T-Birds notebook: Secondary scoring and ex-Birds soaring
When the lineup sheet was released for Seattle’s game with the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday, there were some raised eyebrows.
Thunderbirds’ head coach Matt O’Dette had mixed up his forward lines in an attempt to balance the scoring amongst the entire lineup. Most notably, he split up Nolan Volcan, Donovan Neuls, and Sami Moilanen – the trio that had made up his top line.
There were two main reasons for these changes.
“We’re trying to balance out the lines a little more and try to create some chemistry,” he said after the Moose Jaw game. “We’ve got seven road games coming up so if we balance the lines a little more it will be hard to zero in on our one line.”
Seattle hit the road Wednesday as it makes its annual swing through the Eastern Conference. The Thunderbirds will face all six Central Division teams, starting Friday when they visit the Kootenay Ice.
With the home team getting last change, O’Dette won’t be able to dictate match ups and by leaving the Neuls line intact, it would allow the opponent to constantly put its top defenders out against them. By mixing up the lines, there won’t be a chance to completely shut down that trio.
Along with that, the Thunderbirds are still looking to find some consistent secondary scoring.
In ten games this season, that top line has scored 12 of the Thunderbirds 31 goals and average 1.03 points-per-game. The previous ‘second’ line of Dillon Hamaliuk, Mathew Wedman, and Noah Philp have combined for six goals in those ten games.
Seattle needs to find more consistent scoring and thus, the need to try mixing up the lines.
Hamiluk scored twice in Sunday’s 4-3 win at Everett and Philp added one of his own which are good signs moving forward, but the key is getting consistency.
O’Dette has used his new lines for about a game-and-a-half – he reset them late in Sunday’s game – and there have been positive signs. In the two games with the new lines, Seattle picked up 32 and 31 shots which is above its season average of 25.5.
If not for some fine goaltending by Moose Jaw’s Brody Willms on Saturday, the T-Birds may have scored more than just once. They created a number of good scoring chances but just couldn’t finish, something they did better at on Sunday, when they scored four times.
Here’s the latest news surrounding the T-Birds:
Volcan off to good start
The 19-year-old Volcan is off to one of the better starts in his career. He has two goals on nine points and is averaging just under a point-per-game. That has him on pace to break his career high in points of 44 that he set last season.
“I’m happy with (the start),” Volcan said last week. “The last three years usually I start off pretty slow but it’s nice to get some early, especially when it’s the time of the year to do it. As the season goes on, it gets harder and harder to get points. Wins are the most important obviously, but it feels good.”
Volcan didn’t pick up his ninth point last year until the team’s 15th game of the season. This year, he has the extra burden of being expected to be one of the leading scorers on the club, as well as taking on the top lines from the opponent night in and night out.
Ex T-Birds soaring in pro ranks
The six core players that left Seattle for pro hockey this season have been having an impact at the next level.
Of those guys, nobody has exploded onto the pro scene like Scott Eansor. The gritty center, among the more popular players in Seattle history, is playing with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers – a New York Islanders affiliate – of the American Hockey League. Eansor has scored seven goals in his first six professional games, which as him tied for first among the league’s goal scorers.
Not be out done, Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders scored his first NHL goal last week in a game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers and all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Barzal has chipped in two assists as well and is quickly earning more playing time with New York.
Ethan Bear is off to a good start with the Baskerfield Condors of the AHL. The 2017 WHL Defenseman of the Year has two markers and four points in his first five games. Alexander True is with the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL and he also has two goals and four points.
Ryan Gropp has one goal, scored while short handed during his first pro game, for the Hartford Wolfpack. Keegan Kolesar has yet to score with Chicago of the AHL but did spend three games in the ECHL with the Quad City Mallards where he scored a goal and two assists in three games, before being recalled back to the AHL.