T-Birds notebook: Power play on the mend and Team Canada invite
Nov 29, 2016, 8:53 PM
Without a doubt, the Thunderbirds are in the middle of their best streak of games so far this season. When they face off with the Kamloops Blazers on Wednesday night they will do so sporting a 6-1-1-0 record over their last eight contests.
The obvious change for the T-Birds has been the return of Mathew Barzal, as well as Keegan Kolesar, to the lineup – a move that occurred eight games ago.
Those two have reunited with Ryan Gropp to form a line that combined for 91 goals last year and is a big reason for the team’s up-tick in scoring of late.
Barzal’s return is starting to pay dividends on the power play as well. Seattle had struggled early with the man advantage but Barzal’s return, along with a slight tweak by head coach Steve Konowalchuk has the power play looking better.
Starting in Portland two Saturday’s ago, Konowalchuk has deployed Barzal at the point to start the power play. While he’s starting the shift out there, he’s not there to blast slappers from long range.
Instead, the move has allowed Barzal to view the ice, have room to maneuver, distribute or shoot. So far, it is working like a charm.
Seattle scored two power-play goals that night in Portland – with Barzal assisting on one of them – and in the five games since, Seattle has gone 5-for-18 with the man advantage. That 20-percent success rate would have Seattle tied for 11th in the league on the power play, instead of their current 18th ranking.
Even when they haven’t scored, the power play has looked dangerous.
If not for some Carter Hart heroics in the first period last Wednesday in Everett, the T-Birds would have added another goal as they blitzed the reigning CHL Goalie of the Year.
Kolesar getting stronger
One noticeable absence from the power play has been Kolesar. The big winger is still working his way back to full strength after missing a month due to a hernia. Normally a big net presence, Kolesar was a mainstay on the power play last season where he scored nine times and added 11 assists.
There are signs that he’s getting back to being 100 percent.
It started Tuesday against Edmonton on a shift where he stiff-armed an Oil Kings defender in a way that would make Marshawn Lynch proud. He then scored his first goal of the year Friday night in Tri City and Saturday against Victoria was a physical presence all night.
He even got a shift on the power play against the Royals where he stood his ground in front of the goal despite some heavy stick work by Victoria defenseman Ryan Gagnon. It will be interesting to see if Konowalchuk starts to work the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect into the top power-play unit more.
Barzal gets invite from Team Canada
It came as no surprise Tuesday morning when Barzal was officially invited by Hockey Canada to their World Junior training camp. Barzal was one of Canada’s top players in last year’s tournament and would appear to be a lock for this year’s squad.
The training camp begins Dec. 10th in Blainville, Que. and the team will be selected in time for the World Junior Championships that start on Dec. 25th. The Tournament will be held in both Montreal and Toronto.
In his eight games since returning to the T-Birds from the NHL, the center has one goal and 11 assists. His next assist will move him into third all time in franchise history for assists, surpassing Tyler Metcalfe with 157 helpers.
No other Seattle players were invited to the camp. Kolesar played in Hockey Canada’s summer camp but with the injury situation he had to deal with to start the season, the omission from the winter camp was somewhat predictable. Defenseman Ethan Bear’s omission continues to be confounding.
Everett’s Hart and Noah Juulsen were the only other U.S. Division players invited – both are expected to make the team. Former T-Bird first-round Bantam draft pick Dante Fabbro was also invited to the camp. Fabbro, a defenseman, was drafted this past June in the first round of the NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators and is currently playing for Boston University.
The week ahead
The T-Birds will play three games this week, starting Wednesday night in Kamloops. Seattle bested the Blazers in all four meetings last year but will have their hands full with a tough goalie. Connor Ingram will be between the pipes for Kamloops and there are some that will argue he is better than Hart in Everett. The third round pick of the Tamp Bay Lighting is off to a 11-9-1-0 start with a goals-against of 2.19 and a save percentage of .932.
Friday night the Kootenay Ice will make their first visit to the ShoWare Center in over a year. Its been another tough start for the Ice and they come into the week with a 5-16-5-1 record but are not a team the T-Birds can afford to overlook. They have allowed the most goals in the WHL at a 4.29 per-game average so the T-Birds will need to apply pressure early and often.
Saturday night will be big match up with the suddenly hot Medicine Hat Tigers. The Tigers lead the WHL in points and are currently sitting on a nine-game win streak. The Tigers are fast and can score a ton of goals. They lead the league in goal scoring and feature seven players who have topped the 10-goal mark so far this season. This game will feature a ton of speed on both sides and won’t be pleasant for the goaltenders.