Sunday, December 9, 2012

T-birds get Windexed; Streak Gone

The Thunderbirds win streak came to a halt at home. Did the T-birds play some good hockey Saturday night against Portland? Sure, there were some positives; a strong start, 37 shots on goal, another night of excellent penalty killing and some noteable shifts in which they got some sustained offensive zone pressure, but the good play couldn't overcome their mistakes and that is why they lost, 6-2.

Seattle has learned some lessons playing Portland and improved in some areas against the league's best team, but they haven't learned the most important lesson yet. You can't let up against that team for one second. Portland only has one gear in their motor and it's high octane, rev the engine and go hard and fast. You have to match that intensity. If you let your foot off the gas for one moment, they will race right by you. That's why Seattle is consistently getting beat by the Winterhawks by an average score of 6-2. Portland treats the ice like the racing oval at Daytona and runs hard until they see the checkered flag. Meanwhile the 'Birds are racing on city streets. they're still seeing stop signs, red lights and yield signs.

Give the T-birds an A+ for their start, they came out aggressively and it led to the early 1-0 lead on the Jesse Forsberg goal. But as soon as they ran into some adversity, and fell behind 2-1, you noticed that familiar doubt creep in. It was just enough that they started thinking too much and stopped playing the way they had played to start the game.

The Thunderbirds are still giving Portland too much respect, especially against the Portland penalty kill. Skating 5-on-3 for over a minute in the second period, Seattle got just one shot on goal. They were timid, passing up too many shooting opportunties. It seemed to me they appeared to be more concerned about a possible negative outcome, such as Portland blocking a shot and going the other way on a shorthanded breakaway, and showed less faith in their own potentially positive result (a power play goal). You can't play that way, you have to have confidence you can score.

Before the game I talked to head coach Steve Konowalchuk about Seattle's recent offensive success. During their four game winning streak Seattle piled up the goals and as a result they went into last night's game averaging almost 3.5 goals per game on the season. He said part of that recent offensive success was from a more concerted effort to go hard to the net. Then last night, it was absent. Portland goalie Mac Carruth is, well let's just say, very active with his stick. Players camping out in front of him are going to pay the price with a few hacks on the back of their legs. At critical times in last night's game, it seemed Seattle players weren't willing to pay that price. Far too many of Seattle's 37 shots came with little traffic in front of the Portland goal.

The one line that seemed not to be intimidated was the Elliot-Holub-Wray combo. They made the most of their ice time. They were physical. They finished their checks and if they got hit, they hit back. They were strong on the forecheck and as a result created some offensive opportunities. While they didn't score last night, neither were they scored upon. I like the physical example Mitch Elliot is setting for the two younger players. Wray and Holub definitely followed his lead.

Roberts Lipsbergs 11 game scoring streak came to a crashing halt. Not only was he held off the scoresheet, but he finished the game at dash three. It was a good streak while it lasted but last night he was nearly invisible.

In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012

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