Saturday, October 13, 2012

They Might be Giants

After all the scoring corrections are completed from Friday night's 6-4 win over the Giants in Vancouver, the scoresheet should show that at least five, and probably six T-birds players had two points each on the night. This comes one game after five players had two or more points in the 5-2 win at home last Saturday over Everett. Balanced scoring equals depth and that's what Seattle has shown the past two games; depth.

And like the Everett game, the T-birds accomplished this with a couple of seasoned veterans, in this case Branden Troock and Mitch Elliot, out of the lineup. It's one thing to just fill a vacated spot in the lineup when another player is out injured, it is quite another to step in and take ownership of that ice time.

Specifically that describes Michal Holub, who earned his first two career WHL points with a goal and an assist. It also speaks in general terms of a 3rd or 4th line player moving up and excelling on the first or second line. It's a Jared Hauf standing up for his team captain when Luke Lockhart is on the receiving end of a bad hit along the boards or a Roberts Lipsbergs getting under the skin of Giants defensemen David Musil and Wes Vannieuwenhuizen even though he gives up four or five inches in size to either player.

It was the perfect road game but not a perfect performance. Perfect in that Seattle built a three goal lead after the first period, took the crowd out of it and forced the Giants to play catch up. Imperfect in that Seattle was a little soft at times after building that lead, allowing Vancouver to hang around and make a game of it.
Seattle is a team that didn't win many games the last three seasons so they are still learning how to win the right way.

We should give the Giants credit though for battling. There are some quality players on the Giants roster who can get them back on track. Cain Franson is a tough guy to play against as evidenced by his two goals and multiple scoring chances. Marek Tvorden is going to start scoring, but they do need to solve their goaltending situation which has been a big problem area for them to start this season. For all the offense in the game (a combined ten goals) there were some quality saves by the goalies. But the only goalie to make a game changing save last night was Seattle's Brandon Glover, who stoned Franson on a break away in the midst of the Giants comeback attempt.

If the Giants continue to falter, they have some significant chips and could be major players at the trade deadline. It's way too early to speculate but players like Tvorden and David Musil will be very intriguing. Franson could actually be the best value but I'm not sure they'd want to trade him and I'm guessing both Jackson Houck and Bret Kulak are off limits.

It's nice to wake up on a Saturday morning, early season or not, and see the Thunderbirds power play tops in the league. It's more impressive when you consider how few power play chances they've had through seven games. So they are making the most of the few opportunities they are getting. No team has had fewer power play opportinities then the T-birds 28, and half of those have come in the past two games. Compare that to Edmonton which ranks third on the PP and has 38 PP chances. Prince Albert has had nearly double the PP chances as Seattle yet has just one more PP goal.

Seattle still needs to tighten up the penalty killing though. After a great start in that department to begin the season, The T-birds have allowed their opponents to go 5-for-7 on the PP in the last three games. The only positive to that is Seattle has been fairly disciplined over that span, taking few penalties.

Good to see Brendan Rouse get going on the scoresheet last night. Rouse had just one point, an assist, through the first six games but came through with a three point effort against the Giants (2g,1a). His assist on Luke Lockhart's power play goal in the second period was a thing of beauty,
just slightly more impressive then the power-play goal he himself scored four minutes earlier. As a 20-year-old Rouse provides a steady presence on the ice but the team needs him to kick in some offense as well. Against Vancouver the T-birds two 20-year-old forwards (Rouse and Lockhart) were 3g 2a 5pts +1. That needs to be the rule and not the exception.

The line of Holub, Riley Sheen and Tyler Alos had a hot and cold night. They combined for 2g, 3a +1 but also had a few shifts where they struggled to get the puck up ice. I think part of that is, that line combination hadn't played together yet this season so their chemistry was up and down. But two shifts from that line probaby were the difference in the game. They notched the late goal at 19:58 of the first period that stretched the Seattle lead to three, then forced the turnover that led to the early second period goal that pushed that lead to four goals. With that late first period goal, Alos gets his second of the young season and he is just one goal away from tying his entire goal output from a season ago.

Through seven games, Sheen leads the team in scoring with 8 pts (2g,6a), just over a point a game. If you are wondering, Jacob Doty, the player Seattle traded to Medicine Hat to obtain Sheen, is pointless and a -4 through nine games with the Tigers. This isn't meant as a slight on Doty. Rather it all comes back to finding the right players to fit into coach Konowalchuk's system. Sheen's style is a fit, Doty's wasn't.

The Thunderbirs look to stretch the winning streak to three games when they host Spokane Tuesday night. It's early in the year but there is a lot of importance to this game. One, Seattle has struggled against Spokane, especially on home ice the last three seasons. Two, no matter the opponent the T-birds need to start winning more consistently at the ShoWare Center. The win over Everett last weekend was a step in that direction but they need to be kings of their own castle every night.

Finally, for the first time since I've been doing the T-birds broadcasts (12 years now!) I had a player approach me about coming on the air and partnering on the broadcast. Mitch Elliot knew before we boarded the bus yesterday afternoon that he would not be in the lineup last night because of a health issue. This was all Mitch's idea. He came to me with the request. He had never done anything like this before but he wanted to take the opportunity, while he had it, to honor the late Bruce McDonald by sitting in and doing what Bruce had done the past 15 seasons. This wasn't surprising since Mitch drove 12 hours non-stop from Prince George in late June to be at Bruce's memorial service.

Mitch wasn't trying to fill Bruce's shoes, he was just paying tribute to Bruce in a special way. Mitch did a terrific job and provided unique and excellent insight to the on ice action. He did himself proud and Bruce would have been proud of him. In fact, Bruce would be honored that Mitch chose to do this and then Bruce would have said something about what a tremendous job Mitch's parents did in raising their son the right way. Well done Mitch.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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