Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thunderbirds Can, Spokant

A rare set of back-to-back midweek games and Seattle takes them both, beating Everett Tuesday at home, 5-3, then traveling to Spokane on Wednesday and registering a 4-0 shutout over the Chiefs. That's the best way to answer that 3-0 shutout loss in Portland Saturday night.

The Thunderbirds have now won three in a row from the Silvertips and lead the season series, 4-2, with four games still to play. Meanwhile the team has taken all six games so far this season from Spokane, the last two by way of shutout, having blanked the Chiefs 1-0 in overtime back on January 14th. That game too was in Spokane and going back to last season Seattle has won five straight at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. The two division rivals will meet twice more, both at the ShoWare Center in Kent, including this Friday night.

Back on January 7th, at the back end of five straight on the road with multiple players out of the lineup with injury, the Thunderbirds ended a five game winless streak by beating Prince George up at the CN Centre, 9-7. It was also the fifth straight time in which they allowed at least five goals against in a game. In fact in that six game stretch between a December 28th 4-3 overtime loss to Everett and the 9-7 win in Prince George, the T-birds allowed 40 goals, or 6.6 per game.

In the 13 games they've played since that 9-7 win over PG, the T-birds have not allowed more then three goal in any one game. Over the course of the 13 games since that goal-filled victory over the Cougars, they've only surrendered a total of 22 goals to the opposition, or just 1.69 goals against per game. So, it should be no surprise that they've compiled an 11-2 record over that baker's dozen of games. It has all been keyed by much improved team defense led by their goaltending tandem of Taran Kozun and Danny Mumaugh.

Kozun, of course, has been the key. Since being acquired at the trade deadline from Kamloops on January 10th, he is 8-1-0-0 in his nine starts with Seattle with three shutouts, posting a 1.31 goals against average and a save percentage of .957. But don't overlook Mumaugh's performance Tuesday night in the win over Everett. The Centennial, Colorado native was peppered with 21 first period shots. In the one game during this stretch when the T-birds team defense was not at its best, many of the shots he faced from Everett that night were quality scoring opportunities. He kept his team close through the first two periods, allowing them to win it with a pair of goals in the third that broke the 3-3 tie. Mumaugh's minutes in goal are being diminished by the play of Kozun, but he has to be ready to go when he does get a chance and Tuesday night he came up big, time and time again.

What more can be said of Kozun? What other trade deadline acquisition has had as much impact as that Kozun deal? Since last offseason Kamloops has dealt both goaltenders that were on those Blazer teams that played in the last two Western Conference Finals. Cole Cheveldave was the starter both those seasons. The 20 year old goalie went to Prince Albert in the offseason in a deal that cost the Raiders a first round pick (Jake Kryski).

Cheveldave was thought to be the piece that could put Prince Albert in position to challenge for the top of the Eastern Conference. Instead, right now PA is on the verge of missing the postseason. Meanwhile, Kozun came to Seattle at a minimal cost, certainly nothing that was going to be an integral part of the T-birds immediate future. Not only is Kozun, who was Cheveldave's back up the past two seasons, leading Seattle to the postseason but he's helped put them in position to get home ice advantage in the first round.

Who would have thought that the T-birds deal with Kamloops would net them the better option in goal?

Speaking of what more can be said? How about the play of Thunderbirds captain Justin Hickman so far this week? In two games this week Hickman has accounted for five of Seattle's nine goals in their two wins, including the hat trick versus the Chiefs. He also had an assist in his two-goal effort against Everett Tuesday night. If not for a series of five or six shots off the post/cross bar over the past month, he'd easily be over 20 goals on the season. As it is he now has 18, which is six more then he had all of last season. Hickman has also been the team's tone setter with his physical play. He's also a vocal leader, one of the reason's he's the captain, and is starting to play his best hockey at the right time of the season.

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