T-Birds notebook: Looking for goals, identity and the power play
The Seattle Thunderbirds got a break in the schedule this week and it came at a much-needed time.
Seattle has lost its last three games and is struggling to find the net. The Thunderbirds were shut out for the first time this season, Saturday in Prince George, and have only scored twice in their last three games.
“It was frustrating for sure, not being able to score,” Seattle captain Nolan Volcan said Wednesday. “At the same time, you have to take the positives out of it and if you’re getting the opportunities, eventually they’ll start going in. It’s better than not even getting a sniff. We’re creating out there, we just need to start finishing.”
Its not often you can find good trends in a 2-0 shutout, but Saturday’s loss in Prince George wasn’t all bad.
Seattle out shot Prince George 37-27 and head coach Matt O’Dette says the team generated over 20 good scoring chances. Prince George goalie Taylor Gauthier was excellent, and the 2019 NHL Draft prospect picked up his first WHL shut out by kicking out all 37 Seattle bids.
“I think we just need to start hitting the net,” Volcan added. “I think we’re getting good chances every game and if you miss the net there’s no chance for it to go in. We just need to start hitting the net and then we’ll get some bounces and the confidence will come from that.”
On the season, the Thunderbirds have scored the fewest goals in the U.S. Division and their 3.27 goals-per-game is fourth in the division.
Seattle has shown it can score this year, however.
Over the first eight games the Thunderbirds played, they were averaging 4.50 goals-per-game. That has dropped significantly over the last seven games, down to 1.86 goals-per. They’ll be looking to get back to the scoring they displayed earlier in the season.
“It definitely adds to our confidence knowing that we’ve done it before,” Volcan said. “We just have to figure out how to get back there and I’m sure we will soon. All the guys are hungry and excited to play. We’ve been on a bit of a slide lately, so we’re excited to get back out there and starting to turn the ship around.”
The Thunderbirds are going to have to find their scoring touch without center Noah Philp. The 20-year-old was hurt during Friday’s game in Prince George. He did not play Saturday and was listed on this week’s injury report as out week-to-week.
That’s a big loss for Seattle and its offense. Philp was off to a great start with a team best nine goals and second best 16 points. He also manned Seattle’s second power-play unit and is a key penalty killer.
Seattle has some options to step into Philp’s second-line center position and Samuel Huo could be a likely candidate to do so. After playing on the wing early in the season, he has played the last four games at center and has found the back of the net twice.
Searching for an identity
After Seattle’s 4-1 loss to Prince George on Friday, O’Dette said that his team was suffering from a bit of an ‘identity crisis’ and stressed the need to reestablish the type of team they want to be.
O’Dette wants the Thunderbirds to be a physical team that competes hard and is tough to play against. He wasn’t happy with the way his team responded over the weekend in Prince George and its somewhat of a carryover from the games the past week.
After a disappointing effort against Kamloops a week ago, O’Dette said he felt the Blazers ‘bullied’ the Thunderbirds on the ice.
“We’ve always been a tough team,” Volcan said about the team’s identity. “We go out there and play hard, play a full 60 minutes. I think we’ve had spurts of that this year, but we haven’t played a full game with it, or back-to-back games. We have to go out there and play our style, every minute of the game, every game. We can’t be taking games off, or periods off.”
With a week of practice, its safe to say finding that identity again has been stressed.
Obviously, there aren’t drills to do to raise a team’s toughness or compete level, but you can bet that it’s addressed during film review and in conversations with the players before, during, and after practice.
A big factor in Seattle’s recent goal scoring drought has been the power play.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Thunderbirds were among the league leaders on the power play. But, they have failed to score a power-play goal in their last four games and are in an 0-for-22 slump. That’s dropped them down to 18th in the league.
Losing Philp from the second unit isn’t going to help as he was a vital part of the power play and has six power-play goals already this year.
Friday night, Seattle will host the Kelowna Rockets, who have the 18th ranked penalty kill in the league. That’s encouraging but, the Rockets have fared much better on the road, where they are ranked fourth on the penalty kill with an 84-percent success rate.
Things won’t get easier Saturday against the Everett Silvertips, who are second in the WHL in killing penalties on the road.