The Prince George Cougars have completed 51 of their 68 regular-season games.
What is the significance of that?
It is only noteworthy because that is exactly the 3/4 mark with just 25 % of their games remaining.
Cougars boss Mark Lamb is like all coaches wanting their team as the season wears on to get better, see the progression and improve in all areas.
The Cougars though have been heading the other way but they have a chance to turn things around in the stretch drive.
On January 21st in this Hart Attack column, I wrote that the Cougars were just past the halfway mark with 36 games completed and 32 to go.
At that time the team was 17-17-1-1 and on a four-game winning streak.
They were sixth in the Western Conference, ahead of Vancouver and Victoria, and with a healthy lead over Tri-City (10 points) and Spokane (13 points).
Today the Cougars are 19-29-2-1, a point back of Vancouver and just six ahead of Victoria, Tri-City, and Spokane.
That’s right they are just 2-12-1 in their last 15.
What is most puzzling is that the Cougars have lost their last seven home games.
Those seven losses have all been in regulation, so no bonus points at all for going beyond 60 minutes.
A lack of scoring has been a concern.
For example, Captain Jonny Hooker has not scored in the team’s last 15 games, third-year speedy winger Craig Armstrong has gone 24 games without a goal and second-year winger Fischer O’Brien has played 44 games this season without putting the puck in the net.
As a team, the Cougars are giving up nearly a goal per game more than they score.
They are averaging just over 2 1/2 goals per game (2.63) which is near the bottom of not just the Western Conference but the entire WHL.
Even with strong goaltending, they are allowing 3 1/2 goals per game (3.49).
Another concern is slow starts getting outscored 55-33 in the first period and their inability to win games coming from behind.
They are 0-26-2-1 when trailing after two periods.
The Cougars have had some relatively consistent results.
For example, they haven’t won much against the top five teams in the Western Conference going 4-21-1-1 against Everett, Kamloops, Portland, Kelowna, and Portland.
On the other hand, they have had success against the lower teams in the Conference going 15-8-1 against Vancouver, Victoria, Tri-City, and Spokane.
This includes a perfect 7-0 mark against Victoria.
The rest of the schedule looks favorable with the remaining 17 games split up over five teams: Victoria (7), Kelowna (4), Kamloops (3), Spokane (2, both this weekend), and Vancouver (1).
So they don’t have to face the top three teams in the U.S. Division where they do not have a win this season against Everett, Portland, or Seattle.
The Cougars are still likely to make the playoffs, since just the bottom two Conference teams will miss out, and have had steady production from Koehn Ziemmer, Riley Heidt, Ethan Samson, and Hudson Thornton.
20-year-old import defenceman Jonas Brondberg has been a calming influence for the younger defencemen and Tyler Brennan has shown many nights why he is the top-ranked North American goalie prospect for this year’s NHL Draft.
I am sure the Cougars will do better in this final quarter and will secure their first postseason berth in five years.
The WHL actually has not had playoffs the past two seasons which means the Cougars are not that far behind in terms of recent post-season experience.
The last 17 games should set the tone for the team to build confidence, pick up some W’s and then look for the first-round upset.
Sure, the third quarter has not brought out the best in the team, but the good news is if the Cougars can find success the rest of the way, then the struggles of the last several games will be a distant memory.
Cat Scan podcast:
CAT SCAN: @Hartley_Miller sits down with @TheWHL‘s Vice President of Hockey Richard Doerksen in this week’s episode
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— My Prince George Now (@mypgnow) March 3, 2022
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
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*Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg
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*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
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*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/
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Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He also is the radio color commentator for P.G. Cougars’ home games. Hartley has been on the Prince George airwaves since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).