Sunday, January 19, 2014

T-birds Finding Their Stride

That was a pretty good week of hockey, don't ya think? Two shutout wins, two road wins, only two goals allowed and three wins overall while climbing up into fourth place in the Western Conference, just a point out of third. As a result the winning streak is now six games and remember, they're doing this while still not at full strength.

While players are slowly returning back to the lineup from the doctor's office, Seattle still accomplished their six game winning streak while losing another 21 man games to injuries. Branden Troock, over a point-a-game player and third on the team in scoring, has missed the last seven games. Because of injury, rookie Mathew Barzal, the team's fifth leading scorer at just under a point a game, hasn't registered a point in over a month.

While the T-birds have been absent a couple of their top scorers, the offensive production has been down slightly but they've tightened up the team defense. During the winning streak the 'Birds are allowing, on average, just 2.16 goals against. But that is misleading because seven of the 13 goals scored against them over the past six games came in one contest. That was the 9-7 win in Prince George that started the streak, with call-up Logan Flodell in net. Over the last five games Seattle has allowed just six goal, or just 1.2 goals per game.

Meanwhile, during the streak, Seattle is getting offense from both the expected and the unexpected. Top scorers like Roberts Lipsbergs (5g, 5a), Alexander Delnov (4g, 6a), Ryan Gropp (4g, 5a) and Shea Theodore (10a) continue to do their part while youngsters and rookies like Scott Eansor, Calvin Spencer and Kevin Wolf have chipped in with a combined three goals.

And congratulations to Wolf. the St. Paul, Minnesota native registered the first goal of his WHL career Saturday night in Kamloops. Wolf, normally a defenseman, has seen a lot of ice time as a winger recently due to injuries. He was playing up on a forward line against the Blazers when he potted his first goal. I don't know if that will become a permanent switch of positions but Wolf seems more aggressive and much more physical when playing on a forward line. Wolf should buy teammate Mitch Elliot a steak dinner because Elliot did all the hard work to set up that goal. I think I can say without reservation it was one of the prettiest goals I've seen this season.

Elliot broke in behind the Blazer defense after scooping up a loose puck at center ice. It looked for all the world that he would take a shot at his third goal of the season on the breakaway but somehow, out of the corner of his eye he saw Wolf jump up to join the rush. He made a nice backhand pass over to Wolf that fooled the Kamloops goalie and all Wolf had to do was put the puck in the empty net. Not just a pretty play, but a very unselfish one by Elliot.

Taran Kozun went nearly eight periods into his T-birds career before allowing his first goal, a span of 161.58 minutes. Even at that, the only two goals the T-birds trade deadline acquisition has allowed were power play goals, one of them scored 6-on-4. Over the past five games Seattle's Mumaugh-Kozun goaltending tandem has a 1.15 GAA and a .957 save percentage while posting a 5-0-0-0 record.

Nice to see a Justin Hickman shot go off the post and IN for a change! Hickman has lost a few goals recently thanks to the post or cross bar. This time he banged away at a rebound, had it hit the post, the goalie and trickle in for what turned out to be the game winner. That was one of those greasy goals that results from going to the front of the net. Seattle had two like that in the win over Kamloops. I don't know if Hickman has uncovered a new found gear but I'm expecting the Thunderbirds captain to pot a few more goals off the rush. he's been beating defenseman down the right wing with more regularity lately.

January is the busiest month on the schedule for the T-birds. When all is said and done they will play 14 games over 31 days. So, while they've played a lot of hockey over the last 16 days (9 games) they still have five more to play in an 11 day span before we turn the calendar to February.

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