Seattle finished the regular season the right way. With nothing at stake in any of the three games, resting top players and giving younger guys more ice time, the T-Birds still earned five of a possible six points on the weekend. They had their 11-game winning streak snapped, but still earned a point, Friday night with an overtime loss in Kennewick before winning a pair against Portland to close out the 72 game schedule.
Here's what I like about all the statistical minutiae that's come out of the T-Birds tremendous sprint to the finish line of the regular season; most of these numbers are team stats, not individual stats.
Seattle finished with the second best regular season record in franchise history. They led the league in home wins with 29. Seattle finished up at home with a 10-game home ice winning streak. The T-Birds went without a regulation loss in their final 14 games. They earned 35 out of a possible 38 points in their last 19 games. After struggling at times on the road this season, the T-Birds went 6-0-1-0 in their final seven road games. Seattle was 23-14-3 against the U.S. Division and 15-5-0-0 vs. the B.C. Division.
They ended the season tops in the WHL on the penalty kill and number three on the power play. The 44 power-play goals against was second fewest in the league to Victoria's 41. They finished third in the league with 70 power-play goals scored. They were tops in the league with eight shutouts distributed between two goalies. These are all team oriented statistics.
The Thunderbirds only had one player, Matt Barzal at #11, in the top 30 in league scoring yet they still averaged over three goals per game. They finished with two players averaging over a point a game, Barzal and Ryan Gropp, and two who finished just under a point per game in Ethan Bear and Keegan Kolesar. Every player who played in at least one game for them this season earned at least a point except for defenseman Reece Harsch, who had maybe four shifts playing in one game this season.
The old saying though, goes something like this: offense sells the tickets, defense wins the championships. Don't think so? Well look at the Tri-City Americans, the only team from the U.S. Division to miss the playoffs. Tri-City scored more goals then any other U.S. Division team this season with 236. That's eight more then Seattle. Yet the T-Birds goal differential is +42 while the Americans goal differential is -17. That's because Seattle kept the puck out of the back of their net, allowing just 186 goals against. That was the third fewest in the league behind only Victoria and Everett.
Seattle's first round playoff opponent will be the Prince George Cougars. The best-of-seven matchup begins Friday at the ShoWare Center at 7:35. Game 2 is Saturday, also in Kent, at 7:05, before the series shifts north for games 3 and 4 the following Tuesday and Wednesday. During the regular season the two teams split four games with each team winning once at home and once on the road.
The T-Birds beat the Cougars, 4-1, way back on October 3rd at the ShoWare Center in the team's home opener. Seattle played the game without Barzal and Gropp who were still at NHL camps. Scott Eansor led the way with three points (1g, 2a) while Jerret Smith chipped in two goals. Prince George won, 6-2, December 15th at the ShoWare Center. The T-Birds again played that night without Barzal, as well as Eansor and Alexander True, who were away at World Juniors, and Nolan Volcan who was out with a lower body injury.
The teams split a pair of games mid-January up at the CN Centre. On January 12th the Cougars won, 6-2. It was a 2-1 game until PG scored a late second period goal, then added two more, 20 seconds apart, (including one on a penalty shot) early in the third. It was not a good night for Logan Flodell who surrendered five goals on just 22 shots before being pulled after those two third period markers. Prince George scored their last goal into an empty net. It wasn't a good night for Seattle's power play either as they went 0-for-6. The T-Birds bounced back the next night behind Landon Bow and shutout the Cougars, 4-0, as Cavin Leth scored twice. Bow, who finished in net the night before, played 73.23 minutes of hockey against PG this season and stopped all 32 shots he faced.
Flodell played all but 13.23 minutes in three games against the Cougars this season and went 1-2 but he'll be backing up Bow in the postseason. Ty Edmonds was solid playing every minute in the four regular season games against the T-Birds but Seattle still managed to average just over three goals a game against him.
There seems to be a perception that penalties are down in the postseason and there is more five on five hockey and that somehow that would negate Seattle's stellar special teams play. This isn't scientific but I randomly clicked on five playoff games from last season, from different rounds. The average number of combined power play chances per contest in those five games was 7.4. I then randomly clicked on five games from the last weekend of the regular season. Guess what the average number of combined power plays was in those five games? Yep, 7.4. A penalty is still a penalty, whether in the regular season or the postseason. You could probably click on five other random games and you'll end up with different numbers, but funny how those numbers came out in my experiment.
Prince George, like Seattle, has a good penalty kill. They finished third best in that category in the league, but during the 2015-16 regular season, no WHL team accrued more penalty minutes then Prince George with 1292. That's about 18 penalty minutes per game. That was true of the regular season series against Seattle. In the four games Seattle received an average of five power play chances per game and went 4-for-21 overall with the man advantage. Meanwhile Prince George was 0-for-14 against Seattle's league best penalty kill. One aspect of the Cougars penalty kill that is dangerous? They scored 14 shorthanded goals, second best in the league to Brandon's 15. By comparison, Seattle scored seven shorthanded goals.
My T-Birds Three Stars for the final weekend of the regular season:
Third Star: Center Elijah Brown. The T-Birds 2015 first round bantam pick out of Edmonton made his regular season debut in Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over Portland and was solid. I wonder if that shootout had gone on longer if he would have been given the call? The next night, in the regular season finale down in Portland he earned his first point with an assist on Seattle's first goal in the second period; the goal that tied the game at 1-1. Brown, who celebrated his 16th birthday in early January, then capped Seattle's regular season with a late power-play goal, the first of his WHL career.
Second Star: Goalie Logan Flodell. Flodell got two starts this past weekend and went 1-0-1-0. His stellar play early in both road games allowed Seattle to stay close on the scoreboard. In just over 122 minutes he stopped 60 of 63 shots. He finished his first full season in the WHL 22-13-4-0 with three shutouts a 2.68 GAA and a .904 SVPCT. That's good enough to place him in the top ten in the WHL this season.
First Star: C/W Donovan Neuls. Neuls shootout goal won it for Seattle Saturday night, giving the T-Birds their league best 29th win on home ice. He had an assist earlier in the game as the T-Birds came back from a three-goal deficit. He then added a goal and an assist in the road win Sunday. Neuls finished the season with 37 points (13g, 24a), a 13 point improvement from his rookie season. It's the things that don't end up on the scoresheet though, the forechecking and penalty killing, his role on the shutdown line, that make him such a valuable member of the team.