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WINTERHAWKS ANALYSIS: Johnston says Portland played better in loss than in win

After trailing for nearly the entire game, Portland Winterhawks defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon evened the score midway through the third period of Saturday's game against the Kelowna Rockets.

Finally, the Hawks weren't playing to tie, they were playing to win.

But that ended for Portland when Kelowna forward Zach Franco scored the game-winning goal with a minute remaining, allowing the Rockets to claim a 4-3 victory at the Rose Garden in front of the announced crowd of 6,071.

Early in the season, though, Portland coach-general manager Mike Johnston says he is interested in more than wins. He's focused on watching his young team develop.

Portland and Kelowna played on back-to-back nights at the Rose Garden, and despite the Hawks winning the first game 1-0 on Friday, Johnston said he was more satisfied with his team's performance in the loss.

“We played a better game tonight than we did last night,” he said. “I was quite happy with that.”

OFFENSE REPORT

With a young group of forwards still acclimating to the Western Hockey League, most of Portland's offense on Saturday came from the veteran line of Nicolas Petan, Brendan Leipsic and Ty Rattie.

Leipsic had two goals — both on the power play — while Petan and Rattie each had an assist.

It was important to see that production, given the slow start to the season for the group.

“We haven't gotten many points," Leipsic said. "We switched up the lines, and it was nice to get the results tonight.”

Newcomers such as Alex Schoenborn and Dominic Turgeon did have nice performances offensively. And Johnston said individual efforts helped the Hawks produce enough offense to rally for a 3-3 tie.

When Schoenborn brought out the puck from behind the net, he found Wotherspoon skating in from the point. Schenborn put the puck on his teammate's stick, and Wotherspoon scored his first goal of the year, tying the game at 3-3.

Portland recorded four more shots at the Kelowna goal, but none found the back of the net.

The Hawks had 46 total shots, 11 more than they had in the 1-0 win on Friday.

DEFENSE REPORT

There were two ways to look at the Hawk defensive performance on Saturday. On one side, Portland kept Kelowna from putting many pucks on net, and during plenty of stretches goaltender Brendan Burke didn't see any action.

“If you limit them to 24 shots in a game, that's all you can do,” Johnston said. “As long as we don't let teams get over 30 (shots), that's a good night defensively.”

But, on the other side, the Rockets scored four goals. Kelowna, a patient team that waits for its chances rather than shooting from anywhere, took advantage of the quality opportunities that developed.

On the game-winning goal, Wotherspoon got caught at the blue line as the puck bounced out of Kelowna's zone. That left only one defender back as the Rockets went on a 2-on-1.

Kelowna's Ryan Olsen brought the puck up the ice and fed it to Franko across the crease. With Wotherspoon trailing the play, Franko one-timed the puck into the net for the game-winning goal.

“(Kelowna) looks for really nice plays,” Burke said. “You have to be sharp when you play a team like that. You have to give them credit; they made nice plays.”

A defensive breakdown on the second shift of the contest put the Hawks in an early hole. With eyes focused on the puck and not the other Kelowna skaters, Myles Bell moved unnoticed into the slot. Rockets forward Colton Sissons found Bell, who taped a shot past Burke's glove, giving Kelowna a 1-0 lead at the 1:17 mark of the first period.

GOALIE REPORT

One night after Cam Lanigan pitched a 1-0 shutout, it was Burke's turn to keep the race for playing time even. Facing the same team, this game allowed the Winterhawks coaches a chance to see how the two goalies compare at this point in the year.

On Friday, Lanigan provided several game-saving stops, each crucial, with the offense struggling to score. Burke couldn't do the same.

“I just couldn't come up and make a big save today,” he said. “That's what the team needed. They needed a big save, and I couldn't provide it.”

Burke has started three games and is 1-2 with a 3.68 goals-against average.

Lanigan is 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA and the shutout on Friday that was the first of his Western Hockey League career.

“I'm obviously battling for a spot here,” Burke said. “He raised the bar (Friday). I tried to do it again, but I didn't tonight.”

Johnston said the Kelowna games will have no effect on playing time as Portland leaves on a six-game road trip.

“Early in the year, it's about getting experience so you can be good later in the year,” he said.

Of the four goals Kelowna scored, Burke probably wishes he could have one of them back.

With the Rockets leading 1-0 in the first period, Bell let go of a wrister in the high slot. There was no screen in front of Burke, but he was still beat, as the puck squeaked through the five-hole, giving Kelowna a two-goal lead midway through the first.

Burke was a little overmatched when the Rockets scored their third goal.

From behind Burke, the puck bounced in front of the net to Bell, with a teammate alongside, creating a 2-on-0. Bell fired a shot that deflected off the post and to defenseman Riley Stadel. Burke couldn't locate the puck before Stadel put home an easy goal for a 3-1 Kelowna lead 7:16 into the second period.

FIGHT RECAP

Rockets defender Bell took exception to a big hit by Leipsic early in the first period. And so the two dropped gloves. Before any real blows were exchanged, Leipsic fell to the ice — probably a good thing, given that Bell weighs 200 pound, Leipsic 170.

Later, in a clash of heavyweights, Kelowna's Tyrell Gouldbourne and Portland's Kirill Vorobev exchanged fists shortly after Johnston was seen trying to fire up his bench. Both players gave and received plenty of blows in a fight that lasted much longer than the first one of the night. After Gouldbourne fell on top of Vorobev, both staked away from the vicious altercation. And because they did, they're both winners.