Portland squeaks by T-Birds 2-1
KENT – There are many levels of frustration in life and in sports. The Thunderbirds know this all too well as they have suffered some frustrating losses during the first half of the WHL season.
Saturday night at the ShoWare Center, the T-Birds found themselves in their 14th one-goal game, coming up short 2-1 against Portland. Miles Koules scored the game-winner late in the third period to give the Winterhawks their first win against Seattle this season.
It was another game where the T-Birds could argue they were the better team despite the result.
“To come away without anything there, it’s frustrating,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I thought our guys for the most part put a real good effort in. At the end of the day they capitalized twice, we only capitalized once.”
The T-Birds have played a lot of frustrating games like this. They out shot the Winterhawks 35-25 and generated more chances than Portland did. They just couldn’t find the net.
A night after getting shut out, the T-Birds only managed to score once on Portland goalie Brendan Burke, who made 34 stops.
“Their goalie played well,” Konowalchuk said. “We had some point-blank chances we need to capitalize on. I know our guys are trying, everybody wants to score.”
Friday night in Spokane, Konowalchuk lamented his team’s slow start. The T-Birds got the message and started strong against the Winterhawks on Saturday. They were aggressive on the forecheck and hit every Portland player that was on the ice.
At the end of the first period they had out-shot Portland 12-8 but had nothing to show for it.
“I think we battled hard tonight,” Justin Hickman said. “We generated a lot of scoring chances but at the end of the day they got two and we got one.”
Portland opened the scoring early in the second period on the power play. Chase De Leo fired a shot from the face-off circle to the left of goalie Taran Kozun that somehow squeezed through the short side. It was De Leo’s 17th of the year and was yet another power-play goal allowed by the T-Birds.
Seattle has allowed 88 goals this year and 28 of them have come on the power play. That’s a pretty high disparity as most nights the T-Birds are stingy when playing five-on-five.
The T-Birds fought back to tie the game when Ryan Gropp sent a cross-ice pass that Keegan Kolesar one-timed past Burke. It was the big winger’s 10th goal and his third in his last four games.
Seattle got some momentum from the game-tying goal but could not find the go-ahead score.
“A lot of good things other than we’ve got to keep working to put the puck in the net,” Konowalchuk said. “If we keep putting efforts like that and playing like that we’ll get better results.”
At times this year Seattle has not generated enough traffic in front of the oppositions’ goalie, allowing him to make easy saves. That was something the T-Birds struggled with on Friday night while being shut out. There was some improvement against Portland but they still only managed the one goal.
“We’ve got to get pucks upstairs when we’re in tight,” Konowalchuk said. “At times we had traffic … we’ve got to keep working at it.”
Struggling to score only adds to the frustration in games like Saturday’s.
“Just have to bear down,” Hickman said. “Seems like that question comes up a lot this year with us scoring goals. You’ve just got to put pressure on yourself.”
The lack of scoring kept the game tight and in close games, one miscue can cost you. At the 12:39 mark of the third period, Portland capitalized on such a mistake.
The T-Birds failed to clear the puck out of their zone and turned it over at their blue line. Blake Heinrich fed the puck to Koules, who was all alone in front of Kozun. The 20-year-old got Kozun down on the ice and lifted a top-shelf backhander in the net. It was his 13th goal of the season and sealed the T-Birds’ fate.
“We let a player get behind us there,” Konowalchuk said. “There was a turnover on the blue line, which I thought most of the night we limited. That one, mistakes happen and they capitalized on it and that was the difference in the game.”
The T-Birds have now lost two in a row and look to end the first half of the season on a positive note Tuesday night when they host the Victoria Royals.
“Victoria, not too far ahead of us in the standings, chasing them down.” Hickman said. “Always a good physical game against them. It’ll be good to have them in here and then have a nice nine-day break.”
• With the World Junior Championship camps underway, Saturday night’s game was missing some big firepower. Seattle was still without Shea Theodore, Flroian Baltram and Alexander True to go along with the injured Mat Barzal. Portland was without its top-two scorers in Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
• Saturday night was the fourth meeting of the season between the two I-5 rivals and the visiting team has won all four games.
• Ryan Gropp had a point-streak stopped on Friday but he picked up an assist on Saturday and now has points in five out of his last six games.
• The T-Birds gave up the one power-play goal but their penalty kill was strong the rest of the night. Portland ended the night 1 for 4 with the man advantage and didn’t generate any other chances. Seattle was 0 for 2 on the night with the power play.
The T-Birds have scored 81 goals this year, which is the lowest total in the Western Conference and second lowest in the WHL. Only the Lethbridge Hurricanes have fewer tallies on the year with 70.