Sunday, December 4, 2016

Point-ing in the Right Direction

Seattle ends November and opens the month of December by taking five of a possible six points from their last three games. A few too many casual moments in the first of those three games cost them another point, even though they were up against one of the CHL's top goalies. By gaining 18 of 22 points in their last 11 games, Seattle is now just three points out of third place in the Western Conference with three games in hand. It's is eerily similar to where they were in the standings last season at this time.

Seattle opened the week on the road in Kamloops against the Blazers and goaltender Connor Ingram. Ingram has been invited to Canada's World Junior selection camp and I've heard buzz he could be Canada's #1 goalie for the tournament that begins just after Christmas. The T-birds knew they would have to work to score on him, but work they did. Seattle put 55 legitimate shots on goal and upwards of 30 of them were grade "A" scoring opportunities. Ingram made a number of acrobatic stops and a few pucks caromed of posts and crossbars but the effort from Seattle was there.

I didn't take issue with Seattle only scoring three goals on those 55 shots. Where I was more concerned is that Kamloops scored three even strength goals on three rather egregious defensive zone sins by the T-birds. The 'Birds limited the Blazers to just 21 shots in the game. Most of those came in the third period but Seattle allowed two goals against in just nine shots through the first two periods. Maybe Seattle had so much puck possession and spend 90 percent of the game in the Kamloops end of the ice, they forgot about defensive zone responsibility. Still Seattle earned a point in the overtime loss and road points are hard to come by. So far this season, the T-birds have earned 18 away points out of a possible 30.

Seattle didn't play quite as well two nights later at home against Kootenay and once again were forced into overtime. This time Scott Eansor ended the suspense with the T-birds first OT winning goal of the season (in 4 games). I can't read into the players heads, but I know they read the standings and probably saw a five win Kootenay team on the schedule and thought the game wouldn't require the same kind of effort they put out versus Kamloops. Seattle had a slow start and, I think, lacked a bit of intensity. That changed when they found themselves down a goal after two periods. Seattle was pretty much in control the remainder of the game. They outshot the Ice 17-3 in the third period and found a tying goal on the power play before Eansor's extra time heroics sealed the win.

Saturday night may have been the team's most complete effort of the season in a 7-1 demolishing of the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers. It started in net with Rylan Toth playing his best game as a T-bird. He wasn't tested much but he made a number of quality, confident saves including one off the opening faceoff. Seattle then began their barrage by scoring on their first shot, courtesy of Ryan Gropp. The T-birds then not only killed off two Tigers power play chances but held the WHL's best power play unit to zero shots. Shortly after each of the two Medicine Hat power plays ended, Seattle scored. That can be demoralizing to an opponent.

Instead of letting off the gas with that three goal lead, Seattle continued their onslaught in the second period with three goals from three different goal scorers. And while they didn't score on the power play (they only had three PP chances), that too looked dangerous.

Up by six going into the final period might seem an ideal time to coast to the finish line but I appreciated how the team stuck to the game plan, continued to attack, continued to block shots and added to the lead with a second Donovan Neuls goal.

My T-birds Three Stars of the week.

Third Star: C/W Matthew Wedman. Wedman is normally on the third line with Alexander True and Donovan Neuls. On occasion this past week Coach Konowalchuk has pushed him onto the first line with Mat Barzal and Ryan Gropp. Whatever line he's been on this week, he has produced. He's really starting to use his size and physicality around the opposing goal. As a result he finished the week with five points (1g, 3a) and was +4.

Second Star: D Ethan Bear. Bear is riding a five game goal scoring streak and in that streak he has two game winners. He compiled six points in three games this week (3g, 3a), averaging two points a game. He is now currently second on the team in scoring to Eansor and is approaching point a game status for the season.

First Star: Center Matt Barzal. No coincidence that Seattle's success over their past 11 games coincides with Barzal's return to the lineup. Since he rejoined the team from the NHL they are 8-1-2-0. The trick will be for them to keep it up when he leaves here shortly for World Juniors and won't return until early January. Over his last three games he's earned eight points (1g 7a) over his last five games he has 15 pts. (2g, 13a).


  1. I like the fact the T-Birds are playing a lot better lately. Comparing them to last season's team they have had a much better start to the season also. With that being said last year's team had one of the strongest finishes I have ever seen by any hockey team no matter the league. It truly was an incredible run last year.
    I do have some concerns about this years team when it comes to scoring at times. They have been out shooting opponents by a wide margin but have barely been slipping by in some games and running into a tough goalie like the Blazers game they had to settle for an OT Loss in which the goalie made over 50 saves.
    Berlin has played well when he has gotten the chances to start. I realize that Toth was supposed to be that "guy" that would come in and shut it down in net like Kozun and Bow have done the last two seasons. As an ex goalie I realize it can be difficult to play when your volume of shots is lower than normal which leads me to my next point. I think Toth has been having an unusually tough time with this. I know he is a good goalie and has numbers to back it up from previous seasons but I am not sold that he is the right fit for Seattle. I think Steve needs to give some more starts to Berlin. If Toth can reign in his game I would like to see him stay but if he continues to be inconsistent I think they should really look into trading him which may prove to be pretty hard since he is a 20 year old player.

  2. While I think Toth can be better I'm not sure he's the problem as much as it's the D in font of him. Seattle drives a ton of shots and possession. What they don't do well is sort out the opponents opportunities when they get them. Last year, with two 20 yr old defensemen playing big minutes and Bow it wasn't as much of an issue. This year, without Smith and Hauf the D is not as strong and overall the team defense is not as strong.
    In my opinion they need to acquire at least one rock solid defensive defenseman. Doesn't have to be a big scorer, we have plenty of weapons based on the track records of the forwards and Ethan Bear. We just need a calm veteran presence on the blue line to make good decisions and clamp down on some of these prime scoring opportunities we seem to give up. The new d-man should be paired with Bear and play big minutes. Bump Tyszka back down with Ottenbreit and make Harsch and Schuldhaus the 3rd pair.
    Bring in the right guy on D and get the recent passengers Coach K has been calling out for less than 100% effort lately to pick it up and there isn't any reason why the Thunderbirds can't go to the Memorial Cup. I hate to say this but the team could benefit from watching some video of the 2010-2013 Winterhawks. We might hate them but those guys were relentless and showed no mercy. They always kept coming and never let up. Coach K always says he doesn't see enough desperate play by the team. I hate the word desperate. I think what he really wants is relentless, take advantage of the many opportunities we create and bury teams. That's the attitude adjustment that needs to happen before we can raise the expectations of this team. Just my 2cents.

    1. 100% agree with this. 150%, actually. Spot on.

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  4. Every team can always use more experienced D men. That is a no brainer when it comes to building a team to compete for the Cup. Obviously losing their top d pairing isn't something that teams look forward to either.
    I still think that Toth has given up a lot of bad/soft goals. I have followed T-Birds goalies very closely since 2005 and I can honestly say that Toth is middle of the road. He did have a good club in front of him last season that allowed about 27 shots per game. He posted a .912 save percentage last season over the span of 44 games. He is 24 games into this season and has .885 save percentage and has allowed 70 goals. He allowed 106 goals in 44 games last season. His stats right now do not reflect that of a starting goalie on a top tier club, plain and simple. If you want to be a starter in this league an .885 save percentage isn't going to cut it period. I see goalies all of the time with terrible teams in front of them and they still are able to overcome it. Calvin Pickard is a good example. The T-Birds were never able to put a good team in front of him yet he always seemed to keep his team in the games and he still managed to stop a lot of prime scoring opportunities. The guy made a lot of absurd saves which is something you have to be able to do consistently as a goalie. Your team cannot always bail you out. Toth is not the guy that will help the T-Birds reach the Finals again. I think he lacks the mental toughness that some of the other previous T-Birds goalies had. I do think that the T-Birds will improve on finishing those plays that they missed on earlier this season. They are just too stacked offensively not to.


    1. I see your points and I'm not saying Toth is equivalent to any of the recent overage goalies or Calvin Pickard. I'm just saying that based on what's available he can't be traded and Berlin and Stankowski are as yet unproven. The best and most realistic way to improve the team is to acquire at least one high end defensive blue liner to help clean up some of the grade A scoring chances that Toth gets beat on during periods where we outshoot the other team 19-3. If you can't improve the goalie you have to ramp up the back checking effort and bring in one more high end d-man to cancel out those opportunities before they become shots and goals. I agree that with the talent up front there shouldn't be too many more games where we get 55 shots and only 3 goals but a little more killer instinct wouldn't hurt. Some guys up front need to decide there is no such thing as too many goals. Those Portland teams I referenced before sure didn't feel that way. How many times did they just humiliate the T-birds because they wouldn't rest on their laurels with a 2 goal lead? We have the talent, now we just need that relentless attitude. Then the odd bad goal Toth gives up matters a lot less.

    2. I agree, the jury is still out on Berlin but the only way to find out whether or not he can handle the duties of a starting goalie in this league is to give him some more starts. They need to ride the hot hand and right now that is not Toth. Berlin has done an exceptional job at when called upon. I would also like to see Stankowski in net more too when he comes back.
      I really want Toth to succeed as the T-Birds have to strike while the iron is still hot this season. They will have a drastically different looking team next season.