Seattle may have had their three game win streak snapped Saturday with the overtime loss in Portland, but they still earned a valuable point and have accumulated 15 points since they left on their eastern road trip a little less then one month ago. That includes seven of eight points in their last four games.
And yet, as well as they have played the past three plus weeks, and it has been their best hockey of the young season, they are still not playing their best hockey. Two of their top players, Mat Barzal and Keegan Kolesar are still re-establishing their chemistry with Ryan Gropp on the top line. If you've watched the first three games since their reunion, you can see they are still a bit out of sync. And that should be no surprise since they've had little practice time together. Barzal had not seen much game action while up in the NHL, and Kolesar has only been skating for the past couple of weeks since having surgery that cost him the last six weeks.
Personally, I think the team is playing "okay" at the moment because of this and other factors. "Okay" is a relative term in this instance though. For some other teams the way the T-birds have played the past month would be considered the top of their game. For this Seattle team though, I think they know they have another level they can reach. Despite that, they have picked up the pace offensively, scoring 18 goals in their past four games in compiling a 3-0-1-0 record in that span. Once they find their cohesion, specifically on that top line, their offense should start to produce at an even better pace. Realistically, that may not happen until early January though. In less then a month Seattle will lose both Barzal and then the red hot Alexander True to World Junior competition.
While it won't be like last winter when the T-birds lost their top three centers to the WJC, they are still losing two of their top forwards. They have enough depth to get through it in good shape, but there will be stumbles along the way. There are a couple of things Seattle will have this time around that they didn't have late last December through early January; Scott Eansor and Sami Moilanen. This pair are two of the best 200 foot players in the league.
On the weekend Seattle's offense did it's job. The T-birds put up a combined 85 shots in their two games and scored eight goals. You would take that every weekend. They took advantage of the power play to score three. They did this and didn't get one goal from their top line. See what I mean by them not yet being in sync? That line is going to start going and it won't be at the expense of the two other Seattle lines that are scoring right now.
At the other end Seattle allowed just 49 shots against in the two games but surrendered eight goals against. How? Well, because the quality of scoring chances they gave up were too high. This was a result of the T-birds mismanaging the puck in their own end, specifically on their break outs. Simply put, they turned the puck over way too often. It would be one thing if those turnovers were caused by an opponents strong forecheck, but the reality is that in most instances, they were unforced turnovers caused by Seattle's own recklessness with the puck. I just thought Seattle was too cute with the puck at times coming up ice and they paid the price.
Look at a few of Seattle's best games in terms of shot totals. Saturday they outshoot Portland 46-28, last Friday they limited Calgary to just 16 shots while registering 28. Back on October 11th, they outshot Spokane 45-20. The T-birds record in those three games? 0-2-0-1. Shots don't often tell the whole story of a game but they do show who has the puck on their sticks more often. In all three instances, Seattle turned the puck over enough to give the opponent high end scoring chances, what the coach calls "ten bell' chances. It's an area Seattle must clean up going forward.
The scoresheet will say the T-birds lost the game Saturday in overtime, but in reality, they lost it in the second half of the first period. After dominating Portland in the first ten minutes, not allowing the Winterhawks a shot on goal, Seattle left their game on the bench after the mid-period media timeout. They started turning the puck over, taking penalties and as a result surrendered two goals. It was a tale of two teams. The Seattle team that played the first ten minutes was lights out and the one that played the second half of the period, couldn't find the light switch. Hopefully that ten minutes of complacency is a reminder that there are no times in this league you can take your foot off the gas.
My T-birds Three Stars for the Weekend:
Third Star: Defenseman Turner Ottenbreit. He has quietly gone about becoming the T-birds best overall defenseman the first month and a half of the season. He's playing smart and physical, blocking shots at key moments and is chipping in offensively. He registered three points in the two games on a goal and two assists.
Second Star: Winger Sami Moilanen. After missing two-plus games with an upper body injury he returned to the lineup and picked up right were he left off. He recorded four assists in the two games. He continues to win puck battles against players much bigger then he is. He constantly gets his shot on target, especially quick one timers.
First Star: Center Alexander True. Is anyone in the league hotter right now then the big Dane? True is now tied with Scott Eansor for the goal scoring lead on the team with 10 after registering five goals in his last three games. In four games this past week he also chipped in with three assists and was +4. That's two points per game over that span and he is now just four goals off his total from all of last season.