WHL championship series: Portland with decisive victories in opening games as Oil Kings search for answers

The Portland Winterhawks took an early 2-0 series lead in the WHL championship series over the Edmonton Oil Kings this weekend, with a 5-2 win Saturday night and 3-1 Sunday evening. The Winterhawks are now halfway towards defending the Ed Chynoweth Cup, and have had a healthy advantage in nearly all aspects of the game including scoring chances, puck possession, and goaltending.

GAME ONE

The story of Game 1 may be the breaking apart of Edmonton's top line of Henrik Samuelsson, Mitch Moroz and Reid Petryk after Moroz suffered a leg injury knocking him out of most of the first period and the entire second. With Brandon Baddock moving up in the lineup to take the spot of Moroz, the Oil Kings trio was taken apart ruthlessly by Portland's "USA Kid Line" of Alex Schoenborn, Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson, the latter of which may have been the most dangerous even strength skater for either team in the contest.Portland did things with the puck that no team should be allowed to do with the puck. The Edmonton Oil Kings looked woefully underprepared for the series, turning over a lot of easy pucks at the zone and giving up easy entries into the offensive zone. During a brief 4-on-4 stretch during the second period, the Winterhawks had eight scoring chances. Despite his struggles in the first period, Tristan Jarry was a big reason the game was even close late in the second, before a Mat Dumba one-timer on a 4-on-3 gave Portland a two-goal lead.

With the suspension to Brendan Leipsic, Portland coach Mike Johnston moved Taylor Leier up onto the first line with Paul Bittner and Nic Petan, and that group held their own against the Edgars Kulda line with Curtis Lazar and Brett Pollock.

Despite being woefully outplayed, Edmonton had its chances to tie the game up, particularly on the powerplay. They dominated the special teams in this contest, not only generating three scoring chances on their powerplay opportunities (none converted) but had three shorthanded chances when Portland got too careless with the puck midway through the second.

Here's the breakdown of chances by period:

EV EDM EV PDX PP EDM PP PDX SH EDM SH PDX Tot. EDM Tot. PDX
1st 1 5 2 3 5
2nd 3 16 4 3 6 20
3rd 5 3 1 6 3
Total 9 24 3 4 3 0 15 28

A scoring chance is defined by Copper and Blue as "a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area—loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots". A player is credited with a "scoring chance for" if he's on the ice for a team scoring chance at even strength. He's similarly punished for a "scoring chance against" if the other team generates an even strength chance when he's on the ice:

No. Edmonton Player Chances For Chances Vs. Chances Diff
10 Henrik Samuelsson 2 9 -7
18 Reid Petryk 1 7 -6
29 Michell Moroz 3 -3
23 Edgars Kulda 4 4 E
27 Curtis Lazar 4 11 -7
39 Brett Pollock 3 12 -9
11 Luke Bertolucci 1 5 -4
14 Riley Kieser 2 4 -2
20 Mads Eller 2 4 -2
12 Cole Benson 0 E
13 Brandon Baddock 1 5 -4
21 Tyler Robertson 0 E
5 Ashton Saunter 1 8 -7
8 Griffin Reinhart 1 8 -7
2 Cody Corbett 4 11 -7
37 Dysin Mayo 4 10 -6
4 Blake Orban 2 5 -3
24 Aaron Irving 2 6 -4
No. Portland Player Chances For Chances Vs. Chances Diff
7 Paul Bittner 5 4 +1
19 Nic Petan 9 5 +4
20 Taylor Leier 8 3 +5
9 Chase De Leo 10 +10
11 Adam De Champlain 5 1 +4
27 Oliver Bjorkstrand 9 1 +8
13 Keegan Iverson 7 1 +6
22 Alex Schoenborn 5 2 +3
23 Dominic Turgeon 5 2 +3
3 Ethan Price 0 E
15 Tyson Predinchuk 1 +1
17 Adam Rossignol 0 1 -1
2 Anton Cederholm 6 4 +2
51 Derrick Pouliot 13 4 +9
18 Garrett Haar 7 2 +5
24 Mat Dumba 14 2 +12
4 Josh Hanson 4 1 +3
44 Keoni Texeira 4 1 +3

Anybody who watched the game wouldn't be so surprised. During the run of eight scoring chances at 4-on-4 for the Winterhawks in the second, four came against Edmonton's first pairing of Griffin Reinhart and Ashton Saunter and four more came against its second of Cody Corbett and Dysin Mayo. Dumba and Derrick Pouliot had the honour of racking up some numbers, on the ice for all eight chances for.

GAME TWO

The second game was a little more even. A late afternoon start after the Saturday night contest meant that the offences were slow to get going, but Portland scored on its first two scoring chances of the game. A trend in this series so far has been goals early and late in the periods.

The Oil Kings were down 2-0 early, but kept the game within reach throughout and never looking totally out of place. Portland's only other goal was a tough of bad luck, as a Bittner wrist shot tipped off the stick off the Oil Kings' defenceman Mayo right after the Kings' fourth line generated a scoring chance.

During the third period, up by three goals and sitting on a lead with no reason to expend energy, the Winterhawks leaned on goaltender Corbin Boes, who has had a very strong series so far. The only shot that eluded him was a freaky tip off the stick of Samuelsson late in the third period. The result was otherwise never in doubt.

As for the overall scoring chances war, it was in favour of Portland early on and they never relinquished control, especially at even strength. Leipsic took his familiar spot on the top Portland line, but the beneficiaries of that move were Chase de Leo and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who were much more dangerous with Leier on their line in place of Adam de Champlain. The third line quieted down for the Hawks, but they played well-enough defensively to not allow Edmonton to decisively win any matchups.

Here is the chances breakdown by period and by strength:

EV EDM EV PDX PP EDM PP PDX SH EDM SH PDX Tot. EDM Tot. PDX
1st 3 3
2nd 4 7 3 7 7
3rd 4 1 1 4 2
Total 8 11 3 1 0 0 11 12

And the individual differentials:

No. Edmonton Player Chances For Chances Vs. Chances Diff
10 Henrik Samuelsson 2 4 -2
18 Reid Petryk 2 7 -5
29 Michell Moroz 1 7 -6
23 Edgars Kulda 2 1 +1
27 Curtis Lazar 2 5 -3
39 Brett Pollock 3 3 E
11 Luke Bertolucci 2 3 -1
14 Riley Kieser 2 2 E
20 Mads Eller 2 1 +1
12 Cole Benson 2 +2
13 Brandon Baddock 2 +2
21 Tyler Robertson 2 +2
5 Ashton Saunter 5 5 E
8 Griffin Reinhart 5 4 +1
2 Cody Corbett 2 2 E
37 Dysin Mayo 2 4 -2
4 Blake Orban 1 3 -2
24 Aaron Irving 1 4 -3
No. Portland Player Chances For Chances Vs. Chances Diff
7 Paul Bittner 4 2 +2
19 Nic Petan 4 2 +2
28 Brendan Leipsic 5 2 +3
9 Chase De Leo 6 3 +3
20 Taylor Leier 6 3 +3
27 Oliver Bjorkstrand 6 3 +3
13 Keegan Iverson 2 -2
22 Alex Schoenborn 1 2 -1
23 Dominic Turgeon 1 2 -1
11 Adam De Champlain 1 -1
15 Tyson Predinchuk 1 -1
17 Adam Rossignol 1 -1
2 Anton Cederholm 4 1 +3
51 Derrick Pouliot 3 1 +2
18 Garrett Haar 6 6 E
24 Mat Dumba 6 6 E
4 Josh Hanson 1 1 E
44 Keoni Texeira 2 1 +1

Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal has a tough decision to make prior to the third game of the series. He mixed around his top two lines all night, looking for a jolt of energy somewhere. Lazar, Pollock, Moroz and Petryk have been problematic for Laxdal, with all four forwards decisively losing their head-to-head matchups. The Latvian import Kulda is the only Edmonton regular who has a positive scoring chances differential through the first two games.

They say a series isn't interesting until a team loses at home, but a Portland win in the third game of this set would render it plenty uninteresting. The only thing that kept Edmonton close in Game 2 was the schedule, but right now the teams don't look like they belong on the same ice. The Winterhawks are in a class of their own, and have been since the Dumba acquisition. During the series' 120 minutes of running time, Portland have had a lead for all but 5:02 of them and have had a lead of at least two goals for a little under 82 minutes.