T-Birds blanked by Americans 4-0

Dec 13, 2014, 12:11 AM | Updated: 8:15 am

By Andrew Eide

Most nights the game of hockey is decided after 60 hard-fought minutes of tough checking and tense moments. Other nights, it only takes 37 seconds to decide the outcome.

It was the latter Friday night for the Thunderbirds as they dropped a listless 4-0 decision to the Tri City Americans at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

It started with a slashing call on Calvin Spencer, just under six minutes into the game. A few moments later Jerret Smith got his stick up on an Americans player that drew blood. That resulted in a four-minute double minor and gave Tri City (17-13-0-1) a lengthy 1:37 of a five-on-three advantage.

“We weren’t ready, that’s what led to the penalties,” Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. “If you’re ready you don’t take two penalties by not controlling your stick.”

The Americans cashed in on the two-man advantage as Richard Nejezschleb banged a puck past Taran Kozun from the door step. Still on the power play, the Americans struck again 37 seconds later. Parker Bowles tipped in a point shot from Beau McCue for his 10th goal of the year.

Just like that, Seattle (13-14-2-2) was down two goals and in trouble.Konowalchuk continued the theme of his team’s lack of competitiveness.

“We weren’t ready to kill the penalties,” he said. “We didn’t want to block shots or get in the passing lanes, and again if you’re ready you don’t take those penalties.”

Seattle was reeling after the two goals and if not for Kozun and a goal post the lead could have been bigger. Seattle was not able to put together any response and ended the period being out shot by Tri City 14-2. They struggled to manage the puck which led to turnovers and stymied any offensive push they thought about generating.

“They got those goals and then we weren’t going and they were in the first period,” Konowalchuk said. “If you’re not ready to play you’re not bearing down on pucks, you’re not getting open for other people. You try to make an easy play and you end up throwing the puck away.”

The T-Birds played somewhat better in the second period and were able to get some puck possession going. The problem is that there was little to no traffic in front of Tri City goalie Evan Sarthau, who made 17 saves for his second shut out of the season.

“We didn’t work into the trenches to get puck through and get bodies through…it was pretty easy for the goalie,” Konowalchuk said.

Sarthau, who hails from Black Diamond, Wa., got the start because Eric Comrie is with Team Canada for the World Junior Championships. It was the fourth career start against Seattle for Sarthau — who grew up watching the T-Birds play at the ShoWare Center — and his first win.

After a scoreless second period the T-Birds still had a chance to get back in it — only trailing by two goals. After a near miss two minutes into the third period by Scott Eansor the Americans rushed the puck down the ice where Vladislav Lukin beat Kozun to extend the lead to three. Kozun made 22 saves on the night and did not get a lot of support from the skaters in front of him.

That took what remaining steam the T-Birds had left and for good measure Lucas Nickles potted an empty net goal with one second left in the game.

The T-Birds were missing some players of their own thanks to the World Junior Championships. Forwards Florian Baltram and Alexander True, along with defenseman Shea Theodore were all out of the lineup for the T-Birds. That forced Konowalchuk to put together new lines up front.

They failed to score a goal so he will have to take a longer look at how he’s deploying his group moving forward.

“I thought (Nick) Holowko played quite a few minutes and was one of the bright spots in the game,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought he generated a forecheck and showed he can play, I liked his game. (Luke) Osterman and (Kaden) Elder, I thought they did their part but those are the three guys that can be happy with their game. Good for them but bad for the (rest of the) team.”

Seattle will head home for their first visit from the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday night. The puck drops at 7 pm at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

Notes

As he had done in the last six games, Evan Wardley started the night playing on a wing with Donovan Neuls and Nolan Volcan. Late in the first period Konowalchuk moved him back to defense — where he remained the rest of the game. “A few of our D weren’t ready to go in the first period,” Konowalchuk said. “We gave guys a couple of chances to get going, it didn’t happen so we got Wardley back there to help stabilize things.”

The three goals that Taran Kozun allowed broke an impressive streak of eight straight starts with allowing two goals or less. He’ll be back between the pipes Saturday night with a chance to start a new streak.

In a strange scheduling quirk, Saturday will mark the first time that Portland has played in Kent this season. The T-Birds have already played in Portland three times and are 3-0 against the Winterhawks, with two of the wins coming via the shoot out.

Turn about is fair play when it comes to the 17 shots that Tri City limited the T-Birds to on Friday. A week ago, Seattle beat the Americans in Kent 3-1, holding them to 18 shots.

Friday night was the third time this year that Seattle has been shut out.

Follow Andrew Eide on Twitter @andyeide.

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