The Seattle Thunderbirds currently possess a 12-13-2-1 record, good for 27 points in the standings. They sit one point ahead of the Kamloops Blazers, a team that defeated Seattle twice in the past week, for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Hovering right around the .500 mark, the T-Birds are likely in a better place than many expected them to be at this point. Considering the significant roster and coaching turnover, a rebuilding season seemed to be in order.
The overall record doesn’t tell the full story, however.
Over the past ten days, Seattle has lost five of six contests, the second tough stretch they’ve had since returning from a successful Eastern Conference road swing. Each of those losses was by just one goal.
Additionally, while the T-Birds have done a great job overcoming many of the little things that plague young teams, one place they’ve struggled mightily is in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
Prior to this weekend’s games where Seattle went 1-1 and gave up a single third-period goal in each contest, including the game-winner Saturday night against Kamloops, Seattle had surrendered 35 third-period goals in 26 games, an average of 1.35 per game.
Look a little bit more closely and you can see that in losses, that number grows significantly.
In their 11 wins before Saturday, Seattle surrendered just nine goals in all third periods combined, an average of 0.82 goals against. In five of those nine victories, Seattle held their opponent scoreless in the final period. In only two of their wins, on back-to-back nights against Calgary (three) and Lethbridge (two), did the T-Birds give up more than one third-period goal.
The T-Birds’ defeats are a different story. In 12 regulation losses, Seattle has given up 22 third-period goals, an average of 1.83 per game, a full goal more on average than they gave up in their victories. In three overtime and shootout losses, Seattle gave up four third period goals, half a goal more on average than they surrendered in victories.
A comparison against other teams in the league confirm Seattle’s struggles.
Through November 29, Seattle tied for the third-most goals surrendered in the third. Victoria and Red Deer had each surrendered 41 third-period goals apiece, while Saskatoon and Prince Albert were tied with Seattle at 35. Of those five teams, Victoria is the only one with a winning record.
Seattle’s third period goal differential sat at a minus-eight through their first 26 games, leaving them with the fourth-worst differential in the league. By contrast, the league’s top two teams, Portland and Moose Jaw, were a plus-23 and plus-21, respectively. Red Deer was a minus-seventeen, worst in the league through last Tuesday.
It’s something that has become a noticeable struggle for the T-Birds, and it’s not shocking that a team suiting up as many rookies as the T-Birds are is having difficulty closing out games. Veterans and the coaching staff have often acknowledged after losses that the team has been able to put together a very good 45 to 50 minutes, but struggled to play the full 60.