Monday, December 14, 2015

The Force Needs to Awaken

The Thunderbirds continue to ride the rollercoaster the past couple of weeks, trading wins and losses over their last ten games (5-4-1-0). As a result, they've seen their grasp on the top spot in the U.S. Division shrink to a mere two points. To stay on top this week they'll need to up their game.

Inconsistent effort has been the main culprit. This past weekend's two home games were a prime example. The T-birds had one of their most complete games of the season and throttled the Spokane Chiefs on Friday, 5-1. It was a terrific sixty minute effort, featuring an aggressive forecheck, lots of puck possession, a dangerous power play and timely saves from the goaltending. Seattle pushed the pace and when Spokane pushed back, the T-birds pushed even harder.

But the switch was flipped Saturday in the 4-1 loss to Everett. There seemed to be no urgency in Seattle's game. The Silvertips were allowed to dictate play from the very first face-off. Seattle didn't seem willing to put in the effort necessary to grind out a win. Despite being outplayed in the first period the T-birds led, 1-0. Yet in the second period, when Everett wasn't doing much to generate a scoring opportunity to tie the game, the T-birds weren't pushing the pace in attempt to add to their lead. Thus Everett was allowed to hang around and eventually get that tying goal.

The game was up for grabs in the third period yet only one team seemed to answer the bell and it wasn't Seattle. Instead of an intense final 20 minutes in a tie game with a rival, Everett skated away from the T-birds with a three goal third. What the T-birds needed was the same effort they had the previous night against Spokane, but that effort was absent. Losses are frustrating but they are more palatable if you've given it your best effort. Saturday's result was both frustrating and disappointing because we didn't see the best the T-birds have to give in that game.

The T-birds suffered two losses this past week but in markedly different fashions. They fell in Spokane Wednesday, 4-2, but dominated large stretches of that game. They were stymied by a goalie who stood on his head. There were other factors in that loss, but lack of effort wasn't among them. In Saturday's loss lack of effort was the number one, and seemingly, only factor.

Things don't get any easier for Seattle this week. They have three games to play before the Christmas break and will play all three without their top three centers. Mathew Barzal (Canada), Scott Eansor (USA) and Alexander True (Denmark) are all away with their national teams for World Juniors. This is the one week then where a lack of focus or effort is not an option. Everyone will need to step up. Look for Donovan Neuls to get time centering a reconstituted top line. Neuls affected the game Friday versus Spokane, even though he didn't end up on the scoresheet, by being aggressive and physical.

We should see the WHL and Seattle Thunderbird debut of Luke Ormsby. The local product, who grew up attending T-birds games, is eligible to play six games with the club before he returns to his other team, the Junior Coyotes, down in Phoenix.

My T-birds three stars for the past week:

Third star: Goalie Logan Flodell. Flodell was solid with a 25 save effort in the 5-1 win Friday against Spokane. With Seattle up 3-1 late in the second he came up with a couple of huge stops to keep momentum from swinging the Chiefs way. Saturday he made 17 saves in the first period alone to give Seattle a chance, but got very little help the rest of the game.

Second Star: RW Jamal Watson. Watson has half of his six goals this season in the past three games. Hopefully that's a sign that he's getting going offensively and is poised for a big second half. He was more engaged in the play at both ends of the ice recently and we are starting to see the affects his foot speed can have on a game. It would be nice to see that Watson-Eansor-Volcan line back on the ice again. It was so good in training camp but has seen little time together during the regular season because of injuries. But it may have to wait until January with Eansor away with Team USA.

First Star: Defenseman Ethan Bear. Bear had six points (3g, 3a) in the three games and was +4. He is now the top scoring defenseman in the WHL with 33 points on the season (9g, 24a) in 30 games. He recorded the first hat trick and first four point game of his T-birds career in the Friday win over Spokane.

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