Mike Johnston always said something along the lines of "You know what kind of team you have after 20 games...." - around here we take what MJ says pretty seriously.
Its unclear what this Winterhawks team is to this point, which is 18 games in as of this writing. This is a team that has started slow for as long as I've been watching them - last season they were 8-11-3 at this point last season. In fact, they didn't reach .500 until (American) Thanksgiving - yet they tied Everett in wins while attempting to win the US Division.
I wrote about their slow start in 2013-14: a season where they lost Game 7 of the WHL Final.
This team sits at 8-9 currently. They've scored 5 goals in 2 of those losses. On two occasions they won the game despite only putting up 2 goals. Adin Hill has recorded 3 shutouts on the young season, but they were shut out once by Prince Albert.
They've shown flashes of brilliance, and can't get out of their own way at times. Kelowna has been a "measuring stick" game over the last few years - this year is no exception. Taking a 3-2 lead mid-3rd period is a sign of good things to come. Turning that lead into a 5-3 deficit over an 8 minute span is a problem. Jumping out to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes the next night: sure seems like the proper adjustments were made. However, back to back periods of giving up 4 goals spoiled that promising start.
Entering the Kelowna weekend Hill's GAA was right at 2.00, for a .500 team. A junior team giving up 2 goals a game should be clipping along at .750 - or better. This is a team that's scored 5 goals in 8 games so far - pretty much half the games they've played so far.
It might be easy as they're just inconsistent so far. All junior teams are, right?
The "eye test" is that their struggles are as simple as a handful defensive breakdowns at the wrong time, which I don't have a good way to quantify or break down here.
One issue I have that is demonstrable is Paul Bittner. I've been really high on him since he was a 15 - especially when he potted those 4 consecutive game winning goals during tournament time. He ended up with 12 goals in 45 games that season - which projects out to 19 goals in a full 72 game season. Pretty damn good for a 16 with limited ice time.
Currently Paul is sitting on 4 goals - a 17 goal pace for a full season. That's just not good enough for a guy that Portland fans are counting on to deliver. Of course, he lost both of his linemates. There's a whole new set of expectations. He'll improve.
The flip side is Team Captain Dominic Turgeon. I'd heard some folks expressing they felt that Turgeon has a 40 goal season in his sights - which is pretty much the rate he's been shooting so far. Can he maintain this pace?
Guys like Shoenborn & Iverson are about where a lot of us thought they'd be. I feel there's a higher level both guys can get to, and if this team wants to do some damage they will both have to.
If they can marry the periods where they play lights out defense with the instances where they demonstrate all that firepower - then they're back in business. They've shown the ability to play both ends of the ice at an elite level - but not game in & game out yet.
Gregg Drinnan says the season starts at Christmas. The Los Angles Kings model - take the regular season off & get hot in the playoffs - could be applicable in a conference where only 2 teams miss the playoffs, but most Portland fans would rather they just got their shit together.