Taran Kozun picked up a shut out in his first appearance with the T-Birds (WHL)
By Andrew Eide
The Seattle Thunderbirds are riding a four-game win streak after shutting out the Spokane Chiefs Tuesday night. The four wins has almost erased the injury-laden five game losing streak they limped through after the new year.
Along with getting back to the winning side of things the T-Birds were busy at the trade deadline. Out were Seth Swenson, Austin Douglas and Justin Myles and in were Taran Kozun and Russell Maxwell. While these moves were not block busters they look like solid moves that are already paying off.
Here is a look back at the stories and trends of the past week.
Goals against the machine
Hockey statistics are a somewhat complicated bucket of numbers. On the surface they seem to paint a certain picture, but you really have to dig into them to get some clarity. This is true if you look at Seattle’s goals allowed so far this year.
After Tuesday’s game the T-Birds have allowed 167 goals in their 45 games this year for an average of 3.7 goals per game. Of the 16 teams currently holding playoff positions in the WHL that is the worst. At first glance this seems alarming — how can they win giving up that many goals?
Looking at the numbers closer it appears that perhaps the Seattle defense has been better than those numbers indicate.
Seattle has given up ten goals in three games this year and seven in four others for a total of 58 goals in seven of their 45 games. In the remaining 38 games played they have allowed 109 goals for a 2.8 goals allowed per game average –nearly a goal better than their overall average. The Kelowna Rockets have allowed the fewest goals in the league at 2.5 goals per game.
What does this tell us? It tells us that for most of the year Seattle has been closer to the best defensive club in the league then it hasn’t. It also says that when the flood gates open during one particular game they open like the tidal wave in that movie about the comet that hits the earth, wiping out half the population.
The good news is that the numbers show Seattle is playing pretty good defense overall. Since struggling on their last road trip they have tightened up and only allowed five goals in their last three played — all wins.
Speaking of numbers — looking at 16-year-old rookie Ethan Bear’s numbers you might miss how big of a contribution he has made to the T-Birds this season. In 31 games he has three goals and nine points with a modest plus-3 rating. Watching him play you see skill and poise that a player his age should not have at this point in their career.
Certainly Bear has been steady for Seattle’s back end and he has been a big part of their success. How big?
In the 31 games that Bear has appeared in this season the T-Birds record is 23-5-0-3. In the 14 games he has missed either to injury or tournaments Seattle has limped along at 3-9-2-0.
Now that is not to suggest that Bear is the most important player on the team or even their best defenseman. The T-Birds have been fortunate to stick with the same three defensive pairings for the majority of the year. If you were to take out any of the top defenseman you may see similar results
Since Adam Henry joined the club Bear has played pretty much exclusively with the former Lethbridge Hurricane and the two seem to have some chemistry. In the games that Bear has missed Steve Konowalchuk has had to mix and match the defensive pairings and the results show up in those seven games we mentioned earlier — most of which Bear was not in the lineup for.
The walking wounded
The T-Birds have had their share of injuries this year and are slowly starting to get back to full strength. In the past week they saw the return of Bear and Keegan Koelsar from the U-17 tournament, then got Scott Eansor back followed by Jaimen Yakubowski’s return on Friday.
They are still missing some key offensive players in Branden Troock, Mathew Barzal and Connor Honey. The official word is that Troock and Barzal are close to coming back and Barzal skated in warm ups on Tuesday. When those players return the T-Birds should get a nice jolt and it will be as they had traded for some pretty high ended talent.
Three stars of the week
Here are our three stars of the week. We don’t have a prize or medallion to give them so we will just say nice things here.
Third Star: Danny Mumaugh. After being forced to take the brunt of the road trip Mumaugh bounced back well winning two big games this last week. He outlasted Ty Edmonds in Prince George winning 2-1 in a shoot out and then was solid in the T-Birds 4-3 overtime win against Spokane last Saturday.
Second Star: Roberts Lipsbergs. With the offensive players out Lipsbergs has stepped up this week, picking up three goals and eight points over the last four games. The biggest of those goals was his late third period game-tying goal against Spokane on Saturday.
First Star: Alex Delnov. Lipsbergs’ European partner has also stepped up this past week by potting four goals and eight points in the last four games. He got the overtime winner on Saturday and now has matched his goal total of 20 from last year. That has moved him past Troock into second on the club in scoring with 45 points.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide.