Sunday, December 3, 2017

No Game of Horseshoes

Being close only counts if your goal is the silver medal.  Maybe you like a close shave.  And as the old saying goes, closeness only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  This past nine days Seattle has been close, right there 'til the end in five of six games.   In the six games the goal totals are thus:  Opposition 17, T-birds 16.  All they have to show for it though, are three out of  12 points and a 1-4-1-0 record.  The biggest culprit?  Opponents scored nearly half those 17 goals (8) in the third period or later.

Close wasn't good enough.  A win equals two points in the standings, a moral victory equals zero.  Seattle let too many points slip away in the last seconds of games.  They were gut wrenching, soul crushing losses and points lost that you can't get back.  The worst thing you can hear after a defeat is "you outplayed them and deserved a better fate".  That's akin to kicking someone when they are already down, adding insult to injury. It means there were too many self-inflicted wounds.

Fortunately there is still a lot of season to play and this team is young and resilient.  Despite the cringe worthy late losses, they are still playing .500 hockey.  Those last second losses haven't deterred them from getting right back on the horse the next game and battling, full throttle, looking for a better result.

For the first eight games of the season the Thunderbirds averaged about 25 shots per game.  In the 16 games since, they've averaged 31 shots per game.  In the first eight games Seattle averaged 3.1 goals per game.  In the next 20 games, with their shot total increasing by six shots a games, their scoring has slightly decreased to 3.06 goals per game.  As Sami Moilanen might say, it all comes down to the finish.  Seattle has to just keep grinding and doing a better job of scoring off rebounds and on loose pucks around the opponents net.

Saturday night at home was Seattle's sixth game in nine nights and the first five had been on the road.  It was also their fourth games in five days.  It showed.  They were sluggish most of that game and seemed sapped by the third period and for one of the few times this season their compete level wasn't up to their standards late in a game.  To see the compete level drop off for this team this season is so rare it was clearly noticeable the final 20 minutes of that loss to Kamloops.

It came less then 24 hours after one of their better sixty minute efforts Friday in Kennewick in a 5-1 win over Tri-City.  That was vintage Thunderbirds with their very aggressive and physical game dictating play.  It's how they play most every night, even if they don't always get a result like they did against the Americans.

And stinging, late second losses aside, that is what makes this team fun to watch.  They compete.  They play to the whistle, they stick to their systems and that puts them in a position to win most nights, even if they don't.  They do it with a lot of young players slowly taking on bigger roles on the team.

My T-birds Three Stars for the six game stretch:

Third Star:  G Matt Berlin.  Berlin was in net for the only two games Seattle earned points in, the win in Kennewick and the overtime loss in Vancouver.  Playing in four of the past six games he registered a 2.73 GAA with an .895 SVPCT.

Second Star:  W Tyler Carpendale/W Dillon Hamaliuk.  This rookie duo combined to score four goals the past three games.  Not only did Carpendale record his first WHL goal Wednesday night up in Kamloops, but he scored again the next game in Kennewick.  He also chipped in with an assist.  He also has the best middle name in hockey; Fletch.  Hamaliuk meanwhile, seems to create 2-3 good scoring chances for himself each night but has been a bit unlucky so it was nice to see him pot two on the power play.  They are both big bodied, physical players but boy, can they both skate.  Move over Starsky and Hutch, here come Hammer and Fletch!

First Star:  W Zack Andrusiak.  Five goals in 60 games last season, Andrusiak already has 14 in just 28 games this go 'round.  He is now second to Moilanen (15) on the team in goals scored.  The coaches knew he had a scoring touch.  What is impressing them most about his play so far this season is his improved 200 foot game.  No where is that more evident then in the past six games as he registered four goals and was +4.  

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