Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chompin' on the Chiefs

I'm not trying to rile up the people at PETA, but we've all heard the saying "There's more then one way to skin a cat". Last night the red-hot Thunderbirds found another way to win a game. Seattle had ridden its high powered offense to five straight wins, averaging almost six goals a game over that stretch, including wins of 5-1 and 7-3 in a pair of road wins over Spokane. Last night at home at the ShoWare Center, the T-birds used strong goaltending, a solid penalty kill and timely scoring to grind out a 4-2 win over the Chiefs, extending their winning streak to six.

Let's face it; a couple of weeks ago looking at the schedule and seeing three straight against the Chiefs with the first two over in Spokane, not many foresaw a three game sweep by Seattle. When all is said and done though it is Spokane thinking the schedule makers did them no favors. Not only did the T-birds win all three games, outscoring the Chiefs 16-6 in the process, but the 'Birds also climbed past Spokane in the Western Conference standings and moved within a point of the 4th place Victoria Royals. In fact the T-birds now have earned 16 points in their last ten games and 11 of those points came at the expense of two teams, the Royals and Chiefs, who are battling Seattle for playoff position and potentially home ice advantage in the first round of the postseason come springtime. In a stretch of ten games dating back to November 15th, the Thunderbirds went a combined 5-0-1-0 against those two Western Conference opponents.

Seattle has outscored the opposition 33-15 over the course of the six game winning streak. That's an average score of 5.5 to 2.5. Even with a high powered offense like the T-birds have displayed here recently there will come a time when you'll have to grind out a win. Last night was one of those occasions. Last night Spokane did a good job of slowing the T-birds down through the neutral zone, making Seattle fight for every inch of ice. The T-birds never got frustrated though as they kept grinding away and eventually earned the win.

Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk said recently that there will be times when you don't have your "A" game but you can still win if you bring a high compete level on the ice. Last night was one of those games. My guess is Konowalchuk was pretty happy his players found another way to "skin that cat".

In games like that, you need solid goaltending and the T-birds certainly got that from Danny Mumaugh. Neither team was getting a lot of shots through but Spokane did outshoot Seattle, 30-22. We've mentioned before Mumaugh's lightning quick glove hand but last night we saw him flash the pads, especially on a nice kick out save on a shot by the Chief's Mitch Holmberg that looked destined for the back of the Seattle net. I keep hearing or reading about how Seattle has to settle on one goalie as the number one guy but the current process of splitting time between Mumaugh and Justin Myles is working and, as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Early in the season the Thunderbirds were getting little scoring from the back end. Over the course of the six game winning streak though the T-birds defensemen have contributed 28 points (5g, 23a) and are a combined +23. It's not all Shea Theodore either as Adam Henry and Jerret Smith have each had multiple point games during the streak.

This is no "cheap" winning streak either. The combined record of the teams Seattle has beaten in this stretch; 70-56-3-7 and that is skewed by Saskatoon, the only team with a losing record in the win streak. Take the Blades out and the record of the other teams they beat is 60-36-3-5.

While everyone up and down the roster is contributing, the catalyst for the team's recent success has been that shutdown checking line of Jamien Yakubowksi, Scott Eansor and Sam McKechnie. Seattle tried to match up that line as much as possible against Spokane's top line featuring Holmberg, the league's leading goal scorer. In 180 minutes of hockey the T-birds, and that line in particular, limited Holmberg to just one power play goal in the second period Sunday night; what was essentially a 5-on-3 goal. Before the first meeting last Sunday Holmberg was averaging 2.29 points per game. After last night's Seattle win Holmberg's points per game average is down to 2.09.

When I see that trio on the ice I think of the Tom Petty song, I Won't Back Down, especially the lyrics that go like this:

Well I won't back down, no I won't back down. You can stand me up at the gates of Hell, But I won't back down. No I'll stand my ground, won't be turned around, And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down, gonna stand my ground. And I won't back down. Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out, I won't back down. Hey I will stand my ground and I won't back down.

It's like the scene in the movie "A Few Good Men" when the the Demi Moore character is asked why she likes the accused Marines so much and she says something to the affect of because they stand on a wall each night and say, not on my watch. That's Yakubowksi, Eansor and McKechnie...a few good men.

Was I the only one who thought the second period last night took a fortnight to play? It was equivalent to one of those tennis matches where the servers keep double faulting. Just hard to establish a rhythm or flow to the game. Too many whistles for penalties, offsides, pucks deflected out of play and icings. Again, not the prettiest of hockey games but sometimes you gotta win the ugly ones. By the way, a fortnight is two weeks, so I get two minutes for embellishment.

There's no break in the schedule between now and Christmas. Seattle has four games against two opponents, Tri-City and Portland, with a combined record of 39-18-3-4.

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