With their two wins this weekend the Seattle Thunderbirds are now riding a, season best, five game winning streak. Seattle is also nine games over .500 for the first time all year and, since December 17th, are 7-1-1-0.
Through that stretch the T-birds had checked the box on almost every aspect of their game save one. They had been getting strong goaltending, timely scoring and points from all four lines. They've been winning games at home, on the road, in regulation and in overtime and shootouts. They've stayed disciplined and the few times they've been penalized, they've had a strong penalty kill. The missing ingredient? The power play.
Seattle's struggles with the extra attacker saw them drop to 20th in the 22 team league in that category. Remember, this was a team, with virtually the same personnel, that finished third in the league in that department a year ago. But they were winning games recently despite a stretch of just 1-for-33 with the man advantage. While one game doesn't completely cure what ails you, Sunday the T-birds were a perfect 3-for-3 on the power play in their 6-4 win over Spokane.
You have to actually go back to Saturday's overtime win in Everett to see the seeds of power play improvement had been planted with the return of Mat Barzal and, a now, completely healthy Keegan Kolesar. Seattle had just one power play against the Silvertips and they didn't score. But you could see they were on the right path. They passed the puck crisply and shot quickly. It would bear fruit less then 24 hours later.
After the T-birds third power play goal against the Chiefs Sunday, with about seven and a half minutes left in the game, pushed their lead to 6-2, head coach Steve Konowalchuk wisely gave his top players the rest of the night off. I don't think Barzal, Kolesar, Ryan Gropp, Alexander True and Ethan Bear saw another shift. Knowing they start a stretch of four games in five nights at home Tuesday, it was a chance to give those players an extra bit of rest. It was also a bit of a reward for his third and fourth lines, who were given the extra ice time. Seattle doesn't go 7-1-1-0 over their last nine games without those players and their contributions.
For all the treading water Seattle did the first half of the season, they never were very far from the top half of the Western Conference standings. And now, after this five game winning streak, they are just five points from the fourth spot with games in hand. With 23 wins, Seattle is just four behind Everett in the win column.
The 2017 WHL trade deadline has come and gone. Seattle made three trades in the four weeks leading up to the January 10th deadline but didn't make a last minute deal like a number of other teams did. Frankly, after seeing the prices paid for good but not elite players, I can see why GM Russ Farwell held on to his best assets. Farwell did say he looked into adding a top nine forward but none of the players available were better then what he currently had on the roster. Meanwhile other teams were giving away top prospects and high draft picks for third liners.
Remember to get something, you have to give something. I didn't see a player moved at the deadline that I personally would have sacrificed a first round pick or top prospect for. Even Everett, which acquired one of the better players available in 20 year old defenseman Aaron Irving from Edmonton, had to pay a heavy price, dealing away a 2018 first round pick, a top prospect in 16 year old Brett Kemp (a former 2015 2nd round pick) and 20 year old winger Graham Millar.
For Seattle it just didn't make sense to sacrifice the future for a player who would barely crack your top nine, let alone wouldn't be in your top six.
Meanwhile Seattle surrendered just a third round pick, a disgruntled defenseman (former 2013 fifth rounder Brandon Schuldhaus) and a mid range prospect (MacKenzie Wight) for Tyler Adams, Aaron Hyman and Austin Strand. With Adams in the lineup the Thunderbirds are 7-2-1-0. With Hyman in the lineup they are 6-1-1-0. With Strand in their lineup the T-birds are 5-0-0-0.
My T-birds three stars for the weekend:
Third Star: D Ethan Bear. The highlight of the weekend was Bear's perfect stretch pass to Kolesar Saturday night in Everett that led to the T-birds game winning overtime goal. The Edmonton Oilers prospect finished the weekend with four points (2g, 2a) and now has three straight multi-point games.
Second Star: RW Keegan Kolesar. If you were wondering if Kolesar is finally 100% after the surgery that cost him much of the first half of the season, wonder no more. His OT game winner in Everett told you all you needed to know. Kolesar had logged a lot of minutes in the third period of that game and then a bunch more ice time in the overtime. In fact he was probably at the end of a shift, yet he had enough juice left to skate away from the Everett defense and get off a perfect shot to beat Carter Hart for the game winner. He capped the weekend with three assists versus Spokane Sunday.
First Star: C Mat Barzal. He hasn't played but 15 games with the T-birds this season but there can be no question that Barzal has had his impact. Seattle's record in those games? 11-2-2. In their two wins this weekend he registered four points (1g, 3a) and was +3. Even better, with Kolesar seemingly back to 100%, Seattle's KGB line (Kolesar, Gropp and Barzal) was back to hacking away at the opposition (see what I did there?). In the two games they combined for 10 points (3g, 7a) and were +8. Two of those three goals were game winners.