Saturday, September 19, 2015

And Away We Go

The Thunderbirds wrapped up their preseason schedule Friday night at the ShoWare Center with a lackluster 4-1 loss to the Victoria Royals. With the loss the T-Birds end preseason play with a 2-3-1 record. Seattle now turns its attention to Vancouver and the regular season opener next Friday up at the Pacific Coliseum.

I think head coach Steve Konowalchuk said it best about the loss to Victoria when he told ESPN 710's Andy Eide, "I thought we had a couple of vets trying to do too much and that's counterproductive. Instead of keeping it simple and playing the game that's there in front of them." (You can read the rest of the article here).

When you are missing key players from your lineup we always ask the players remaining to step up their game to fill the void. But there is a right way to do that and a wrong way. I think last night we saw the wrong way. You still have to trust in your teammates in that situation. You still need to stick to the systems. There were moments of that last night but there were also too many moments of, as the coach said, vets trying to do too much. When that happens I think the young players become tentative and it puts everything out of whack.

That being said, Victoria iced a much more veteran roster then did Seattle. Not only did the Royals lineup look more like a regular season, game night, roster but they also appeared to use players in situations, such as the power play and penalty kill, that you would see in a regular season contest. By contrast Konowalchuk and the Seattle coaching staff continued to just roll the three lines they had, whether it was even strength play or special teams, often having 16-year-old rookies manning the power play and penalty kill units. Of course part of that was by necessity as Seattle's entire first unit power play, and most of their top two lines, is still away at NHL camps.

So, while the Royals, who themselves did have a few components of their lineup missing, most notably defenseman Joe Hicketts, were more capable of treating the action like a regular season game, the T-Birds appeared to approach it for what it was, a preseason game that gave them one more chance to give rookies Jarret Tyszka, Brandon Schuldhaus, Matthew Wedman, Wyatt Bear and Mackenzie Wight lots and lots of ice time. And with five of your top six forwards still away, it allowed them to put second year players such as Kaden Elder, Nolan Volcan and Luke Osterman in position to take on more responsibility. While they had their moments, the missing ingredient was consistency.

For the third straight game, the Thunderbirds went with an undermanned lineup, dressing just ten forwards. After playing two games last weekend in Kennewick with just four defensemen, the T-Birds were able to suit up six against Victoria but I would not expect to see the pairings we saw against the Royals once the regular season gets underway. For instance, Jared Hauf and Jerret Smith didn't appear to take one shift together. And while his team didn't play well in front of him, starting goalie Taz Burman seemed quite out of sync, allowing three goals on just 13 shots. Two of those three goals he allowed were far too soft. The bright spot had to be Logan Flodell, who took over in goal midway through the contest and allowed just one goal on 16 shots. The effort might just have given him a slight edge in the goaltending battle. Flodell ended the preseason with a 1-1 record to go along with a 2.43 GAA and a .909 save percentage.

Hopefully the effort against Victoria was a good teaching moment. The players will need to be better by next weekend. There may not be complete re-enforcements coming just yet. The question now becomes how many of the six T-Birds players still at NHL camps return in time for the start of regular season play? My guess is two to three of them won't be in the lineup Friday night when the team hits the ice in Vancouver against the Giants. Instead they'll be involved in NHL preseason games. The good news is, it is a slow start to the WHL regular season for Seattle with just the one game on tap opening weekend.

Again, let's not put too much stock into preseason wins and losses. A year ago the eventual WHL champion Kelowna Rockets lost their last three preseason games before reeling off 53 wins in the regular season. Meanwhile the Kamloops Blasers were 4-1 in the 2014 preseason but could only muster 28 wins in regular season play and missed the playoffs.

A reminder to join myself, Andy Eide and Tim Pigulski for an hour long roundtable preview of the Thunderbirds this Wednesday at 6 pm on 1090 The Fan.

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