Have the Thunderbirds finally hit their stride? Seatle played 3 of the top 4 teams in the Western Conference this weekend and came out of it with a 2-1 mark. They capped it with a strong, 3-1, win Sunday over the B.C. Division leading Kamloops Blazers. More importantly, Seattle's defensive zone coverage is improving. Overall this season Seattle has allowed 14 more goals then they have scored but this weekend they outscored the top three goal scoring teams in the league by a combined 9-8.
Brandon Glover came oh so close to his first shutout of the season versus the Blazers. Over the course of the weekend he faced 122 shots in three games and only allowed 7 goals. 115 saves, or an average of about 38 a game, and a GAA on the weekend of 2.33. He was good and his team played well in front of him.
If you've listened to my interviews with head coach Steve Konowalchuk, you've heard him preach about getting all the players on board; everyone buying into the systems they want to play. I think this weekend we saw more players buying tickets to get on board the Konowalchuk Express. I think it started Friday in Portland. Despite the loss they played hard for 60 minutes. That carried over into the two wins at home against Kamloops and Kelowna.
Prior to last Tuesday's game against Everett I did a radio interview with Roberts Lipsbergs (whose English is much better then he wants you to believe). Since then he's exploded for 7 goals. Before Sunday's game against Kamloops Lipsbergs was trying to convince his teammate and good friend Alex Delnov to step before the mic. Maybe he believes I've brought him good luck! Lipsbergs' personality is so engaging, I thought I should just give him the microphone and audio recorder and let him interview Delnov in Russian. In due time Alex, in due time!
As good as Lipsbergs was this weekend, I was just as impressed with the play of Justin Hickman who now has a 6-game point streak in hand.
Over that span the Kelowna, B.C. native has put up 4 goals and 5 assists. It comes from a renewed emphasis on going hard to the net and committing to a strong forecheck. Hickman, who had 22 points (12g, 10a) in 71 games last season, already has 15 points (7g,8a) in 28 games this go-round.
Eight games from the official midway point of season (36-games) Seattle sits one game over .500 at 14-13-1-0. But let's put that record under the microscope. Half of Seattle's losses so far this season are to two teams; Portland (4) and Spokane (3). They have two losses to Kamloops as well. So 9 of the T-birds 13 losses at this point in the season are to three teams with a combined record of 62-18-3-2. They just happen to be the three teams with the three best records in the Western Conference. Those three teams have 3 of the top 4 winning percentages in the entire WHL. Seattle has also beaten each of those teams once. So, they've played the top three teams in the Western Conference 12 times (or just slightly under half their games played) and are 3-8-1-0. They are 11-5-0-0 against everybody else. By the way, They still have to play those three teams 13 more times this season, including 7 against the best team in the league, Portland.
Its' not an easy schedule but playing the best clubs so often early in the season just might be getting them battle hardened.
In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012