The week started off well enough for Seattle when they registered their fourth straight win last Tuesday at home, a 5-4 decision in the first of three straight games versus Tri-City. Captain Nolan Volcan was a beast on the ice with a four point night (2g,2a). In the previous four games Seattle had scored 20 goals but not one of them came off the stick of Volcan. His performance Tuesday showed he didn't like being left out of the party. While they won the game, the T-Birds lost leading scorer Dillon Hamaliuk to an upper body injury in the first period. The T-Birds cobbled together new line combinations and, after surrendering a couple of two-goal leads, fought from behind for the win.
Even with no Hamaliuk in the lineup, things started off well enough Friday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick when the T-Birds once again jumped out to an early two-goal lead. For the second straight game though, Seattle got into some poor puck management and the Americans not only came back to tie it, but eventually got a late third period goal to take the lead enroute to a 4-2 win, thus snapping Seattle's winning streak. It didn't help matters that Seattle's power play was 0-for-4. Meanwhile, for the second consecutive game, the T-Birds lost a top six forward to injury as Payton Mount missed much of the second half of the game.
Saturday back at home for the third meeting between the two teams in a week, it would be Tri-City grabbing the early two-goal lead. Seattle continued it's recent struggles with the power play, failing on two lengthy 5-on-3's. Since two early power-play goals in Tuesday's win, Seattle is now 0-for-it's-last-13. Despite that they found a way to get the game even late in the third period thanks to a nice snipe off the rush by Matthew Wedman, before falling in overtime. The absence of both Hamaliuk and Mount was certainly felt in the game Saturday, but Seattle still generated plenty of chances to score more then the two they got. The T-Birds ended up with just 22 shots on goal because too many of their shots were wide of the target or easily blocked. On a number of occasions Seattle simply overpassed the puck, passing themselves out of a scoring chance.
The biggest takeaway from the three games was the T-Birds forward depth was tested and was just too inconsistent in trying to answer the bell. Some players, Cody Savey comes to mind, stepped up to the challenge but others did not. We've talked early in the season about how some young defensemen like Ty Bauer have flourished getting extra ice time because of injuries on the back end. This past week was a good chance for some of the young forwards to do the same and right now you'd have to give them an incomplete grade. Injuries happen. You overcome them with your depth. This weekend should be a lesson to the younger forwards about filling the void so the team doesn't miss a beat.
Despite the offensive struggles in the last two games, Seattle was in both games 'til the end because they got good, solid goaltending. Both Cole Schwebius Friday and Liam Hughes Saturday, gave their team a chance to win. Schwebius has played two games, two weeks apart, and allowed just five goals. His work between the pipes hasn't been supported by the offense as the T-Birds have mustered just three goals in those two games.
You wonder if scoring 20 goals in four games pushed some players off the game plan and away from the team systems this weekend? When it seems goal are coming in bunches everyone wants to pile up points. That can get you into bad habits, thinking offense before defense and players can stray from what's been working.
The first 10 games can be the first marker of the season, to look back and see where the team is at. Seattle has played to this point without their most seasoned defenseman, Jarret Tyszka. Reece Harsch, their second most veteran d-man missed all of training camp and preseason, then a few early games. Two still-16-year-old rookies in Bauer and Simon Kubicek have logged big minutes on the backend. Injuries have jumbled the forward lines, yet Seattle sits at 6-2-2-0. All things considered, that's a good start with plenty of room for improvement.
My T-Birds Three Stars for the Week:
Third Star: RW Cody Savey. With Hamaliuk and then Mount out, the 17-year old rookie took advantage of the ice time this weekend. While he did not register a point he contributed with strong play along the boards and won a number of 50/50 puck battles. Friday night he drew two penalties on the Americans. Unfortunately Seattle didn't capitalize on the subsequent power plays. His play should help him earn more consistent minutes on the fourth line.
Second Star: The goaltending combination of Cole Schwebius and Liam Hughes. You ask your goalies to give your team a chance to win and that's what these two did this weekend. The #2 goaltending spot was a big question mark coming into the season but Schwebius has all but put those fears aside. Hughes will probably lament the two he gave up in the first period Saturday but he made some huge saves early in the third period that allowed Wedman to score the equalizer late.
First Star: C Nolan Volcan. Even when he's not scoring he's still the hardest working player on the ice. Good to see he's never satisfied with his game. He looked at video of himself from pervious games prior to this past week and saw he had more to give. He then went out and had a four point night Tuesday, proving himself right.