Seattle exploded Wednesday night for a season high seven goals in beating the Kooteney Ice in their lone meeting of the season. Not bad considering the opponent had just posted a pair of recent shutouts. The T-birds never trailed in the game although you really never felt comfortable with the lead as the Ice kept doing enough to hang around.
Therein lies one of the problems with this year's T-birds. Each time they would get a two or three goal lead they would make a mistake that led to a goal against. Yes, they had a response every time Kootenay scored but they need to do a better job of putting teams away. The 'Birds had a lot of success in the attacking zone last night but you can't get so caught up in the scoring that you lapse in your own end.
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk mentioned that Seattle had very little presence in front of the Spokane net in the 3-1 loss to the Chiefs last Saturday. The message was received loud and clear by his team against the Ice as the majority of the T-birds seven goals came from the area around the Kootenay crease.
Nice to see Luke Lockhart scoring again. He now leads the team in goals with ten and is just six shy of his total from all of last season. Still it had been nine games (Oct. 30 @ Spokane) since his last goal and the two in the third period versus the Ice were his first two in the month of November.
Others, such as Roberts Lipsbergs and Alexander Delnov, have picked up some of the scoring slack, but if the Thunderbirds are going to make noise this season, they need Lockhart scoring.
Riley Sheen continues to be a revelation for Seattle. His three assists in the third period all came as a result of winning puck battles along the boards, usually behind the Kootenay goal. As the smallest player on the T-birds roster, he's usually winning those battles against bigger opposing players. Sheen is averaging just under a point a game (6g, 14a) through the first 23 games. Remember, last season in Medicine Hat he had all of three points (1g, 2a) in 46 games. Whichever scout recommended trading for this guy deserves a raise, or at least a night Christmas bonus!
Rough night for Brendan Rouse who entered the game leading the T-birds at +5 but took a dash-three in the game. Still he is just one of two T-birds who are on the positive side of the +/- ledger at +2. Can you name the other? It is rookie defenseman Kevin Wolf who is also +2 in his ten games.
Last night's game may have been won in the second period even though the T-birds scored just one of their seven goals in that frame. Seattle entered the period leading, 2-1, then added a power play goal to extend the lead to 3-1. They were outshot in the period by the Ice though, 15-6. Goaltender Brandon Glover stopped all 15 shots to preserve the Seattle lead. Glover ended the night with 36 saves to earn his tenth win.
We've almost reached the 1/3rd mark of the season as the Thunderbirds have played 23 of 72 games, compiling an 11-11-1-0 mark. Of the remaining 49 games, 30 will be against their U.S. Division rivals including nine against Portland. If the 'Birds want to finish above .500 they need to do better against the trio of Portland-Spokane-Tri-City then they've done over the past three years. A season ago I believe the 'Birds went 4-26 against those three teams. They can't go 4-26 against that trifecta this time around and expect to finish over the break even mark. It's like starting the season 22 games below .500. Those are holes you just don't dig out of. You might as well be pushing a boulder up Mount Rainier.
Going into the game this Saturday against the Winterhawks, Seattle is 3-5 against those three teams thus far in 2012-13. Between now and the WHL trade deadline in early January, essentially a month and a half from now, they will play those three teams another 11 times. That's 11 of 19 games against three teams that have essentially kept you from the postseason over the last three years. What other team in the WHL, outside of Everett, has to face that schedule as they fight for a playoff spot? That's 23 games left on the schedule against three teams who currently have a combined record 30 games above .500 (49-18-2-1). In fact 37 of the T-birds remaining 49 games will be against teams whose records are currenly over .500.
I only bring this up now to point out the fact Seattle has no room to be complacent; no margin of error. They're playing .500 hockey now, yet the most daunting part of their schedule is still to come. This team can't wait until the second half of the season to start playing "playoff hockey". They have to start playing each game like their playoff lives depended on it now. That means cleaning up the small mistakes that continue to plague them, mistakes like they had in the win last night over Kootenay.
While every game on the schedule is important, how the T-birds do in those games will be a good indicator of the kind of success they could have in the second half.
Happy Thanksgiving to Thunderbirds Nation!
In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012