Monday, November 2, 2015

Whiling Away in Alberta

It wouldn't be a trip to Alberta without a little of the white stuff and the Seattle Thunderbirds woke up Monday morning to falling snow in Calgary. Wet snow that doesn't look like it will stick around but apparently the snow gods saw the calendar turn from October to November and decided it was time to let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

The T-Birds have played 13 games thus far this season. That equals 39 periods-plus of hockey. Of those 39 periods I think it is safe to say they've played only two subpar periods. Back in early October they surrendered four goals in Kennewick to Tri-City before rebounding to tie the game before dropping a 6-5 OT decision to the Americans.

Sunday afternoon in Calgary they surrendered three goals in the third period to the Hitmen, and with it a 3-1 lead, and lost at the Saddledome, 4-3. Two bad periods out of 39. I still like the success rate and would bet on the T-Birds continuing to play at that level. While it might not be sustainable, despite the setback the team is still on pace for a 54 win season. I can accept that.

The Thunderbirds have played the last eight periods without Scott Eansor and Jamal Watson who are nursing injuries. These are two players who, when healthy, log a lot of minutes. Despite their absence from the lineup Seattle still outscored the opposition 14-8. That stat would have been even more in Seattle's favor if not for the uncharacteristic third period collapse against Calgary but all told, in their last three games, Seattle is averaging five goals per contest while allowing just 2.6. That goal disparity in their favor will get you a lot of wins.

Eansor and Watson are also key components to the team's penalty kill, yet with them out of the lineup, Seattle has killed off 11 of 14 penalties. Remember, two of the power-play goals they surrendered were in their 5-2 win Saturday against the Ice, in essence, no harm no foul.

Watson is already riding the bike and should start skating again this week, so hopefully both players are back in the lineup soon, possibly before the road trip to Alberta ends.

What went wrong in the third period Sunday in Calgary? Basically everything that has gone well for the team in the third period in most of their previous games was missing Sunday. They weren't aggressive, didn't get pucks deep and were sloppy on the puck in their own zone. Not to take credit away from the Hitmen because they came out and played desperate hockey over the final 20 minutes to secure the come-from-behind win, but the reality is Seattle lost that game more then the Hitmen won it. If the T-Birds had played the third the way they played the first and second periods, we're talking about a win instead of a fustrating loss. The T-Birds have been playing so well over the last month I do wonder though, if a bit of overconfidence crept into their game in that third period, staked to that 3-1 lead. Bottom line though is that 40 minutes does not equal 60 minutes.

Brandon Schuldhaus has played in eight of the team's first 13 games, rotating in and out of the lineup with Sahvan Khaira on the third defensive pairing with fellow rookie Jarret Tyszka. But the first year defenseman has made the most of his playing time and was rewarded Sunday with his first WHL goal. In limited play, the Calgary native now has two points (1g, 1a) and is +6.

Prospect alert!!! Team Alberta won the 2015 Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup this past weekend. As a result two T-Birds prospects, Elijah Brown and Carl Stankowski took home gold medals. Stankowski was in goal for the championship game, turning aside 27 shots to register the shutout over Team Manitoba in the 3-0 win. For his efforts he was named player of the game. Stankowski went 2-0 in the tournament with a 1.50 GAA. Brown, meanwhile, finished the 5-game tournament with five assists, including one in the final.

I feel sorry for goalie Taz Burman. It seems in just about every one of his starts, his defense lets him down. I didn't like the first goal he allowed Sunday in Calgary but he had no chance on the last three which were the results of two ugly give-aways and an own goal. It's all part of the game but he deserves better support. He played well in both his starts this past week, including the win at home against Brandon.

In their first five road games this season, Seattle had not scored a first period road goal. They have one in each of the first two games of this trip.

My 3 T-Bird stars for the past week:

3rd Star: LW Ryan Gropp. Keyed Seattle's win Saturday in Cranbrook over the Kootenay Ice with a three-point game (2g, 1a). Was very good on the PK as well. Finished the three games with five points (3g, 2a) while playing with two new linemates following the injuries to Eansor and Watson.

2nd Star: RW Keegan Kolesar: Seven points (4g, 3a)in the three games just completed including the season's first hat trick last Tuesday versus Brandon, which was also the first of his WHL career. 21 points on the season in 13 games (10g, 11a) and is now 14th in the league in scoring.

1st Star: C Mathew Barzal. Nine points on a goal and eight assists in the last three games. Thrust into a bigger role on the penalty kill in the absence of Eansor and Watson and was solid, especially in the two road games in Cranbrook and Calgary. Becoming harder for the opposition to get him off the puck. Showed a physical side, fighting off a Hitmen player in the neutral zone, to create a 2-on-1 that led to Seattle's first goal Sunday in Calgary. For his effort Barzal was named the WHL Player of the Week.

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