Saturday at home. Thanks to his goal and two assists, Bondra has now recorded 29 goals and 24 assists and sits third in team scoring. Since joining the Cougars he’s got 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points in 22 games.
Jansen Harkins: The Winnipeg Jets prospect has four points in his past two games and now leads the team outright with 64 points in just 54 games played this season. Harkins is skating well, he’s winning faceoffs and is playing a very responsible 200-foot game.
WHO’S ON D:
Josh Anderson: The absence of Brendan Guhle has really thrust Josh Anderson into the spotlight for a number of positive reasons for the Cougars. Over the past month Anderson has made some big strides. He’s logging big minutes and deservedly so because he’s defending hard, making good decisions with the puck and he’s even chipped in with some offense in recent games. He’ll have his hands full tonight against a potent group of Rocket forwards, but he’s got enough confidence that he’ll be up for the challenge.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Ty Edmonds: Now that the all-time winningest goaltender in Cougars history has cemented that record, will it allow him to relax and play with a little less pressure and weight on his shoulders? The 20-year-old has allowed three goals or less in three of his past four starts and has been known to have played some of his very best hockey in Kelowna. He’ll gun for his 28th victory of the season tonight when he gets the nod for Prince George.
Defense: The Kelowna Rockets have been scoring a ton as of late, and the first big key tonight for Richard Matvichuk’s crew is to halt the Rockets offensive momentum. The Cougars will do that by staying disciplined, structured and by keeping things as simple as possible. The Cougars are 4-3 against the Rockets this season and are 2-1 against them at Prospera Place. A win tonight would ensure a winning record against Kelowna, which is no easy task considering how consistent the Rockets have been over the years.