By Andrew Eide
Everett — The Seattle Thunderbirds were back in Everett Friday night and fell to the Silvertips 2-1 in front of 7,867 fans at the Comcast Arena.
Everett picked up goals from Dawson Leedahl and Mirco Mueller and relied on a suffocating neutral zone game to keep the T-Birds from generating much offensively. The loss snapped Seattle’s four game winning streak against their I-5 rivals.
“We played right into their hands,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “Give them credit, they played a good hockey game. They played a better hockey game than us and they deserved it. There’s a certain way you have to play against this team…we didn’t play that well to a man and we couldn’t create a lot of momentum.”
Everett’s game plan is to hang back in the neutral zone and force the opposition into turnovers. To combat that, you must get the puck deep into their end and then work to get shots on net. Seattle wasn’t able to do that for most of the night and as a consequence could not get going offensively — only generating 18 shots on the night.
“We wanted to make a play first and by the time we realized someone’s in our face it’s back in our end,” Konowalchuk said. “They get to grind you down. They’re a good hockey team, they’ve got a good defense. But if your mindset is not right, it’s not right, you’re going to turn the puck over.”
The Silvertips struck early in the game Friday night as they caught Seattle in a line change. The T-Birds forwards coughed the puck up as their defenseman where making a change. That allowed the Silvertips to get the puck to Leedahl who had room and fired a wrist shot past goalie Taran Kozun.
“It started with a turnover,” Konowalchuk said of the play. “We do need to change our D, if we get it deep its fine. At some point our D need to change it’s such a quick bang-bang play for our D.”
Despite that early goal, on Everett’s second shot, Kozun turned in another fine performance in net for Seattle. He kept the game from being much worse than it was and gave the T-Birds a chance to come back and win it.
The problem is that they couldn’t solve the Silvertips neutral zone trap.
The second period was much of the same for the T-Birds as they only mustered six shots and were kept off the scoreboard. Everett is nearly unbeatable when they have the lead heading into the third period, and despite the fact that Seattle managed the one comeback against them last week, they had their hands full.
Going into the third period Konowalchuk juggled his lines a bit, trying to find a spark, any spark. While they generated a few more chances they weren’t able to beat Austin Lotz. When they did get the puck in the Everett zone they found it tough to get shots through.
“They always block shots, we know that,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought we passed up some shots. You have to spend time in their end by putting pucks deep and then forecheck and then you’ll get shots through…they had everybody on board and we didn’t.”
Half way through the final frame, Meuller scored for Everett to give them a two-goal lead which seemed insurmountable at the time.
Seattle got a glimmer of hope when Justin Hickman tipped home his 20th goal of the year with just over a minute left and the Seattle net empty. That was as close as they came however as Lotz and the Everett defense shut the door.
The loss is the second in a row for the T-Birds, which is a trend that Konowalchuk says must change quickly.
“Still don’t have everybody going right now,” he said. “When you don’t have one guy going on your line, your line’s not going to do anything, especially against good hockey teams. That’s been the case a little too much as of late.”
The T-Birds will now return home to take on the last place Kamloops Blazers. With only five points seperating Seattle from fifth place Spokane, points against a struggling Kamloops squad loom large.
“They’re huge, we’ve got to respond,” Konowalchuk said.
Seattle had not lost back-to-back games since January 4th and 5th on their Alberta road swing — a span of 19 games.
Branden Troock did not see the ice the remainder of the game after he took a double minor penalty in the second period. He was called for tripping and then, out of frustration, flipped the puck into the crowd.
Saturday’s game has an early start time of 6 P.M. due to the Ronald McDonald House Hockey Challenge at the ShoWare Center. The Hockey Challenge is the team’s annual fund raiser for the Ronald McDonald House and features an alumni/celebrity game after the T-Birds game is complete. The notable T-Birds alumni in the game include Brendan Witt and Chris Wells.
The win moved the seventh place Silvertips to six points clear of eighth place Tri City. Everett trails the Vancouver Giants by two points for sixth place.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide