Seattle’s Sam McKechnie had a goal Friday as Seattle won their fifth straight game (Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — Newly acquired goalie Taran Kozun has only played 124 minutes of hockey with the Seattle Thunderbirds so far but its hard to imagine a more perfect beginning.
Starting in his second consecutive game, Kozun picked up his second straight shut out as the T-Birds defeated the Tri City Americans 4-0 Friday night in front of 4,677 fans at the ShoWare Center. Kozun stopped all 26 shots he faced and Seattle added goals from four different players for their fifth win in a row.
For Kozun, his time in Seattle so far has been all smiles.
“It’s amazing,” the goalie said. “I’ve got a great D corps in front of me, the forwards are all playing amazing in front of me as well. They’re getting the scrums out, getting the pucks out. It’s real nice coming here and posting shut outs.”
Kozun stood the tallest Friday night in the second period. Seattle (27-14-2-3) had a one goal lead and the Americans had them on their heels. Seattle started taking some penalties, giving Tri City four straight power play chances and the momentum swung.
Despite Tri City (20-21-2-2) tilting the ice, Kozun and Seattle’s penalty kill stood strong. Kozun made several spectacular saves to keep the puck out of the net, keeping the Americans at bay.
“We’ve been taking pride in our penalty kill,” Sam McKechnie said. “Watching a lot of video and get that down pat, its been working.”
McKechnie was a key player on the penalty kill and in the third period he added a big goal that extended the T-Birds lead and opened the flood gates for Seattle. Roberts Lipsbergs picked up his 26th goal later in the third period and then Jaimen Yakubowski added a goal with four minutes left to put away any doubt about the outcome of the game.
“Good first period, better third period,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I thought it was crunch time in that second period, the goal tender was good for us. He preserves a 1-0 lead there and we were able to get back on track and scored that second goal that deflated them a bit.”
The goaltender has been good since being acquired from the Kamloops Blazers at the trade deadline last week. Kozun moved from a team that had struggled its way to only ten wins to one that is fighting for a high seed in the playoffs.
“Its fun for him,” Konowalchuk said. “I know he’s had a long first half of the year with his other team. He’s rejuvenated probably a little here, knowing we’re going to score some goals for him and help him out in front. But he earned that one today, especially in the second period.”
The T-Birds got Kozun an early lead as Russell Maxwell continued his good start with Seattle. Working up ice on a nice two-man play with Shea Theodore, Maxwell got the puck in the slot and fired a wrist shot over Tri City goalie Evan Sarthou’s shoulder. It was Maxwell’s 11th goal of the year and first with Seattle — it turned out to be all the offense the T-Birds would need.
The T-Birds have now won five straight games and have only allowed four goals in the last four games of this stretch. Despite that, Konowalchuk still feels there is some room for improvement.
“Anytime you get a shut out and get the win its a good thing but we have high expectations,” he said. “There are still some things out there that I talked to some of the guys about that we have to clean up.”
Seattle will shoot for their sixth straight win Saturday night as the travel north to take on Kozun’s former club in Kamloops. The prospect of facing his former teammates had Kozun excited.
“I’m hoping (to play), it would be amazing,” he said. “I had so many good friends over there and met so many great people, fans and billets and everything so it would be a real memorable experience.”
After two consecutive starts though, will he get the nod Saturday?
“I’m going to talk to him,” Konowalchuk said. “I talked to him the other day and he sounded pretty excited to go. I don’t think that as a coach you want to over think this too much, he’ll probably be in.”
Saturday’s game is a big one despite Kamloops’ place in the standings. The Blazers have surprised the T-Birds twice this year, including a 7-1 stinker on new year’s eve. It was a game that the Blazers goalie that night, Kozun, referred to as “kind of a beating”, so the T-Birds should not take Kamloops lightly.
“I hope that they (Seattle’s players) don’t need that message after they beat us twice,” Konowalchuk said. “There are some things that we need to clean up from tonight’s game to be even better so hopefully that carries through for us tomorrow.”
Kozun’s consecutive shut outs is the first time Seattle has had back-to-back blankings since the 2009-2010 season. Calvin Pickard picked up shut outs that year against Everett and Vancouver on consecutive nights.
Saturday’s opponent, the Blazers, are the WHL’s second lowest scoring club coming into to Saturday’s game. How long will the shut out streak last?
Kozun made his last start for Kamloops against the same Tri City club and gave up two goals in a 2-1 loss. With Seattle he has now stopped all 54 shots he has faced.
Lost in all the goalie talk was Shea Theodore’s three assist night. The first assist was the 100th of his career as he now has a career high 40 on the season. It was the fifth time this year that the defenseman has notched three assists or more in a game.
Friday night marked the return of Mathew Barzal from injury. The young center had not appeared in a game for Seattle since December 13th. He spent most of Friday night on the fourth line as he gets his legs back but he still looked sharp at times. Branden Troock and Connor Honey remained out of the lineup.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.