In an early season schedule with very few games, Seattle got a taste of what's to come when they played three games in four nights this past week. Despite a stumble at home in the first game, the T-birds came out of the week with a pair of wins and four points.
The ten spot allowed to Portland in the loss last Saturday is concerning but not as much as you'd think since the Winterhawks have been scoring at will against most of their opponents. It's not just a Seattle thing. Seattle did not play well though, especially after an early Zack Andrusiak goal put then on top.
Portland's game is up tempo, push the pace, run and gun hockey. For it to work they have to have puck possession. To minimize it, you have to eliminate turnovers. Way too many Seattle turnovers in that game. The T-birds still scored five goals and that should be enough to win most nights. This was not one of those nights. In their two games against Portland, Seattle has allowed 17 goals against. In their other five games, they've only allowed 11.
The T-birds didn't get the best goaltending in that loss either. But both Matt Berlin and Liam Hughes bounced back with solid efforts in Seattle's two wins. Berlin made 32 saves Sunday in Kamloops, in a 4-3 win over the Blazers, and Hughes earned his first win as a Thunderbird on Tuesday with a 33 save effort (plus two more in the shootout), in a 3-2 win over Vancouver at the accesso ShoWare Center.
Seattle is getting solid early season play from their special teams. The power play is clicking at just under 31 percent on 8-for-26 success. The T-birds have been shorthanded 30 times in the first seven games but have only surrendered seven goals and two of those were scored while the opposition was skating 5-on-3.
The T-birds got down to the 20 year old roster limit by placing Tyler Adams on long term injured reserve. Adams needed hip surgery and has gone back home to Regina where he'll face a long recovery. By not releasing him Seattle could bring him back at some point later this season, although I'm not sure whether this type of surgery will allow Adams to play again at this level.
Seattle GM Russ Farwell has made many under-the-radar trades over the last five or six seasons. Taran Kozun comes to mind, but the Kozun deal still cost Seattle two players and two fourth round draft picks. Meanwhile, Adams only cost Seattle a prospect, Mckenzie White. Adams addition seemed to settle down the Thunderbirds when he came over last December. He became a multi-purpose tool as the T-birds were able to use him up and down their top four lines. The ability to plug him in anywhere in the lineup when other players were out was a key to Seattle's run to the championship.
You don't want to toot a rookie's horn too loudly so early in the season. You wouldn't want them to start reading their press clippings and begin thinking they've got it all figured out. I don't think Dillon Hamaliuk is the type of player who would let praise go to his head. At least for now it appears he's found a spot on the T-birds second line with Noah Philp and Matthew Wedman. First and foremost, he works hard at both ends of the ice. He's strong on the boards and in the past couple of games has shown a knack for being around the front of the net when pucks are there. His game still has a lot of developing left but he's on the right track. Along with another rookie, defenseman Jake Lee, Hammer leads the team with a +3 rating.
The good news for Hamaliuk is that, while this is his 17 year old season, he is a late birthday and thus not eligible for the NHL draft until the spring of 2019. This means he still has two seasons to impress the scouts, instead of one.
My T-bird Three Stars for the week:
Third Star: Defenseman Jarrett Tyszka. The Montreal Canadiens prospect
had four assists in three games and is currently riding a five game point streak. He has taken on a bigger role this season on the Seattle power play and that is one reason it is currently top five in the WHL.
2nd Star: RW Sami Moilanen. Four goals in the three games and now has eight on the season to lead the team. In fact, as of Thursday his eight goals tied him with three other players for second most in the WHL. The native of Finland looks very comfortable out there at the start of his second season in North America.
First Star: C/W Noah Philp. Snake bitten in the first few games of the season with his new team, he's come on lately and picked up five points (2g, 3a). Listed as a center by trade, he is playing wing on the second line with Wedman the pivot. He, Weds and Hamaliuk have created some very good, early season chemistry. Facing defeat, his shootout goal against Vancouver Tuesday pushed the T-birds fortunes around. Had he missed, Seattle would have lost. By scoring, he gave Andrusiak, and Hughes, a chance to win it.