Sunday, February 2, 2014

Half and Half

In the end, it was an "okay" weekend for the Thunderbirds as they split two road games against their biggest rivals, defeating Everett Friday night and falling Saturday down in Portland.

As was the case a week ago, special teams were the deciding factors as Seattle scored a second period power play goal up in Everett, that turned out to be the game winner, then used a strong third period penalty kill to prevent the Silvertips from getting the tying goal.

Saturday in Portland the T-birds couldn't get out of their own way, taking penalty after penalty, giving the Winterhawks seven straight power plays, including a five-minute major and then a 5-on-3 in the second period. Many of the penalties against Seattle were obvious, in particular the five minute major to Keegan Kolesar. But also the stick infractions, specifically the hooking calls. A few calls were borderline, and by that I mean you could play again Tuesday with a different officiating crew and not get some of those penalties called, but Saturday the T-birds did not adjust to the standard by which the officials were calling the game.

Still, Seattle got out of the penalty-filled second period only down a goal thanks to a strong penalty kill and solid netminding again by goalie Taran Kozun. I don't believe there were 49 Portland shots in the game but shot totals get inflated or deflated in every building in this league. Seattle's penalty killers did an excellent job of getting into passing lanes, blocking shots and tying up Winterhawks players in front of the Seattle goal. This allowed Kozun to make the saves he had to make.

Getting out of that second period only down a goal should have been a win for Seattle and given then all the impetus they needed for a strong final period. Unfortunately the response in the third was less then inspiring. Instead of building off the hard work of the PK, the T-birds were not playing desperate enough over the final 20 minutes. Only down a goal they could have swung momentum to their side had they played with a better sense of urgency. Instead, when they finally got a power play of their own they were sloppy with the puck, turned it over and surrendered a shorthanded goal that essentially put the game out of reach. The third period was a case of too many passengers on the train.

If there was a silver lining from the two games on the weekend, I felt in both games Seattle was playing very well 5-on-5, especially early Saturday against Portland. Until the parade of Seattle penalties that started midway through the first period and continued until midway through the second, the T-birds were outshooting Portland 7-3 and Portland was not generating offense 5-on-5. even with their first power play, the Winterhawks only were given credit for one shot.

The problem was Seattle played a stretch of nearly 20 minutes of hockey mostly shorthanded, which was like skating with one hand tied behind your back and you tied the rope yourself. As good as the T-birds penalty killing has been lately, the odds will catch up to you when you give an opponent that many consecutive power plays. The Thunderbirds are a physical team, they are going to get their share of penalties but at some point they're going to have to rein in some of the preventable ones, such as those aforementioned hooking calls. There's aggressive physical play and then there is overly aggressive physical play and it is the latter that is costing Seattle.

What was too bad about all those penalties was, up to that point, it was shaping up to be a really competitive hockey game between two long time rivals. I guess it still was, until that second Portland goal just shy of the midway point of the third period. This was a scoreless contest after 25 minutes and it had some playoff-like intensity to it. The trade deadline acquisitions have made Seattle a fairly complete team and they now have the goaltender who can be a difference maker.

More good news for Seattle was the return of Branden Troock to the lineup for the first time since suffering an injury January 4th in Edmonton. The injury cost him 12 games and came at a time when he was probably Seattle's best player on the ice. I think he was keen on showing that he wasn't going to shy away from the physical play coming off that injury but because of his exuberance he played a bit out of control at times and took three minor penalties. Still, there were glimpses of his ability to take over a shift. I think after getting that first game back out of the way he will settle down and get back to being the offensive force he was most of the first half of the season.

So that leaves just Connor Honey still on the sideline. Honey has been out since October 5th when he sustained an injury in Lethbridge, a span of 45 games. The plan is to get him back in the lineup and hopefully soon.

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