The Prince George Cougars are still not where they want to be.
They are exactly three-quarters into their 2022-23 regular season with 51 games completed and 17 remaining before playoffs.
We know the Cougars are considerably better than the 2021-22 season when they struggled to make the post-season, only clinching a berth on the second last day.
We know the Cougars are considerably better than Kelowna, Victoria, and Spokane this season.
We know the Cougars have a better team than Vancouver.
We also know from the results that the Cougars are not as good as Seattle, Kamloops, and Portland plus practically the entire WHL East Division.
The Cougars are stuck in the middle of the Western Conference standings sitting 6th out of 10, but only four points behind both Tri-City and Everett for 4th and 5th.
The Americans also have 17 games left while the Silvertips have 16 remaining.
Is Prince George better than Tri-City and Everett?
That is what the final five weeks and a couple of days will help determine – although the Cougars have no games left against either of those two teams.
A week ago the Cougars won 9-2 in Kelowna for a season-high 5th straight victory, a streak where they outscored the opposition by a total of 33-8.
However, three of those wins were against the Rockets (18-30-3-0) and the other two were against the Royals (15-32-5-1). Both these teams were also missing a number of roster players, including their top forwards.
Even the Cougars were not going to be fooled by that win streak.
The question surfaced, were they ready for much stronger opposition?
On Saturday, they played well in Kamloops, but in the crunch not well enough.
The game was tied 4-4 with seven minutes left and the Cougars were awarded a five-minute power play.
Not only did the Cats fail to score, but shortly after the major penalty ended the Blazers found a way to win by getting the winning goal with just 7.2 seconds left for the 5-4 decision.
On Tuesday, the Saskatoon Blades played at CN Centre and the Cougars were competitive and on even terms with the Blades for 40 minutes with the game tied 1-1 after two.
The Blades though cut right through the Cats with the game on the line in the third with four straight goals in just six minutes, they went on to a 5-2 romp.
.@BladesHockey use four-goal third period to cut up @PGCougars
| https://t.co/QBFOXNAqmz #cityofpg #PrinceGeorge #northernbc #sports pic.twitter.com/LYwm5YE5of
— My Prince George Now (@mypgnow) February 15, 2023
This made the Cougars record on the season 1-5 against the East Division and Prince George had a home-ice advantage in all six.
The PG overall record is 24-23-4 but that record comes in two parts.
The Cougars are 4-1 against Vancouver, 5-2 against Kelowna, 4-0 against Victoria, and 2-0 against Spokane.
That is a total record of a whopping 15-3 against the four teams below them in the Western Conference.
This means against the rest of the league, in 33 games, they are just 9-20-4.
The vast majority of those 33 games (28 of them to be exact) were against teams that have a winning record.
Of those five that do not have a winning record, two of them (Calgary and Medicine Hat) are at the .500 mark.
The other three are Brandon, Prince Albert, and Edmonton.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Cougars host the Portland Winterhawks, who are 2nd in the U.S. Division and third in the Conference with a record of 36-12-2-2.
Prince George actually has a win this season in two games against the Winterhawks, but that was on the road 3 1/2 months ago, and it came in a shootout 5-4.
The two teams also met on December 7th in Portland with the Winterhawks winning 4-2.
These two games against the Winterhawks, starting on Family Day, will be nearly the last real test to see where the Cougars stand.
After that, they have 13 consecutive games against losing teams (5 against Victoria, 4 against Vancouver, and 2 each against Kelowna and Spokane).
(The Cougars close with a home and home against Kamloops on March 24th and 25th but by that time the Blazers will have clinched the B.C. Division and secured the #2 seed for the first round so they likely will not have a lot to play for)
Even if the Cougars go 12-1 or 10-2-1 in those 13 games after they play Portland we will already know it will not tell us anything new.
That recent five-game win streak was great for the stats but lacked substance because of the opposition.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Cougars will in all probability have a U.S. opponent (Portland, Tri-City, or Everett).
For the Cougars to advance to the second round they will dramatically have to improve their overall play.
With three players in the top six of WHL scoring, (each averaging nearly 1.5 pts per game), three other players averaging nearly a point a game or better, a captain that will likely play pro next season, two drafted NHL goalies, and a power play that ranks third in the league, the talent is on the roster.
It all comes down to learning how to win, tough, grinding one-goal games against very good opposition.
The Cougars are still a work in progress when it comes to that.
The playoffs will be the gauge of whether the Cougars will be able to call this season a success or not.
Cat Scan podcast:
The @pdxwinterhawks will be in @CityofPG Mon & Tues. Portland’s booster club member Stu Kemp is the guest on this week’s Cat Scan #podcast. He discusses the PG-Port match-up, his numerous health scares and his many medications, the loss of his wife & his time as a pro wrestler. https://t.co/QmSJCAsx7Q
— Hartley Miller (@Hartley_Miller) February 15, 2023
Report: Ice could be on last legs in Winnipeg . . . Big return for Cristall . . . Another shutout for Thomson https://t.co/DqceDDVzJ2
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) February 16, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
Philadelphia fans are upset at a defensive holding call late in Super Bowl 57. Even Santa Claus sent them a telegram of sympathy.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
Super Bowl LVII is over. What time tomorrow does the Super Bowl LVIII pregame show start?
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
The New Orleans Saints are heading into next season $55 million over the salary cap. Put another way, their excess is 10 times more than a CFL team’s total yearly salary cap.
*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com
Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He is in his 10th season as the radio colour commentator for Prince George Cougars’ home games. Hartley has been on the airwaves in PG since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).