By Andrew Eide
Another week of hockey for Seattle and another three wins. The Thunderbirds are the hottest team in the WHL now as they have won seven straight and they continue to climb up the Western Conference standings. The T-Birds have three more games before the WHL shuts down for the holidays and you can bet the team wants to hit the break with three more wins.
Here’s a look at the trends and notes from the past week.
Let’s go streaking
The T-Birds’ current seven-game winning streak is the longest since the 2006-2007 season when they won 10 straight. They can match that mark if they stay perfect through the weekend and early next week. Seattle had a five-game winning streak earlier this year along with a difficult six-game losing streak in November.
The Thunderbirds still have some work to do if they want to match the franchise record 15-game winning streak that was set in 1994-1995. That team was coached by current Spokane coach Don Nachbaur and featured three 40-goal scorers in Chris Wells, Chris Herperger and Jan Hrdina. Nachbaur’s current club has been on the wrong end of three of Seattles seven wins during this streak.
Lost in all this winning is the fact that Seattle’s two goalies, Justin Myles and Danny Mumaugh, are now 4-0 combined with their new painted masks. Coincidence?
Lines, lines, everywhere there’s lines
One of the keys to the Thunderbirds’ resurgence is that they now have four lines that they can roll. After the trades for Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie it took the team a few weeks to find where those two guys best fit and to build some chemistry. Boy do they have it now.
The T-Birds can now boast two top scoring lines with the Ryan Gropp-Alex Delnov-Branden Troock line and the Justin Hickman-Mathew Barzal-Roberts Lipsbergs line. Those two lines have combined for 29 goals and 25 assists during the winning streak. When you get big-time scoring like that from your two top lines you will win more games than you will lose.
Of course, those lines get good matchups when you can also sport a shut-down line the way Seattle has. Since Yakubowski and McKechnie teamed up with 17-year-old rookie Scott Eansor they have been a powerful force, shutting down the oppositions’ top lines. Plus/minus numbers can be misleading, but those three have mangeged to combine for a plus-4 during the winning streak and while that may not seem too impressive, it is when you take into consideration who’ve they’ve been playing against.
They shut down Mitch Holmberg during the three games with Spokane and kept Portland’s Nic Petan-Branden Leipsic line in check at the beginning of the streak.
Blue line getting stronger
Along with consistency in the forward lines, the T-Birds have been rolling the same three defensive pairings during this streak and it is paying off. After Tuesday’s win against Tri City, head coach Steve Konowalchuk mentioned that the defense was doing a good job of protecting “the house” – the area in front of the net where good scoring chances occur. The result of that is fewer chances, fewer shots, fewer goals and of course more wins.
During the six-game losing streak, Seattle surrendered an average of 39 shots against per game and were out shot in five of the six losses. During the win streak? Seattle is averaging only 27 shots against and have only been out-shot once. That is the sign of a defense getting tight in its own zone.
Three stars of the week
Third Star: Adam Henry gets the third star this week for the T-Birds. Along with playing plus-4 hockey over the three games, he chipped in on offense with five assists.
Second Star: Shea Theodore also had a strong week at both ends of the ice. He picked up six assists in the three games and continues to lead the team in scoring as well as all WHL defenseman.
First Star: Branden Troock was somehow overlooked for WHL player of the week but he picks up our top star here. The big winger had an exciting hat trick against Spokane Friday night and played strong all week long, picking up five points in total.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.