Thunderbirds blast Prince George Cougars 9-2 to get back on track

Jan 30, 2015, 10:30 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2015, 3:12 pm

After a frustrating loss on Wednesday the Seattle Thunderbirds found the perfect tonic to getting back on track Friday night. They were in Prince George to face a reeling Cougars club, and Seattle routed them 9-2 at the CN Centre.

When you score nine goals – a season high for the T-Birds – there are going to be a lot of offensive stars. Mathew Barzal had four assists while line-mate Roberts Lipsbergs chipped in two goals along with two assists. Scott Eansor also had a strong game and picked up his seventh of the year to go along with two helpers.

“Very good response from our team,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “They played a smart game right from the start … Guys were pretty much on board managing the puck and they got rewarded for it.”

The loss was the 11th straight for the Cougars, who are in the middle of a frustrating tail spin. After a promising start to the season they now find themselves in the cellar of the Western Conference.

Friday’s win was the first of the year for rookie goalie Logan Flodell, who was making only his third career WHL start. He made 21 saves and got some help from his mates, who only allowed one shot against in the second period. Flodell was recalled by the T-Birds early in the week to replace Danny Mumaugh, who decided to retire from hockey.

“He played a good game and looked pretty confident in there,” Konowalchuk said of Flodell. “It was good to see our guys really play hard for him and give him the best chance to win. He’s got a real positive attitude right now and he’s excited to be here.”

Seattle is also excited to have Mathew Barzal back in the lineup. Playing in his fifth game since returning from a knee injury, he had yet to find the score sheet. Friday night he was a force. He was strong on the puck, he drove Seattle’s offense and set up his teammates with pinpoint passes. He had been playing this way since his return but he was either robbed by the opposing goalie or his teammates couldn’t finish.

Friday it all clicked.

“That definitely makes you feel better when you can get on the score sheet, and he did it in a big way,” Konowalchuk said about Barzal. “They were important points for us, they were key plays early in the game. When he touched that puck today it was good, he was making plays happen.”

It was the second time in Barzal’s career that he has collected four assists, and he tied a career high for points in a game. He got the T-Birds going when he feathered a cross-ice pass to a streaking Lipsbergs in the Cougars’ zone. Lipsbergs, who has a high-end shot, unleashed a wrist shot that goalie Ty Edmonds had no chance at. That goal came at the 11:13 mark and was Lipsbergs third of the year.

The Cougars would score two minutes later on a power play when Jansen Harkins sent a nice pass to the side of the Seattle goal where Brad Morrison tapped it in.

That tied the game and was the only moment where the game was in doubt.

Seattle would score three more times before the first was over. Ryan Gropp deked Edmonds for his 19th after a nice feed from Eansor. That was followed by another Barzal-to-Lipsbergs connection, and the T-Birds capped it off after Keegan Kolesar found Eansor with a no-look, back-hand pass right in front of the Cougars’ net. Eansor blasted it home to give Seattle an insurmountable lead.

When the dust settled, the T-Birds led 4-1 and had chased Edmonds. Tavin Grant came in relief after the second Lipsbergs goal. All the problems that plagued the T-Birds in their loss to Kamloops on Wednesday were gone on Friday. Seattle managed the puck better, didn’t turn it over and played hard all night.

Along with Barzal, Eansor had another strong game. Not only did he pick up three points, he was tenacious on the puck and seemingly won every face off he took.

“Probably the last five or six games he’s had his best stretch of hockey,” Konowalchuk said of Eansor. “It’s nice to see and nice to see him get rewarded offensively.”

The T-Birds would score four more times in the second period on goals by Shea Theodore, Turner Ottenbreit, and two by Kolesar. Seattle held Prince George to one shot in that period thanks to good defense and a serious lack of discipline by the Cougars. Prince George had two players ejected from the game, with both Josh Connolly and Josh Anderson assessed five-minute majors and game misconducts.

Seattle and Prince George don’t play too often during the year but the game had bad blood most of the night. There were four scraps in the first period and one came from an unlikely source. After Kirk Bear took out Barzal, Nick Holowko jumped in to challenge Bear. Holowko is not known for dropping the gloves but standing up for a teammate can resonate with the rest of the team.

“It’s huge,” Konowalchuk said of Holowko’s fight. “They had a couple of guys running around and Holowko, as soon as Barzal got hit, jumped right in. That was great courage.”

With the two clubs set to meet again Saturday night it will be interesting to see if Connolly and Anderson face a suspension from the league. The WHL reviews all game misconduct penalties to see if they warrant such action.

With an 8-1 lead the T-Birds cruised through the third period, although they did pick up their ninth goal when Calvin Spencer snapped a shot from the high slot for his fourth of the year. Prince George would score a cosmetic goal from Tyler Mrkonjic late in the third.

With the big win and a quick turn around Konowalchuk stressed the importance of avoiding a let down.

“We’ve got to address it and avoid it,” he said. “That team is not going to go away. They’re going to regroup and try to get going. We’ve got to realize that if you win by one goal or seven it’s just two points. We’ve got to get going again tomorrow.”

Notes

• Flodell is very familiar with the Prince George Cougars – all three of his WHL starts have been against them. He is now 2-1 and Friday was the second time that the T-Birds have supported him with nine markers. In his WHL debut on Jan. 7, 2014, he won a crazy 9-7 decision against the Cougars.

• Theodore had a point taken away from him after a scoring change on Wednesday, but he scored his eighth goal Friday to bring him to back within two points of Craig Channell as the franchise’s top scoring defenseman.

• Face offs were huge for Seattle on Friday. While the league doesn’t track face off statistics, to the naked eye it appeared that Seattle was dominant in the dot. Most notably was Eansor, who can be one of the best face-off men in the league. Konowalchuk said that the face offs were something that the club had been working on.

• With the offensive outburst there were some good plus/minus numbers for Seattle. The plus/minus is a misleading stat, but in blowout games it’s fun to look at. Defenseman Evan Wardley gets the crown on Friday with a team leading plus-4 along with an assist on the first Seattle goal. On the other side of the ledger, Prince George’s Joseph Carvalho was tagged with a minus-4.

Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.

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