Portland hands Thunderbirds a 6-1 defeat to spoil their home opener
KENT – Saturday was supposed to be a night of celebration for the Thunderbirds, but the Portland Winterhawks spoiled the party.
Seattle raised its championship banners for last season’s WHL U.S. Division and Western Conference titles before 6,138 ShoWare Center fans, only to have the visitors skate away with a 6-1 decision. The T-Birds suffered from some self-inflicted wounds as they took too many penalties and gave up four power-play goals.
“Four penalty-kill goals, I mean that’s not good enough,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said after the game. “We have spent some time on it but we’ve got to execute it. … They kicked our butts on the specialty teams and we’ve got to get better in that area.”
Portland was led by Keoni Texiera, who had a career-high four assists, and Ryan Hughes, who added a goal and two assists. Winterhawks goalie Cole Kehler made 25 saves to pick up his second win of the season.
The Winterhawks built a 4-0 lead on the strength of three power-play tallies to start the contest as the T-Birds dug themselves a hole that they could not climb out of.
Conversely, the T-Birds were scoreless on seven power-play attempts and are still in search of their first extra-skater goal of the year. Seattle had one of the top power-play units in the league last year but have started the year 0 for 11 with the man advantage.
“Our special teams were terrible, bottom line,” Seattle captain Scott Eansor said. “We’ve got to get the job done. I hold myself responsible and accountable for a lot of that and I think so do a lot of the guys.”
Seattle deployed a number of different personnel combinations on the power play Saturday night but none of them worked. The T-Birds are three games into the season and still looking for the right mix.
“We’re mixing different positions, we’re practicing a lot,” Konowalchuk said. “It’s not that complicated, get it to the point, get it to the middle and shoot. That should be your first objective and we’re not doing that.”
Not only did the T-Birds fail to convert but they allowed a short-handed goal late when Keegan Iverson converted on a penalty shot while the Winterhawks were killing off Seattle’s seventh power play.
The penalties started in the first period and Seattle fell behind after Portland’s Skyler McKenzie and Colton Veloso both converted power-play chances. The T-Birds were able to generate some offensive push while playing even strength but could not get the goals back.
Playing five on five was when Seattle was at its best Saturday night but it fell too far behind to make up ground.
“Five on five I thought we were fine,” Konowalchuk said. “We had some chances there. … I thought some of our veterans didn’t play a good enough game. I thought some of our young guys outplayed our veteran guys, which is a bit of a short-term issue we’ve got to take care of here.”
Iverson would score an even-strength goal midway through the second period to build the visitors’ lead to three and then Seattle fell victim to another power-play goal. Hughes would beat Rylan Toth to give his squad a 4-0 lead.
That would end Toth’s night as the 20-year-old netminder acquired before the start of the season has had a rough start to his Seattle career. In two games against Portland he has allowed 10 goals. The substitution was not reflective of Toth’s play, as Konowalchuk was quick to point out.
“He’s a veteran guy,” Konowalchuk said of Toth. “He knows what goals he should have and it’s a team effort. He’ll be fine.”
Alexander True would finally get Seattle going late in the second period when he took a pass from Donovan Neuls and beat Kehler with a wrist shot. It was True’s second goal in as many nights and snapped a stretch going back to the opening-night game between the two clubs that saw Portland score eight unanswered goals.
Any hope of an epic comeback by the T-Birds were quickly doused as they took another penalty to start the third period and gave up a goal to Alex Overhardt to make it 5-1. Iverson would add the late penalty shot to finalize the scoring and give Portland its second win over Seattle.
The T-Birds will get back to work as they prepare to face the Victoria Royals at home this coming Friday.
“It starts with a good week of practice,” Eansor said. “It’s confidence. We’ve got to get some life. No one has their head down, not at all. We know what we’re capable of.”
• Seattle won nine of the 12 matchups with Portland last season but are off to a bad start this season. The T-Birds have lost twice while being outscored 13-4.
• Portland’s power play is clicking at a pretty high rate. It has converted 7 of 14 attempts with six of those goals coming against Seattle.
• Konowalchuk criticized his veteran players saying that he felt some of them were content with Friday night’s win in Vancouver. “We know our veterans and I believe in them,” the coach said. “They’re good hockey players and good character guys so I’m not worried about big picture, I’m just not happy with tonight.”
• The T-Birds featured the top penalty kill in the league last year but are struggling to start the season. They have only killed four of the 10 power plays they’ve faced. “Our PK was No. 1 in the league last year and there’s no excuse,” Eansor said after the game.