Head Coach Barry Melrose described the next 10 games as nothing but crucial as the Rink Rats jockey for position heading into the WHL playoffs. “It’s going to be big” stated Melrose describing the team’s upcoming schedule. “Last night’s game in Anchorage was a huge disappointment and we need to play better if we’re expecting to make a run at this thing. “Nothing against the Orcas, because they played a great game, but we just didn’t show up last night. We tried some different line combinations and it’s clear that it didn’t work out. It’s time to go back to the drawing board”.
The Rink Rats play host to the Portland Timberjacks this evening in what will likely be an instant classic. Portland will be skating without injured forward Alex Ovechkin which should help Minnesota’s chances a bit. Ovechkin has been on a tear since new management took over the club halfway through the season and he really adds a different element to their roster. Minnesota is coming into tonight’s game looking to break a disappointing 3 game losing streak.
Portland @ Minnesota: Game at a Glance
Center: Advantage – Timberjacks:
Portland has very good depth down the middle with newly acquired Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Getzlaf, Jason Arnott & David Legwand in the mix. Getzlaf is an emerging WHL superstar and with a solid group of veterans around him he’s learning the game very well. Minnesota has one of the WHL’s leading scorers in Daymond Langkow followed by Alexei Yashin & Matthew Lombardi. Lombardi and Yashin provide solid secondary scoring but wouldn’t play as many minutes on most other WHL clubs.
Left Wing: Advantage – Rink Rats:
Without Ovechkin, the Timberjacks are pretty weak on the left side. Chad Kilger gives them a bump but behind him the roster has Sean Bergenheim and Andrew Ladd. The Rink Rats are lead by Derek Roy & Sergei Samsonov on the left side. Both are pint sized scorers with solid speed and awareness on the ice. Following Roy & Samsonov is Martin Rucinsky and Ryan Potulny both of whom can add additional secondary scoring.
Right Wing: Advantage – Draw:
This one is too tough to call with Minnesota’s Mike Cammalleri, Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrick O’Sullivan playing against Portland’s speedy mix of Maxim Afinogenov, David Vyborny & Petr Sykora. These 6 skaters all have the ability to put the puck in the net and know how to win games.
Defense: Advantage – Rink Rats:
Minnesota has two of the best young defenseman in the game in Jay Bouwmeester & Brent Burns. Burns is a leading Norris Trophy candidate while Bouwmeester is clearly the leader of this Minnesota squad. Behind them is Derek Morris, youngster Paul Ranger, Nick Boynton & Mike VanRyn.
Portland’s Lubomir Visnovsky is a solid offensive defenseman. He's consistently been able to put up good numbers but struggles at times in his own zone. Portland also gives solid minutes to Toni Lydman, Colin White, Cameron Barker, Niklas Kronwall and Mark Stuart and has the ability to use struggling defenseman Kevin Bieksa if they get in a bind.
Goal: Slight Advantage – Timberjacks:
Both teams sport two of the best goaltenders in the game today in the Timberjacks’ Henrik Lundqvist and Minnesota’s Ryan Miller. Miller was a Hart Trophy finalist last season and has a reputation for playing well in big games. Lundqvist is one of the league’s best goaltenders this season and could very likely win the Vezina Trophy if he continues his play the next 10 games. If Lundqvist comes up big tonight look for Portland to take the game.
Special Teams: Advantage – Timberjacks:
While Minnesota’s power play has really surged over the second half of the season; no team has played better on the man advantage then the Timberjacks. They have the best power play and a solid penalty kill which could haunt the Rink Rats in their upcoming game. The Rink Rats’ penalty kill has been disappointing all season and they’ll have to stay out of the penalty box in this game if they want a chance.
Outcome: A Great Game! These two teams match up very well against one another so fans should expect to see an excellent playoff caliber hockey game when the puck drops in Minnesota.