I really liked the way Seattle played straight up (5-on-5) against Portland Friday night. Of course, as we all know the T-birds had trouble staying at even strength in the game. They surrendered ten power play chances to the Winterhawks and though Seattle's penalty killers did yeoman's work to deny Portland on seven of those chances, ten was three too many as the 'Hawks struck for three power play goals and that was the difference in the game. Final score: Portland 5 Seattle 3.
The most frustrating part was that most of the penalties were avoidable. In most cases the infractions weren't because Portland was forcing the T-birds into undisciplined play. Three were delay of game penalties for shooting the puck over the glass. That's more a matter of execution. One was for goaltender interference as Riley Sheen's momentum carried him into the Portland crease on a strong rush. That's like the old "player control" foul in basketball. There was a hooking, trippings and a checking from behind which I think were a result of over aggressive play or frustration, so those are more of the undisciplined variety, but overall, just a lot of avoidable penalties.
To me, the fact they only lost that game 5-3 is a testament to how far this team has come from the start of the season. A couple a months ago that is probably a 8-2 or worse beating. Instead, with some excellent goaltending from Danny Mumaugh, better defensive zone coverage and a solid PK in the other seven shorthanded situations, The T-birds kept this game competitive.
Another example of how this T-bird team is improving? Seattle had only five minus players on the night (Portland had seven). 13 T-birds were even or plus for the game. Defenseman Jared Hauf was particularly solid and is now +4 in his last two games.
So is his defensive partner Shea Theodore, who may have played his best defensive game in the loss last night.
For that matter, I liked the last week of play from defenseman Evan Wardley as well. First and foremost he's stayed disciplined. He's also looking to shoot the puck more and he's making the simple, smart play with the puck inside his own blueline. While he didn't register a point in either of the last two games, he finished at +3.
The T-birds might have gotten out of the second period without surrendering that late 5-on-3 power play goal. With two T-birds in the box Luke Lockhart blocked a Seth Jones shot. Unfortunately Lockhart, who once again was a warrior logging plenty of ice time while the team was shorthanded, stayed down on the ice after that blocked shot. That left Portland with essentially what amounted to a 5-on-2 and they scored the goal that gave them a 4-2 cushion. I think we take Lockhart for granted sometimes, or at least underappreciate what he does out on the ice because so often he'll block a shot and get right back up on his skates. He tried to get back to his feet and rejoin the play but it was obvious he was in pain. The fact he didn't get right back up tell me that was more then a bee sting.
In the most simple of terms this was a game between the two top lines for both teams as neither team was able to generate much offensively from their other line combinations. Seattle's top line (Honey-Lipsbergs-Delnov) scored both goals and tallied five points between them. Portland's top line (Rattie-Petan-Leipsic) registered three goals and a total of ten points. That extra goal and five points from the Winterhawks top line? All on the power play.
A quick note on the goaltending. Getting consistency from a young 16 year old netminder at the WHL level is rare. They, more then any other position go through growing pains. Some won't find that consistency until their 18 year old season.
In memory of Bruce McDonald, 1971-2012