Monday, December 2, 2013

A T-Birds Trifecta

For the second time this season the Thunderbirds swept a 3-games-in-3-nights weekend. It first happened October 4th-5th and 6th when they traveled East and beat Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Kootenay in successive nights. This time their victims were Saskatoon on Friday, Victoria Saturday night and, last evening, Spokane.

This second sweep was probably more impressive, especially when you consider the last two teams, the Victoria Royals and the Spokane Chiefs, are directly ahead of Seattle in the standings and had a combined record of 35-19-2-3 when the weekend started. In the process they struck for two power play goals against the top ranked penalty killing team in the league (the Royals) and stymied the league's second best power play unit (the Chiefs went 0-for-5 with the man advantage). The T-birds also outscored their three opponents this weekend 17-6. While the team averaged 5.66 goals per game this weekend, I'm more impressed that they allowed just two goals per game as they continue to improve their team defense.

Overall Seattle has won four in a row, dating back to their 5-4 overtime when November 23rd against Portland. The Thunderbirds have also earned a point in seven of their last eight games (12 of 16 pts). After starting off November 0-5-1-0, Seattle ended the month with a flourish, going 4-1-2-0. Meanwhile they started December by claiming their first road win this season against a U.S. Division opponent after initially going 0-4-0-1. That's important because Seattle has four more road games this month against U.S. Division teams, starting with a return to Spokane on Friday.

What was most impressive about this weekend was that Sunday in Spokane, after a day of travel that started with an early wake up call because of an early start time against the Chiefs and, after having played the night before, the T-birds put out their most complete effort of the weekend. Instead of wilting and showing signs of exhaustion as the game wore on they got stronger, scoring three of their five goals in the final 20 minutes. They won all facets of that game; 5-on-5 play, special teams, face offs and goaltending.

Goal scorers get all the glory but I really do enjoy watching the line of Jaimen Yakubowski, Scott Eansor and Sam McKechnie and the work they put in to shutdown the opposing team's top line. McKechnie in particular had a tremendous game Sunday in Spokane winning face offs and being strong on the forecheck and penalty kill. They may not be currently scoring in bunches like some of their other teammates but I think if the work rate continues at its present pace the points will start coming. Both McKechnie and Yakubowksi have shown in the past an ability to score. I know Eansor is frustrated that he hasn't potted his first WHL goal yet but he's getting more chances and coming close. It should be just a matter of time.

If you want three stars from the weekend I'd probably go Branden Troock, Alexander Delnov and Adam Henry but the reality is when you're winning it is a total team effort. You can't win consistently if not everyone is playing consistently together. What's the saying? "You're only as strong as your weakest link." Well, there were no weak links in the T-birds chain this weekend as everyone was pulling their weight.

Goaltender Justin Myles had his best game to date this season. He stopped 28 of 29 shots and was at his best when Spokane was at its most dangerous, on the power play. After a couple of rocky games Myles has rebounded to win his last three starts.
He and Danny Mumaugh have created a healthy competition in goal for Seattle. You'd have to go back to 2007-08 (Riku Helenius-22/Jacob DeSerres-20 ) to find the last time the 'Birds had two goalies with a chance to win more then ten games each. I'd say that is very doable now that Myles has nine wins and Mumaugh has seven.

The month of December is going to be a bear. Ten games between now and January 1st and the first nine are against the U.S. Division, arguably the best division right now in the WHL. Not one team in the division has a losing record. Combined, the record for Seattle's opponents in the month of December, outside of the Kamloops Blazers who they host New Year's Eve, is 71-31-7-5. It's going to be like a U.S. Division version of a family feud!

In case you missed our first period intermission interview Sunday with the newest T-bird, Calvin Spencer, here are a couple of highlights. His half brother is former Prince George Cougar, 2010 Stanley Cup winner (with the Chicago Blackhawks) and current Winnipeg Jet, Dustin Byfuglien. And, back in Minnesota he was coached by former T-bird and long time NHLer Mark Parrish. It's going to be a battle to get ice time for the 17 year old Minnesotan but with December tournaments taking a few T-bird players away we should get a chance to see him on the ice sometime over the next 3-4 weeks.

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