Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Goal Darn it!

One of the reasons, and there were many, the T-Birds missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons was a lack of offensive production. Over the past three seasons Seattle averaged just 2.5 goals per game. You can't win many games, and Seattle didn't, averaging just 2.5 goals per game, especially when you give up an average of 3.75 goals against per game as Seattle did the last three years. I've said coming into this season if the T-Birds are to be a playoff team, they have to get the offensive numbers up. I estimate that just to be a .500 team they need to average at least 3 goals per game.

Well, it's early but through eight games Seattle is averaging just under four goals a game at 3.85. They are still giving up 3.75 goals per game, like they did each of the last three seasons, but they are winning because they are scoring. Over their last three games, all wins, Seattle has tallied 17 times or 5.66 goals a game. In their five wins so far this season they are scoring an average of 4.8 goals per victory. It will be hard to keep up that kind of pace but I think we can anticipate the offense being consistently better then it was between September 2009 and March 2012.

They still have their lapses defensively. There still are those 4 or 5 minute stretches in a game where they lose their pace and the opposition scores 2 or 3 quick goals. That has to improve but for now at least, the offensive production is bailing them out and who thought we'd be saying that.

Different night, a different set of heroes. Versus Everett it was Honey and Theodore, up in Vancouver Holub and Rouse and last night versus Spokane it was Sanvido and Delnov. But there has been one common denominator running throughout each game and that is Luke Lockhart. I'd like to see a better plus/minus from the captain (he's currently at -5) but I still think he's been the most consistent forward, game-to-game, in the early season. I think it's the amount of minutes he plays and all he's asked to do that sways that plus/minus to the negative side.

If that's what Branden Troock can do with a little rust on, after missing a few games due to illness, I can't wait to see him get going when he's 100 percent. He was strong on the puck all night. His patience and smart play along the wall as his team was changing, created the T-Birds third goal and his assist on Sanvido's second goal was breathtaking. He finished the night with just one assist but he contributed much more and was a solid +2. I think we've all been waiting for him to breakout (we've seen glimpses) and last night's performance may have just been the game he needed to get going.

A season ago Connor Sanvido tallied 17 pts (8g, 9a). A good chunk of that came late in the season after he had been sent home for a week by head coach Steve Konowalchuk for disciplinary reasons. Maybe that was a wakeup call, because since coming back from the coach's doghouse Sanvido has been a different player.

He's more focused. He came into camp this year in great physical condition. He's always had good hands and the potential to be an offensive threat but now we're seeing that actually come to fruition as the former #1 draft pick has 6 pts (2g, 4a) and is +2 through eight games. He's on pace for 54 pts which would more than triple his output from a year ago.

I felt a little bad for Justin Hickman last night. One of the reasons Seattle's power play is off to such a good start is that Hickman parks himself in front of the net where he takes a lot of punishment as he occupies the goalie and defensemen. He was nearly rewarded for that hard work when a loose puck came free in front of a wide open net. Unfortunately he fanned on the shot so his second goal of the season will have to wait. While he didn't show up on the score sheet last night, I'm sure in the locker-room, the coaches and his teammates appreciate the work he is doing.

The Thunderbirds 2-for-Tuesday promotion is in its third season. It's been a pretty good way of drawing in crowds for a mid-week contest and Seattle has had some well attended Tuesday night home games as a result. Last night's crowd may have been the best. The attendance was announced as 4,145. There may have been a few slightly larger Tuesday crowds over the past couple of years but I don't remember any being as involved in the game as they were last night. The game had something to do with that. It was entertaining as the T-Birds and Chiefs traded goals and leads, especially in that second period. The crowd seemed to recognize that they were witnessing a pretty good battle, but maybe they also recognized the significance of the game for the Thunderbirds. Since the ShoWare Center opened back in January of '09, it seems no team more than Spokane has made a habit of beating the T-Birds on their own ice.

Fourteen Spokane wins in 18 games at the Sho' over that span. It's part of the culture of losing that the Thunderbirds are trying to change. The players are aware of it and I think the crowd was too and they were ready to help affect that change. So now, coupled with a home win over the Chiefs late last season plus a win in Spokane late last March, the T-Birds are riding a 3-game winning streak over their division rivals. They'll try to make it four in a row Friday night when they face the Chiefs at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

I understand Mitch Elliot has been cleared medically to resume skating. That means he's ready to get back in the lineup after missing the last two games. So, who sits? Everyone who is playing is contributing. What a problem to have if you are Konowalchuk, the Pete Carroll of the Seattle hockey scene, who has created an "always compete" atmosphere for the T-birds.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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