Thunderbirds take down Victoria Royals in 5-0 shutout
KENT – About the only drama in Saturday’s game for the Thunderbirds was whether goalie Matt Berlin would pick up his first career shutout.
The T-Birds had built a dominant 5-0 lead on the Victoria Royals, but as the clock worked under two minutes, Seattle took a penalty. Turner Ottenbreit was called for holding the opponent’s stick and suddenly, Berlin’s shutout was in jeopardy.
“I was just thinking ‘Oh Otto, you’re making it tough on me here,’” Berlin said with a laugh afterwards. “I was hoping it would go the other way so we could get a power play in the last two.”
As they had done on the previous three Victoria power plays, the T-Birds killed the last one off to get Berlin his shutout and pick up their second straight win.
Seattle (13-9-1-1) controlled the game from the start as Mathew Barzal had a big night, scoring a goal and adding three assists. Five different T-Birds scored and Berlin made 19 saves for this third win on the year and second in two nights.
The T-Birds blitzed Victoria (14-11-2-0) in the first period by out shooting the Royals 17-6 and scoring four times. It was the latest in what is becoming a string of fast starts for them.
“Any time you can push the momentum right off the bat, it helps a lot,” Barzal said. “We’ve been fortunate to be scoring the first goal lately.”
Seattle has scored first in three of its last four games and have had the majority of shots in the first period. Saturday was no different as they took the game’s first nine shots and got on the board first when Barzal fed Ethan Bear for a power-play goal to make it 1-0 just under seven minutes in.
“Guys must be preparing right,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “You’ve got to be ready when that puck drops, that’s not the time to start thinking about the game. It’s the morning skate or the night before, it’s constant preparation.”
With the early lead, the T-Birds kept the pressure on the Royals.
A few minutes later Barzal stole a puck in the neutral zone and got it to a speeding Ryan Gropp, who would rip a wrist shot past Victoria goalie Griffen Outhouse. Barzal’s hot hand continued as he then found defenseman Jarret Tyszka at the point for another goal to make it 3-0.
That would end the night for Outhouse, who was replaced by Dylan Myskiw after making 10 saves.
Seattle’s first three goals were set up by Barzal, who notched three assists for the second straight night. His line with Gropp and Keegan Kolesar took a few games to get going, but in the last two they have been Seattle’s best.
“I think we were getting the chances before but we just weren’t capitalizing,” Barzal said. “Whenever that happens you start to question yourself or the shots. I just kept telling Groppy and Keegs to keep shooting, don’t ever pass up a shot.”
Konowalcuk likes what he’s seen the last couple of nights out of what should be his top line. He says it has more to do with than just their skill level.
“Their work ethic for 60 minutes, it’s there the last two games,” the coach said. “At other times it was sporadic, and they took their compete to another level, all three of them.”
Not to be outdone by the Barzal line, Scott Eansor would make a nice pass to free up Sami Moilanen late in the first period. The Finn would cut through the zone and beat Myskiw with a wrist shot for his second goal in as many nights.
With the 4-0 rout on, the T-Birds didn’t let up to start the second period.
They were given nine seconds of a five-on-three power play in the first minute of the second, and Barzal made the Royals pay. With the penalty killers backing off him, he moved into the high slot and fired a slap shot for his first goal of the season.
There has been a lot written from Kent to New York about Barzal shooting more, and he showed that he has a good shot.
“A lane kind of opened up,” he said of the goal. “and I’m trying to average five shots a game. I saw a corner so I took it.”
The T-Birds didn’t score any more after Barzal put them up 5-0, but that doesn’t mean they let up. Every line played hard the rest of the way and players sacrificed their bodies to get in front of Victoria shots. If you didn’t know they were up by five goals, you would never have guessed by how hard they were pushing.
“Blocking shots on the penalty kill, for pride and playing the way we need to for 60 minutes,” Konowalchuk said. “It was fun to watch the guys play that hard. That’s what you want to try and get to. Where you’re just playing the right way because you need to play the right way.”
With the game all but decided, the focus turned to Berlin.
Due to injuries to Rylan Toth and Carl Stankowski, Berlin has been thrown into the fire. He hasn’t flinched, however, and has won all three starts he’s been asked to make.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Berlin said. “Injuries happen and it’s part of the game, but I just want to keep going with it if I can. You wait for these opportunities as a goalie and you have to make the most of them when they come.”
Seattle is now 6-1-1-0 in its last eight games and picked up six points over a stretch of four games in four nights. With a couple of nights off now, the T-Birds will next be in action on Wednesday as they head to Kamloops for their first meeting with the Blazers.
• Berlin continues to impress. The win pushes his record to 3-0 this year with a goals-against average of 1.32 and a .947 save percentage. He’s getting goal support as well as Seattle has scored five goals in each of his three starts.
• Barzal wasn’t the only T-Bird with multiple points on Saturday. Moilanen added two assists to his goal, as did Bear.
• The win was the seventh straight by Seattle over Victoria.
• The T-Birds have out-shot their opponents in the first period in six of their last seven games. They are averaging over four goals per game in their last eight contests.