Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lost Weekend

Seattle left for a two game road trip last Thursday having just scored 15 goals during a three game winning streak. They then lost both games on the road and mustered just two goals total against Spokane and Portland and generated few scoring chances in either game.

Both games were frustrating. The game in Spokane was very winnable. Seattle led much of the way, 1-0, and even after the Chiefs tied the game, and again after they took the lead, there was ample opportunity for Seattle to respond.

There just wasn't much response. Instead they wasted a solid effort in goal by Justin Myles who came up with 34 saves to give his team a chance. Myles has had two starts and played well in both but has nothing to show for it other than an 0-2 record.

Head coach Steve Konowalchuk called his players "stubborn" after the game. The T-birds had beaten Spokane with a six goal effort at home on Tuesday. Maybe they thought it was going to be a similar game Friday in Spokane. But the Chiefs adjusted and tightened up defensively. Seattle didn't adjust and kept trying to do the same things that worked Tuesday. When you have success, teams will study the game video and look to take away your strengths. The T-birds have to learn to adapt.

Saturday in Portland the Thunderbirds started the game with the best first shift I've seen from them this season. It was a relentless fore check that kept the Winterhawks pinned in their defensive zone and led to a number of Portland turnovers that eventually led to an early Luke Lockhart goal and a Seattle lead. It should have established the formula for how Seattle had to play the rest of the game.

Instead, Portland adjusted and I never saw that same effort from Seattle again. In fact, for much of the rest of the game, Portland turned the tables on Seattle. Then it appeared there were too many T-bird players who, after Portland scored to take the lead, gave less than a full effort.

The Thunderbirds are still a work in progress. After three years of losing, non-playoff hockey, they are still learning what it takes to be a winner. A three game winning streak will get the attention of other teams. As a result, when you have some success, you have to work harder to keep the success going. You adapt and adjust. I saw both Portland and Spokane do just that this weekend and both teams earned their wins as a result. Time for the T-birds to do the same.

Lockhart probably had as frustrating a season as you can have last year. You want to improve your numbers each season in the WHL, but instead he went from 48 pts (21g,27a) as an 18 year old two years ago to 37 pts (16g, 21a and -37)last season at age 19. Things are looking better in his final season in the league.

So far this season he's already leading the team in goals (6) and is on pace for 57 pts. I think that pace will improve though. After a slow start he has now scored in 4 of the last 5 games. He's probably logging the most minutes of any player on the team as he is a key component of the T-birds power play and penalty kill units.

One player who did standout for Seattle in this lost weekend was Roberts Lipsbergs. The 18 year old Latvian usually gives it his all on every shift and is a pesky fore checker. He has four assists but he's still waiting for that first WHL goal. He almost had it in the third period down in Portland but was robbed on the doorstep by Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth.

This weekend begins a busy stretch on the schedule for Seattle with three games in three nights, beginning Friday at home versus Tri-City. It's the start of a two week period in which the 'Birds play 10 games in 16 days. 8 of those ten on the road including a seven game road trip.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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