Monday, December 1, 2014

Gobbling up Some Weekend Points

8-7-2-1. That was Seattle's record without Shea Theodore in the lineup to start the season. It also includes ten games with no Evan Wardley.

4-6-0-1. That's the Thunderbirds record since they lost leading scorer Matt Barzal to a knee injury back on November 6th. And don't forget, in four of those 11 games they didn't have Theodore in the lineup either and were absent Wardley for another five of those games as well. Let's not fail to mention in another three they had to use Wardley, normally a top four defenseman, up front because of a shortage of forwards with Lane Pederson unavailable.

Over the course of the 18 games to start the season without Theodore, Seattle scored 45 goals and allowed 45 goals. In the 11 games so far without Barzal, and at times minus Theodore and Wardley as well, Seattle has only been outscored by five goals, 30-25. And if you think it is all due to goalie Tarn Kozun standing on his head between the pipes, think again. Rarely this season has Seattle surrendered 30 or more shots on goal. In fact it is just as rare to see the T-birds outshot.

I find it remarkable that a team missing what has to be considered two of its best weapons for much of the first one-third of the season (in fact Barzal and Theodore have not played in a game together), using a roster inundated with from 10 to 11 rookies who are all getting significant minutes, is playing essentially .500 hockey and, with few exceptions, has been in position to win the vast majority of their games.

Think about this, 27 games into the 72-game schedule Thunderbirds players have combined to miss 68 games due to injury, illness, international tournaments or suspension yet enter play next week just a game below .500 at 11-12-2-2. To me, that's not just surviving, that's thriving. Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk has not had one game this season with a full and healthy roster to put on the ice. It would only stand to reason that when they finally do get everyone healthy at the same time, knock on wood, they'll be an even better team.

This weekend was a prime example of that. They grit out a 3-2 road win Friday up in Everett. In Wardley's first game up on right wing, he's on the ice for all three goals and finishes the night +3. His first weekend as a winger would end with him earning one assist and ending the three-games-in-three-nights at +1. The T-birds stumbled at home the next night against Kootenay with no Barzal and no Theodore, who took ill earlier in the day, in the lineup. Still though, they did have an early two-goal lead and were only down one five minutes into the third period before falling 5-2.

Disappointed in their effort against the Ice the night before, Seattle rebounds nicely Sunday winning a convincing 4-1 decision over Spokane to earn four of a possible six points in the three games. Goals for Seattle this weekend: 9. Goals against: 8. Shots for Seattle in the three games: 76. Shots by the opponents: 69.

The one area where there was a large disparity was power plays as Seattle has hit a stretch where they are taking too many penalties. It's an area they need to clean up because of the eight goals they allowed this weekend, five were power play goals (only two, both by Kootenay were scored even strength and one, also by the Ice was an empty net goal). There was a wide gap in the power play numbers as Seattle was awarded only seven (4 on Sunday) while the opponents had the man advantage 18 times in the three games! I did some cursory examining of the numbers and Seattle is not actually taking that many more penalties then they were earlier in the season. The big difference is fewer penalties are being called against their opponents. In their first 13 games Seattle had 66 power play chances. In the last 14 games only 38.

My T-birds Three Stars for the weekend:

Third Star(s): The trio of young defensemen Scott Allan, Turner Ottenbreit and Sahvan Khaira. All three scored their first T-birds goals. For Allan and Khaira it was the first goal of their WHL careers. Allan's was a game winner Friday in Everett. With Evan Wardley moved up to a forward line those three had to step up their game and for the most part, they did. Once Seattle gets Theodore, Barzal and Pederson back healthy and can put Wardley back on the blue line, these three will be fighting for ice time. Should be a good battle.

Second Star: Evan Wardley. The senior T-bird defenseman was asked to play right wing in the absence of three Seattle forwards and he took up the challenge. His physicality was ever present. On the first goal Friday night in Everett his mere presence forced the Silvertips defensemen to cough up the puck to Donovan Neuls who scored. I thought he was even better Sunday against Spokane as he looked to take on a more offensive role and picked up one assist.

First Star. Taran Kozun. The Seattle goalie may not be facing an onslaught of shots but he is making the saves he should make and when there is a quality scoring chance against him, he's making the highlight save as well. He continues to be superb playing the puck, disrupting the oppositions attempts to dump and chase. Calm, cool and collected he went 2-0 on the weekend, surrendering just three goals (none 5-on-5) on 43 shots.

R.I.P Dick Emmett, longtime T-bird off-ice official who passed away this past weekend. Another member of our T-bird family is gone, but not forgotten.

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