Saturday, October 19, 2013

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Well, that was a tough finish. Seemed Seattle had this game won when they scored the power play goal that gave them a two goal cushion with three minutes left. Then things sort of fell apart. Some will point to the offside on the 3-on-1 rush towards the empty Prince George net as the turning point. At the time the T-birds were up, 4-3, and only needed to put the puck into that empty net to finish off PG. I mean, you're shooting into an empty net. It shouldn't be too hard to stay onside in that situation. But to paraphrase an old bumper stick from the 70s...stuff happens.

To me though, the key point was giving up the Cougars third goal so quickly after scoring on the power play to get the 4-2 lead. It was just 24 seconds after Ethan Bear scored his first WHL goal that the Cougars answered with a Klarc Wilson goal. That goal gave Prince George life and momentum plus the confidence (not to mention enough time left) to think they could still win the game. I can't say that enough T-bird players thought the game was over after the Bear goal or that they let down their guard or relaxed enough for Prince George to take advantage. But for most of that third period Seattle was in control. They had dominated large stretches of the period with their puck possession and fore check. It was all building up to that fourth goal. After that goal though,they seemed to sag back into the defensive zone. Give Prince George credit, they didn't quit. They played to the final horn and it earned them two points.

All this came after the Thunderbirds had survived the second period. It was a bit surprising that Seattle had a lead after the second as they were legitimately outshot 21-10 and outplayed by Prince George for most of that period, but Seattle got through a 6-7 minute stretch of the second only giving up the one power play goal. The Cougars displayed a strong fore check during that span that didn't allow the T-birds to get out of their own end. But order was restored and Seattle got the lead back with a nice goal from Riley Sheen, who made a tremendous play to win a loose puck on the wall just to the right of the Cougar goal.

Again we have to remind ourselves that this is a T-birds team that over the past few seasons has lost more then it has won. They're still learning what it takes to win on a consistent basis. Last night, hopefully, is a lesson learned. When you have a chance to put a team away you need to step on them and finish them off. Last night, the 'Birds didn't do that.

That said, Seattle has earned points in nine of 12 games, they are 3-0-0-1 on home ice, earning seven of a possible eight points so far this season at the ShoWare Center. Their road record is a solid 5-3. They still have played just one game with their complete roster available and maybe best of all, after the bad finish last night, they get to go right back on the ice tonight against Swift Current and try to wash that sour taste out of their mouth.

Look at the WHL standings. Seattle has the second most wins. The season is still very young but so far no team has laid claim to being "the team to beat" in either conference. Most teams are at that stage of the year where they are still figuring out their identity and that includes the Thunderbirds.

It was good to see the power play go 2-4 last night. It's surprising to me that Seattle's power play has struggled so much early in the season. I think there is too much talent on the ice when Seattle is on the power play to rank in the bottom half of the league in that department. It's still early though and I would expect continued improvement in that department as the year moves along, especially when they get the injured Connor Honey back in the lineup and can add Ryan Gropp to the mix as well.

The Young Guns Watch: Seattle continues to play it's young 16 year olds extensively. I thought Keegan Kolesar struggled a bit for the first time this season in last night's game. He'll bounce back but the T-birds other 16 year olds, Matt Barzal and Bear, combined for 1g, 3a and were +2.

There was some concern for Seattle's penalty kill with the graduation of Luke Lockhart after last season and the trade of Connor Sanvido this summer but Riley Sheen really has embraced that role as a shutdown player on the PK. Sheen has had a good week on the ice so far and his goal last night was well earned.

I will just say this about last night's officiating. It wasn't their best night. A couple of strange calls/no calls. They're young and learning, just as the players are. It's part of the game at this level and I think we have to give them room to learn. I only wish that they would do more of what NFL officials do and huddle up and get calls as right as they can. I don't mean video replaying every incident. There were four sets of officials eyes on the ice; use them. There's no harm with referee's conferring with each other and the linesmen.

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