Like the great storm that never materialized, the Seattle Thunderbirds offense continues to be AWOL in the early going this season. As a result the T-birds drop to 2-4-0-1 on the season after seven games. Through those first seven games Seattle has produced just 16 goals, or only slightly better then two per game. This is despite the fact Seattle is outshooting their opponent in all but two games, and in one of those games they were only outshot by one.
Before I sat down to write this blog update, I read Regan Bartel's piece on the Kelowna Rockets slow start (http://reganbartel.blogspot.ca/). Kelowna is just 3-7-0-0 through ten games with a good nucleus returning from a team that advanced to the Western Conference Final last season. In a lot of instances in his article, you could replace "Rockets" with "T-birds". It sure seemed he was writing about Seattle. What caught my eye though was his comparison of this season's start to the start the Rockets had back in the 2010-11 season. Bartel wrote, "That year, the team was also 3-7-0-0 after 10 games but would eventually come together for a 43 win season and would earn a BC Division banner in the process." You might also recall a few years back when Portland began the season 1-10 and roared back to capture the Western Conference Championship. I'm not saying Seattle will follow a similar path this season, but two games under .500 after seven games is no time to panic.
What is worrisome is Seattle's special teams, usually a strong point under head coach Steve Konowalchuk, looking so fractured early on. The power play can look dynamic at times, then disjointed at others. Saturday night in Everett was a good example of the inconsistency of the power play. The T-birds got the games first chance on the man advantage and had a lot of possession in the Everett zone. But there was too much perimeter play and not enough shooting. They then converted on PP chance #2. On subsequent power play chances in the game though, the T-birds rarely got set up to even take a shot. As a result they finished 1-for-8 in a game they lost, 3-2. Seattle has enough weapons to get the power play on track. It has to start with better puck management. The passing of the puck at times has been subpar. They need to have a shooter's mentality as well and they need to crash the net.
The penalty kill may take a bit longer. Cavin Leth has been a big part of the PK since coming over midway through last season, but Seattle has had to sit him twice because of the 20 year old situation. Meanwhile there is no Jerret Smith or Jared Hauf, mainstays of the penalty kill the last three seasons. So there are new players in new or bigger roles on the PK this year and it will take time to adjust.
Improvement on the power play will help the offense. The other area of improvement needs to come 5-on-5 when Seattle is getting lots of puck possession but not taking advantage of it. Too many shots from the outside, not enough traffic in front of opposing goaltenders and the aforementioned passing errors are keeping Seattle off the scoreboard. These aren't questions of scheme or system but more to focus and effort. Seattle was credited with 112 shots in their last four games but only scored eight times. They left a lot of second chance opportunities, or greasy goals, on the doorstep.
Team defense 5-on-5 is really right where it has been the past few seasons. Other then allowing 35 shots opening night in Portland, Seattle hasn't allowed over 30 shots in any game and as mentioned above are outshooting opponents. the T-birds have given up just 25 goals in seven games, almost 1/3rd came in one game and only 14 have been scored at even strength. team defense and goaltending are not the issue. Sure, they can improve in both areas, and will as the season goes along, but it is the offense that has to pick it up. Surely Seattle is missing Keegan Kolesar but he's out for a month, so it is up to those in the lineup to pick up the pace.
It's still early. Seattle hasn't even reached 10 games played yet and won't for another two weeks. But at some point it will be too late to be still too early.
T-birds Three Stars this week:
Third Star: C/W Elijah Brown. Brown is listed as a center but because he's earned ice time, Seattle is playing him on a wing. Quick, fast and apparently fearless, Brown has shown no inclination to shy away from physical play from much bigger players. If you're a smart hockey player, size often won't matter. Brown has good hockey smarts.
Second Star: G Carl Stankowski. He got just one start and it was a 3-2 shootout loss Friday to PG. Still, while not facing a ton of shots, he made key saves in the third period to get the game to overtime and helped Seattle earn a point. After watching him play, if you see him in street clothes after the game, you'll swear it can't be the same guy. He plays so big in the crease. Very quiet and every bit of the 5'9" 159 lbs. he is listed at, makes you realize just what a talent this young man is. I think mentally he is well beyond his 16 years of age playing a demanding position.
First Star: RW Sami Moilanen. The Flying Finn is riding a hot hand right now. He has scored goals in the past two games and added a couple of assists for a three game point streak. He is listed at just 5'8" but he plays much bigger. As dynamic as he is on the puck, he plays a 200 foot game and has been stellar as of late on the back check and in the defensive zone. No matter what his best attribute may be, he's just plain fun to watch when he's on the ice. You will notice him.