Portland routs slumping Thunderbirds 10-2
By Andrew Eide
The Thunderbirds malaise continued Tuesday night as they traveled to Portland and were soundly beaten 10-2 by the Winterhawks. Portland got a hat trick from Paul Bittner as they handed Seattle a fifth straight loss. Seattle was not in this game from the beginning and is reeling in many ways. The T-Birds got goals from Shea Theodore and Justin Hickman.
It’s the second time this season the T-Birds have surrendered 10 goals to Portland and they have been outscored 30-10 in their last five games overall — all losses. There have not been a lot of answers during this streak as the team suddenly appears to have no confidence or compete in their game — something that they had plenty of earlier in the season.
Wednesday night, head coach Steve Konowalchuk deployed new line combinations to try and find a spark however none of them were able to generate scoring chances.
The Winterhawks put Seattle in a hole early as Brendan Leipsic took advantage of Adam Henry falling down at his own blue line. Leipsic picked up the loose puck and streaked down ice on a two-on-one advantage and scored on Justin Myles.
Seattle never recovered and appeared deflated.
Portland didn’t let up on the gas, scoring four more times in the first period on goals from Bittner, Chase De Leo, Derrick Pouliot, and Nic Petan. When the first frame ended Seattle was looking at a five-goal deficit after being out shot 18-7. Myles was replaced by Danny Mumaugh after giving up four goals on 12 shots.
It just got worse from there.
The Winterhawks continued to have their way with a T-Birds group that could not generate any energy or emotion and Portland continued to make them pay. They scored five more times in the game and skated to their third straight easy victory over their I-5 rivals.
For the T-Birds the story was much the same as it has been during the current losing streak. They did not get off to a good start, didn’t play physical, didn’t get their forecheck going and were on their heels from the outset. They now face a tough two game series in Victoria before they return home to host a Kelowna team that arguably is the best in the WHL.
Seattle continues to play short-handed as key players Conner Honey, Ethan Bear and Michal Holub continue to miss games due to injury. Defenseman Evan Wardley also missed Wednesday’s game as he served the last game of his four game suspension. The T-Birds also made a move before the game as they announced the release of 20-year-old Eric Benoit.
With Benoit’s departure the team is now down to two 20-year-olds with Seth Swenson and Mitch Elliot still on the roster. It will be interesting to see if Seattle makes a move to acquire a third over-ager.
Seattle’s next game is Friday night when they travel to Victoria to take on the Royals on Vancouver Island.
Benoit was acquired by Seattle off of waivers near the end of the preseason. He had previously played for Kootenay and more recently with Saskatoon. He appeared in 19 games with the T-Bird and picked up three goals and eight points.
Wednesday’s game was a tough one for Justin Myles. He was pulled for the second straight game and has allowed seven goals on his last 19 shots.
Danny Mumaugh replaced Myles in the first period and while he gets saddled with six goals allowed he actually played some pretty good hockey. The goals were mostly on defensive breakdowns and odd man rushes and Mumaugh made several good saves to keep the game from being uglier than it was.
The return of Wardley on Friday will be a big boost to the Seattle blue line which has struggled during this five game losing streak.
In the past Konowalchuk has not hesitated to take ice time away from players that he feels aren’t playing up to their potential. Under normal circumstances you could expect him to do that again now. However, with the injuries to Honey, Bear and Holub and the release of Benoit he doesn’t have any healthy bodies to step in at the moment.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide