By Andrew Eide
KENT – The Thunderbirds are in a slump. A night after playing well and losing, Seattle played poorly and lost its fourth straight game – this time to the Regina Pats by a 5-3 score. Regina got two goals from Morgan Klimchuk, who paced the Pats as they picked up their third straight win.
Seattle (11-7-0-2) got a valiant effort turned in by goalie Danny Mumaugh, who made 49 saves and kept the game from being much worse than it was. After a season start that was full of solid play, the T-Birds suddenly find themselves reeling a bit. Playing on a second consecutive night against a rested team, Seattle seemed to wear down as the night went on.
“It was a disappointing effort after a frustrating game yesterday,” coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We have work to do. I thought the things we corrected all week, guys were willing to pay a price. We do it for one game and we went back to cutting corners and not wanting to be strong on the puck … letting them out-battle us.”
After the game the players were echoing the sentiments of their coach.
“We were just giving up too many shots, I think, in our D-zone,” Jaimen Yakubowski said. “We’re having lots of casual moments. We have spurts and then we off the pedal there and I think that cost us tonight – we didn’t play a full 60 minutes.”
The tide of this one turned after a solid first period when Regina (11-9-0-0) took the game over, erased a 2-1 Seattle lead and the T-Birds’ frustration grew. In the end this one looked a lot like the efforts put in last week when Seattle lacked energy and didn’t compete.
Seattle’s problems seemed to begin from the start. Perhaps still recovering from Friday night’s game, the T-Birds came out of the gates a bit flat and were on their heels. Regina out-shot them 10-1 early on and got the night’s first goal on a fortuitous bounce. As the puck bounded towards the Seattle goal it bounded off Morgan Klimchuk and past Mumaugh.
Seattle eventually got its game in gear and tied the game after a pretty pass by Scott Eansor to Alex Delnov. Delnov made one move and was in the Pats’ zone all by himself. He made another nice deke to fool Regina goalie Dawson MacAuley and tie the game.
Seattle got some energy from that and began to tilt the ice a bit in its favor. The Thunderbirds got great shifts from Branden Troock and Mathew Barzal. The two worked together to give Seattle the lead after Barzal muscled the puck away from a defender down low and flipped it to Troock in the slot. The big power forward slammed the puck past MacAuley to give Seattle a lead.
After 20 minutes it seemed that the T-Birds might be on their way to picking up two points. It was in the second, however, that things changed.
Regina took control of the game from the second’s opening faceoff as they started to pour on the shots. Regina out-shot the T-Birds 14-8 in the second period and if not for some big saves by Mumaugh the game could have been lost.
The Pats tied the game on a one-time power-play goal by Klimchuk, his second of the game. It was the one shot of the period that Mumaugh had no chance at.
If anything could surmise the Seattle losing streak it might be the third period. In perhaps the game’s biggest turning point, Justin Hickman was called for a 5-minute major boarding penalty 3 minutes into the final frame. The penalty happened behind the Regina net and it was unclear what Hickman did to warrant the call, which left Regina’s Tye Hand down on the ice. Hand would have to be assisted to the dressing room and Hickman’s night was done as he also was given a game misconduct.
After replays of the hit were shown on the screen at the ShoWare Center, the call became even more confusing. The call was made by the official at center ice, while the official skating close to the two players made no call.
“I saw the replay and from what I hear he (Hickman) let up,” Konowalchuk said of the game’s biggest turning point. “The replay I saw he let up and hit him from the side. It didn’t look like that vicious of a hit to me.”
Seattle and Mumaugh hung tough, keeping the Pats at bay despite several good chances and were able to kill off the penalty. What should have been a big momentum boost turned the other way, however, as Braden Christoffer was able to charge in on net and score on a nice back-handed shot to give the Pats the lead.
“We gained a lot of momentum off that (killing the penalty),” Yakubowski said. “For them to get one right away, that’s tough on us. We were still trying to stick with it there.”
That goal deflated the T-Birds as they were unable to generate any push. The Pats put the game out of reach 3 minutes later when Boston Leier put back a rebound on a power play to extend the Pats’ lead and send Seattle to its fourth straight loss.
Adam Henry scored late for Seattle to give them some hope with two minutes left but they couldn’t get the equalizer and the loss was sealed when Kyle Burroughs scored on the empty net.
Seattle now has to find what was working earlier in the season. In three out of the four losses, the story has been similar. The team hasn’t competed hard enough, at least not to the satisfaction of its head coach.
“We have confidence in our team,” Yakubowski said. “We’re obviously disappointed in the last couple games and we’re obviously going to have to learn from the mistakes here going forward to turn this thing around.”
Things don’t get easy for the Thunderbirds this coming week as they have to travel to Portland on Tuesday before heading up to Victoria for back-to-back games next weekend. If Seattle wants to avoid a prolonged losing streak it will have to find a way to right the ship in a hurry.
“It’s just too many passengers,” Konowalchuk said. “We didn’t have everybody going.”
• Seattle played this game a bit shorthanded on defense. Ethan Bear was a scratch after getting injured in Friday night’s game and Evan Wardley continued to serve his four-game suspension. Konowalchuk had no update on Bear’s status and Wardley will be eligible to return Friday in Victoria.
• Penalties were a big part of Saturday’s loss. Seattle gave Regina five power plays, including the 5-minute major, and the Pats converted twice. The Thunderbirds were 1 for 4 on their power play.
• Seattle now finds itself in last place in the U.S. Division after Tri-City beat Everett Saturday night in Kennewick.
• The four-game losing streak is the longest of the season for the Thunderbirds. They have given up five goals in each of the four losses.
Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.