Saturday, October 27, 2012

Busy Stretch Starts with a Bang

Seattle gets a busy two week stretch of hockey off on the right foot with a 3-1 home win over the Tri-City Americans last night at the ShoWare Center. This was a blue print of how this team must play to win. They used an aggressive forecheck, were active with their sticks in the passing lanes, won a good number of battles along the boards and had a decided edge in the neutral zone, using their speed and crisp passing to move up ice or disrupt the Americans.

Maybe being down in the southwest corner of the arena, I don't have the best vantage point, but I just didn't see 45 shots on goal by the Ams. I did see 8 or 9 times when T-birds goalie Brandon Glover would play a puck that was wide of the net, but I didn't see them as shots on goal.
Or maybe it's just the calm way in which Glover makes his saves. His approach makes a lot of shots seem, well, not so dangerous. In nine games I don't recall him flopping, twisting or diving to make a stop. He always seems to be in the right position. And last night he did a heck of a job disrupting the Tri-City power play by getting to rimmed shots or dump ins, behind the Seattle goal. That was just as important as the saves he was credited with.

You got the feeling that this would be a low scoring game. Tri-City has a solid defense and top goalie and have been very stingy in the goals against department, allowing on average just 2.4 goals against per game. If Seattle was going to win they were going to have to make the most of scoring opportunities. One way to do that is by going hard to the net and scoring those greasy goals and that's exactly how the T-birds scored their first two of the night.

Brendan Rouse and Seth Swenson both did a very good job last night of taking the puck to the net. Both were rewarded with a big assist on the winning goal. Swenson seems on the verge of breaking out offensively. Look, he ain't doin' too shabby right now at 3g,4a and +1 but there have been a number of times in the early going this season where he beats the defense only to see the puck roll off or elude his stick on the way to the goal. He seems to have a deceptive burst that gets him around defenders so now it is just a matter of finishing those chances.

Jared Hauf had one of his best games as a T-bird last night. I hope fans don't just remember the late game gaffe that put the Americans in prime position to tie the game. It was an unfortunate bounce as Hauf looked to pass behind the Seattle goal to Shea Theodore only to see the puck deflect off the glass right out in front of the T-birds goal. Fortunately Glover came up with the save of the night.
Other than that Hauf was a primary reason why Seattle killed off all four Tri power plays. I counted at least 5 times when it was Hauf winning a puck battle and clearing the defensive zone when the 'Birds were shorthanded. I like the way he used his long frame to get down to close off passing lanes, keeping the Ams from getting the puck into that prime scoring area in front of the Seattle goal. He just seemed to play at a level of confidence I hadn't seen from him previously. While he didn't end up on the scoresheet with a goal or an assist, he was +2 for the night. Unfortunately on my Three Stars ballot, I scribbled so fast that apparently it looked like "Honey" instead of "Hauf" because Hauf was my third star. I'll start working on my penmanship.

Anyone else notice how smart of a player Kevin Wolf seems to be for just a 16 year old? He seems to always make the simple play and the right play without hesitation. That's a very coachable d-man. He did miss on the one clearing shot that kept the puck hemmed in the Seattle zone late in the first period, but it was the right play; just not executed. With his tall, thin frame and mop of blond hair, he's built like a Q-Tip but once he gets to some serious offseason training and adds muscle, he'll be a solid blue liner on a group of d-men who are going to be together for 2-3 years.

You know what's great about the WHL? You get to watch a goalie like Carey Price and you think you'll never see another one like that. Then you get to watch every minute of Calvin Pickard's career and you are wowed by his talents and think, "one of the best", then no sooner is he gone from the league you get to watch Eric Comrie. There is always great talent in the WHL pipeline.

Three straight wins at home, all against divisional opponents, is a good sign. Time now to get back to winning on the road tonight in Everett.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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