Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Helmet on; Pedal to the Metal

"We know that if we play 60 minutes like that, we're tough to beat. I don't think there's a team that can keep up with us if we play like that. That's the standard for us the rest of the season."

That's a quote from Matt Barzal, as told to T-birds beat reporter Andy Eide, after Seattle ended their three game losing streak Tuesday night with a 6-0 throttling of the league-leading Kelowna Rockets. And Barzal is right, that has to be the standard for the rest of the season. The T-birds have to break free from their up and down play so far in the second half and find a consistency to their game for sixty minutes every game going forward.

There is no better blue print for that model of consistency then the win over Kelowna. Seattle put the key in the ignition at the start of that game, revved up the motor, put the foot on the gas and for the next three periods of hockey went fast and furious. They were relentless in their pursuit of the puck in all three zones and if they ever skidded off the road even the slightest, goaltender Logan Flodell was there to keep them on the track.

This effort Tuesday was reminiscent of so many of their games the first half of the season, when they were winning six in a row, 7 of 8 or 9 games out of 12. We've seen glimpses of it at times during the season's second half. Even Monday afternoon in Kelowna when the T-birds built a 1-0 lead after the first period with a similar effort. But they couldn't sustain the effort the rest of that game and lost a late lead and the game, 7-4.

We've seen this team, using two different goalies, post five shutouts in their last 14 games. We've also seen games over that span where they've surrendered 7, 6 and 5 goals against. An effort each game like they displayed Tuesday against the Rockets should take care of that. No pun intended, but it is not rocket science. When they play the way they played for a full sixty minutes against Kelowna, with that non-stop aggressive style, they'll put themselves in position to win most games, no matter the opponent. Again, it doesn't guarantee they'll win every game but if they don't play that way you can almost guarantee the result won't go in their favor.

Winning, as Cam Newton will tell you, is so much more fun then losing. But winning comes with a price tag. Seattle was willing to pay that price Tuesday and they were rewarded handsomely. But the goal isn't to pay the price for just one win, but to win every time you play. You have to be prepared to pay the toll each night you step onto the ice.

In the never ending pursuit to find secondary scoring, head coach Steve Konowalchuk continues to search for line combinations that will spark more offense. The thought that Seattle can be consistently successful with just one line scoring would be misguided. Opposing teams will key on the top line to shut them down.

Maybe, just maybe, the latest experiment with the line combos has discovered the winning forumula. Over the past two games the top line of Barzal, Scott Eansor and Ryan Gropp has combined for 14 points (6g, 8a), but Seattle has also picked up secondary scoring from the second line (1g, 2a), the third line (1g, 1a) and even the fourth line (1g, 1a) while the depleted back line has chipped in with five points (1g, 4a).

Seattle has had to play a lot of games since December shorthanded. Whether it was not enough forwards with three players away at World Juniors, or not enough defensemen because of injuries or suspension, The T-birds have had more then one key player out of the lineup almost every night over the past two months. They say that which doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. As we approach mid-February Seattle is still alive and kicking and getting key players back.

Jarret Tyszka played his first game since before the Christmas break Tuesday night. Turner Ottenbreit will be back in the lineup this weekend. Andreas Schumacher has returned from illness. The T-birds still await the return of goalie Landon Bow and captain Jerret Smith, so they are not a complete team again just yet but like Barzal said, when this team is 100 percent, and playing 60 minutes of hard-nosed hockey, they are tough to beat.

My T-birds three stars for the week:

3rd Star: Defenseman Jared Hauf. With Jerret Smith sidelined with injury, Hauf has been the veteran presence on the back end for Seattle. The T-birds don't rely on him for offense, his game is defensive zone coverage, big hits and physical play. Monday in the loss, there were a lot of minus players on the scoresheet for Seattle, Hauf wasn't one of them. When Kelowna captain Rodney Southam tried to spark his team Tuesday by dropping the gloves with Hauf, Hauf got the better of him. The Rockets never got back in the game after that early second period tilt.

2nd Star. Goalie Logan Flodell. The scoresheet may say Flodell allowed six goals in the loss Monday but the reality is his team hung him out to dry in that game. It was Flodell's 21 save effort in the second period Monday that even allowed the T-birds a chance to have a lead in the third period. Flodell displayed the maturity necessary to shake that game off and come back the next day to post a 31 save shutout. In his three career wins against the potent Rockets offense, going back to late last season, Flodell has allowed just two goals while facing 98 shots. Until Bow returns from injury, the job is Flodell's.

First Star: Center Matt Barzal. It just wasn't the hat trick Tuesday that puts Barzal at the top of list, but the highlight reel effort of all three goals, in particular the third goal, faking a wrap around and tucking it inside the post. After being held off the scoresheet in three straight games he has five points (4g, 1a) in his last two.

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