Sunday, January 17, 2016

Riding the Home/Road Rollercoaster

Seattle's loss Saturday night in Everett was their week in condensed form. There was the good, the bad and the ugly. The T-Birds had a rock solid start in Everett but once they fell behind, they faded down the stretch. The game turned over the course of just 25 seconds midway through the second period. Up to that point, the T-Birds had really kept the Silvertips at arms length. But a Seattle turnover at the their own blueline and a lost battle along the boards and all of a sudden it was 2-0 in favor of the 'Tips and Seattle never recovered.

Most disappointing was Seattle's response to that deficit. Certainly being two goals down to a stingy Everett team isn't the optimal position to be in but there was still half a game to be played. Yet Seattle seemed to wilt and abandoned their systems. Mentally they looked to be playing as if the result was a foregone conclusion. They lost the intensity they played the first half of the game with. Early in the season Seattle came back on a number of occasions from deficits as large or larger then this one. But Saturday, too many players abandoned the fight when there was still plenty of fight left.

As for the week as a whole? The good? Two wins, including their first shutout of the season, on the road no less in Prince George. The bad? Two losses, both on the road where they've been far too inconsistent thus far this season. The ugly? Getting outscored in those two road losses 11-3.

There are a few areas Seattle still needs to improve going forward. One, they have to stop passing up the chance to put pucks on net. The perfect scoring chance is a rare thing. Shots get blocked, shots get deflected, shots get saved and some shots end up in the net, but no shot never taken ends up as a goal. Two, and this really is part of step one, get traffic in front of the opposing net. Seattle's last two goals scored over the weekend were both the result of having a net front presence. If a goaltender can see the shot, he's probably going to make the save. If you screen him or make him have to move the odds of scoring improve.

Saturday night's loss in Everett was a prime example of what screening a goalie can do for your offense. As good as Landon Bow is he had no chance on three of the Silvertips four goals scored against him because he was screened. Everett had plenty of traffic in front of the Seattle net and they were willing to fling pucks toward the goal and get good things to happen as a result. You want the biggest difference in the game? To me that was it. Goalies can't stop what the goalie can't see. Everett goalie Carter Hart was able to see almost every shot that came his way. Not so for Bow.

The third issue, penalties. It wouldn't seem to be a big issue considering Seattle is first overall in the WHL on the penalty kill. But the T-Birds played four games this past week and ended up shorthanded 19 times. On average that's almost five power plays to the opposition each game. It may not seem like a lot, especially considering the T-Birds allowed just two power play goals, both in the loss to Everett, and killed off the other 17 shorthanded situations. To kill off those penalties though, you use your top players and that disrupts your ability to roll four lines.

Saturday night I thought Seattle was controlling the tempo and the puck most of the first period. Then they took two avoidable penalties (a hold and an interference call) within five minutes of each other. Everett didn't score on those power plays. In fact they only registered one shot and were far from dangerous, but after Seattle killed off those penalties, that was when the Silvertips tilted the ice back to a more even playing field as Seattle had to rely on the 3rd and 4th lines to play 5-on-5. Before the penalties Everett had one shot on goal. When the two Seattle penalties were killed off Everett still only had two shots and we were 14 minutes into the game. But over the last six minutes of the first period, Everett outshot Seattle 5-0.

Seattle's power play has come back to life recently. They are 4 for their last 7 with the man advantage and used the power play to beat Regina Friday night, going 3-for-5. Seattle was a top 5 power play team most of the first half of the season and they will need to get back to that level going forward.

Despite the loss in Everett, the T-Birds are still 4-2 since the trade deadline and Bow has been exactly what they hoped for in goal since acquiring him from Swift Current. They've been very good at home when they've had a full roster. Their three regulation losses at home all occurred when their top three centers were away at World Junior and they were dealing with a couple of injuries and thus played undermanned. Outside of that, their home record is 15-0-2-0. Of their remaining 29 games, 16 are at the ShoWare Center.

Definitely Seattle has to improve on the road but they showed this past Wednesday what they are capable of away from home when they put in a complete 60 minutes as they shut out a quality Prince George team. They followed that up with a good road effort over the first half of the game in Everett. In fact Seattle had fashioned a stretch of 90 consecutive minutes of shutout hockey on the road. They just need to find more consistency when away from home.

My T-Birds three stars for the week:

3rd Star: C/W Donovan Neuls. Has scored in back to back games now. His goal Friday in the win versus Regina gave Seattle the cushion needed to earn a 4-2 win. Not only has he scored twice in the past two games but he's also starting to create more scoring opportunities for himself, mostly off of his strong forecheck. Neuls is also a big reason why the T-Birds have climbed to the top of the WHL penalty killing leaderboard.

2nd Star: C Matt Barzal. Barzal is now averaging 1.61 points per game. He had another three assist night in the win over Regina but also looks to want to shoot the puck more since coming back from World Juniors. Despite his time away from the team, he's still tied for 11th in league scoring and number one on the T-Birds in that category with 50 points in just 31 games, 15 games less then the league's leading scorer.

1st Star: Goalie Landon Bow. in six game with Seattle Bow is 4-1 with a 1.81 GAA and a save percentage of .939. It took him just three starts to register the first shutout for a Seattle goalie this season. Project those numbers out over the rest of the season, where he'll get the great majority of the workload in goal, and Seattle will have a chance for the "W" most nights.

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