Thursday, March 5, 2015

Victory-uh is Ours

Sometimes when a team plays a lot of hockey in a short span, you lose track of what day it is, especially when you're used to games being played on weekends and then back-to-back games pop up on the schedule on a Monday and Tuesday. So, my internal clock thinks today should be Monday, rather then Thursday. But, no time to re-adjust since there are two more games coming up beginning tomorrow, which is Friday, right?

You know, it never felt like the Thunderbirds were on a losing streak after going winless in four games before the win Tuesday in Victoria. Three of the defeats were by one goal and two of those four were lost in either overtime or the shootout. Even in the 5-2 setback to Portland last Saturday the T-birds had more then enough opportunity to turn that game into a win. The fault with Seattle in that game was not doing enough with their 51 shots on goal.

Seattle still has won six of 10 games from Portland (6-3-1-0) this season going into Friday's tilt down at the Moda Center. In fact, in the last three games versus the Winterhawks, Seattle has put 139 shots on Portland's goal. That's an average of nearly 47 shots a game. Meanwhile, Seattle has only allowed Portland 87 shots per game in that stretch, or 29 a game. The issue is the T-birds haven't done enough with their shots and defensive zone breakdowns have allowed the Winterhawks to get the most out of their opportunities. As a result Seattle is just 1-1-1-0 in those three games with their rivals.

On the season series(10 games so far) Seattle has outshot Portland 354 to 274 or 35.5 to 24.4 shots per game. The T-birds have outshot the Winterhawks in nine of the first 10 meetings and the only game they didn't outshoot Portland (shots were 25-29) they won. Yet, despite the significant shot disparity and the six wins, Seattle has only outscored the Winterhawks in the season series, at this point, 30-28. Clearly Seattle has to do a better job of finishing their chances.

But producing offense has been an issue for Seattle all season. They've only scored 187 goals in 64 games. Of the 14 teams in the WHL with winning records, only Spokane has scored less goals then the T-birds and that is because currently, the Chiefs, with 184 goals, have played two less games. The offensive production has improved the second half with Matt Barzal and Shea Theodore back and healthy, plus the trade deadline additions of Corey Millette and Roberts Lipsbergs. Three of those four are averaging a point a game and Millette is just barely under that threshold. Still, on the year the T-birds are averaging just 2.92 goals a game. They need to get that up over 3.00 going into the playoffs.

That task unfortunately got a little harder with the loss of second year right winger Keegan Kolesar who suffered an injury early in Tuesday's 4-1 win in Victoria. I don't have any official diagnosis or a prognosis on how long he'll be out, but it didn't look good when it happened and I think it is safe to rule him out for the foreseeable future. So that knocks his 19 goals and 38 points out of the lineup as he joins Alexander True on the sidelines long term. For most of the season Kolesar was the team's second leading scorer and currently is fourth. It will be hard to replace that production.

Wednesday night in Kennewick, the Tri-City Americans shutout the Vancouver Giants 3-0. That loss by Vancouver officially cemented Seattle's spot in the 2015 WHL postseason. The lowest Seattle can finish now is 8th in the Western Conference, or the second wild card position. Of course, the T-birds are aiming their sights higher. The Thunderbirds magic number for guaranteeing at least a 7th place finish in the conference, and thus avoiding Kelowna in the first round, is three points. Their magic number to sew up third place in the U.S. Division is 13 points. So, you can see there is still work to do over the final eight games of the regular season.

The Thunderbirds played six very good periods in Victoria earlier this week, earning three out of four points. A solid effort Monday, coming from two goals down to tie the game before losing in the shootout, earned them one point. Tuesday Seattle was the better team from start to finish, scoring the first three goals enroute to the 4-1 victory. As a result, the T-birds finish the season series with the Royals with a 2-1-0-1 record. With that result, the T-birds are now 25-13-6-1 against the Western Conference teams currently occupying the other seven playoff spots. They have a winning record against every one of those teams except Tri-City (3-3-1-0).

My Three Stars on the trip to Vancouver Island:

Third Star, The goaltending tandem of Logan Flodell and Taran Kozun. Flodell got the start Monday and came up with 20 saves on 22 shots to get the game to the shootout. Kozun started Tuesday and had 29 saves in the 4-1 win. The Royals came into the two games averaging 3.46 goals a game. Seattle held them to just three goals total in the two contests combined. Flodell and Kozun were a big reason why.

Second Star: Defenseman Jerret Smith. After scoring a goal in each game versus the Royals, Smith now has 10 on the season. That's easily a career best. Seven of his 10 goals have come on the power play, including the one he scored Tuesday. He also scored Seattle's second goal Monday, which tied the game and earned Seattle a critical point. On the season he now has 33 points (10g, 23a) and is +7.

First Star: Defenseman Shea Theodore. The Anaheim Ducks 2013 1st round draft pick is starting to turn it up as we get closer to the postseason. He boarded the ferry after the two games against Victoria with four points (1g, 3a). His unassisted goal late in the first period of the second game turned out to be the game winner. He almost potted the game winner late in the third period Monday, only to see his last minute shot clang off the cross bar. He now possesses an eight game scoring streak. It's the second time this season he has done that, which again is remarkable considering how few games he's played in. As a result of injury and World Juniors he has only played 35 games for Seattle this season but he has compiled 42 points in those games (11g, 31a )putting him third on the team in that department and is the team leader in plus/minus at +11. If he had been available all season, he'd be on pace for 86 points.

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