The T-Birds were all smiles this weekend with three big wins (photo WHL)
By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds just completed a perfect weekend. Playing three games in three nights is always a tough proposition but for the second time this season, Seattle flew through it with flying colors. Overall they’ve won four straight games and it is starting to feel like the six game losing streak earlier in November is just a distant memory.
Let’s take a look back at what we just saw and what is trending with the T-Birds.
Playing at a high level
The four game winning streak has been great for Seattle, but its not their longest of the season. Earlier in the year they won five straight games as they beat Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Kootenay, Kelowna and Tri City. This four game streak has been more impressive. Over these past four games they have outscored their opponents (Portland, Saskatoon, Victoria and Spokane) to a tune of 22-10 and only the game against Portland was really close. The previous streak included four one-goal games, two of which went into overtime. This past week and weekend was mostly dominant.
“I think our defensive game is at a better level than it was early on,” Steve Konowalchuk said Sunday. “I think we’re taking a little more pride in our d-zone and scoring great goals off of that…but most hockey seasons you tighten up as you go on.”
Along with that defense Seattle is generating chances again and is now back up to fourth in the WHL in scoring.
Special teams getting special
For most of the season the T-Birds power play had struggled. On paper, it should have been better — considering the talent they were able to throw out there in both units. While they were hesitant to take shots earlier they now have found the groove. Seattle has scored power play goals in six of their last seven games, clicking along at 30% over that span. That hot streak has seen them climb up to 16th in the league with a season long percentage of 20.6%.
Looking further at the T-Birds power play there is a wide split in how they do at home versus the road. Seattle has the league’s third best power play percentage at home at 29.4%. Where they have struggled is on the road — ranked 20th and only converting 14.7% of the time. The three goals they scored at Spokane Sunday was definitely a good sign.
Killing penalties the T-Birds have an opposite home-away split. Overall Seattle is 10th in the WHL killing penalties which is solid. Where they have really excelled is on the road where they are fourth in the league — killing off 83.5% of their opponents chances. At home they have not fared quite as well, only 74.5% which is 17th in the league.
So many T-Birds on a roll
When you score 22 goals over a four game stretch you are getting contributions from a number of players and that is exactly what is happening with the T-Birds. The hottest player has to be Alex Delnov who has six goals and ten points over his last seven games. But he is not the only one. Branden Trook has goals in his last four straight games and Roberts Lipsbergs has seven goals in his last eight games.
Then there is Shea Theodore who had a goal and four assists over the weekend — his goal was a thing of beauty and should make the WHL Plays of the Week. Mathew Barzal also has two goals and six points in his last four games. This kind of scoring depth is why there is a great deal of optimism in Kent these days.
The Scott Eansor effect
If you just look at the stat sheet you might miss how good Scott Eansor has been for the T-Birds lately. He only has registered five assists on the season and no goals, but that’s not what his game is about right now. Eansor is just as big of a reason for Seattle winning as all the goal scorers. Flanked by Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie, Eansor is sparking a pretty impressive shut down line for the T-Birds.
They have taken on some of the top lines in the WHL and giving them fits. Eansor is the spark plug, he skates hard, he wins face offs and is very difficult to play against. When you can throw out a shut down line that is so effective it frees up your scoring lines, which Seattle has two of, to get favorable match ups and wear down the opposition. It is not a coincidence that since Konowalchuk has put this line together and matched them up against the opponents top lines that the T-Birds are scoring more.
Next time Seattle plays pay attention to what number 8 is doing on the ice, you’ll be impressed.
Three stars of the week
Number three star: We’re going to give our number three star to the aforementioned Scott Eansor. His play has given Seattle energy and caused havoc on the opposition.
Number two star: Branden Troock gets the number two star this week. He scored goals in all three games this weekend and has been playing really strong hockey.
Number one star: Alex Delnov gets the top spot this week. His five point game on Friday against Saskatoon was electric and he continued his fine play all weekend. On top of the goal scoring he also has been playing a 200-foot game and been involved in the forecheck.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide