T-Birds spill Oil Kings 5-2
KENT – The Thunderbirds welcomed in the defending WHL and Memorial Cup Champions Thursday night and turned out to be less than friendly hosts.
Seattle skated to a convincing 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings in front of 5,045 loud ShoWare Center fans. Seattle got two goals from rookie Lane Pederson and two points from both Mathew Barzal and Scott Eansor. After struggling to score goals early in the season, Thursday marked the second straight home game that the T-Birds have lit the lamp five times.
In the end, Thursday may have been the most complete performance by Seattle on the season.
“Its good to see,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “I think we’re throwing more pucks at the net. We’re spending a lot of o-zone time, which helps. I thought today we spent a lot of time in their end.”
The Oil Kings had the better jump at the start of the game but after a few minutes the T-Birds’ game snapped into place and they began to control the play in a game that was never really in doubt. Seattle got on the board first on a nice passing play between Justin Hickman and Mathew Barzal. Barzal started the play, creating a two-one-one as he passed the puck to Hickman in the neutral zone. The two players kept driving and Hickman fed Barzal on the door step for his seventh goal of the year.
Five minutes later, Pederson notched his first goal of the game, and the first goal of his WHL career. The play was set up by Scott Eansor, who drove past Edmonton defenseman Blake Orban and centered a pass that Pederson cashed in on. It took him 13 games, but Pederson finally got the gooseegg off of his ledger.
“It was a big relief, honestly,” Pederson said of his first career goal. “It was nice to finally get it, it was a beautiful pass from Eansor and I couldn’t ask for a better one.”
The T-Birds have been waiting to get secondary scoring from other guys on their roster. Thursday they would do just that. After Pederson gave the T-Birds a two-goal lead, Alexander True would extend Seattle’s lead mid-way through the second period as he fired a wrist shot from the slot. It was True’s third goal of the year but first in his last eight games.
Pederson would then notch his second career goal 3 minutes later and the rout was on for the T-Birds.
“You can’t rely on one line all the time,” Konowalchuk said of the balanced scoring. “We see where the Eansor line has been getting better. I’m not surprised the True-Kolesar line chipped in, they’ve been coming on as well. It’s good to see, we should have confidence that everyone can contribute here.”
Pederson stepped up and joined Eansor – along with Donovan Neuls – to fill in for Nolan Volcan, who is playing in the U17 tournament for Team Canada. He fit in well, picked up his two goals and that line didn’t seem to miss a beat.
“They’re easy guys to play with,” Pederson said about hisline mates. “They’re both great players. I played with Eansor a bit in the preseason so I thought the chemistry was there.”
With a four-goal deficit, the Oil Kings pushed back a little bit as Brett Pollock deflected a shot past Seattle goalie Taran Kozun to cut into the lead. The T-Birds wasted no time getting that goal back though as Ryan Gropp scored his seventh goal of the year on a shot through traffic. Feeling comfortable with a 5-1 lead, the T-Birds held on in the third despite a score by Edmonton’s Ashton Sautner. Seattle kept the pressure on in the final 20 minutes to finish the game and pick up the win.
The win was a big one for the T-Birds. They bounced back from a tough loss last game in Everett and took advantage of a team that had played the night before. Edmonton had jump early but the T-Birds got the lead and eventually wore down the champions. They consistently got pucks deep on the Oil Kings’ defense, made them work and expend a great deal of energy.
“There’s a few times a year that you can catch a team where they’ve played the night before,” Konowalchuk said. “It’s sure nice to take advantage. There are going to be times during the year where its reversed. That’s just the way the schedule works.”
With this win under their belt the T-Birds now have two more home games before their long Eastern Conference swing. Getting the home stand off to a good start is key in building some momentum.
“They’re a big four points,” Barzal said about the next two games. “Going on the road trip we’d like to come in with two big wins.”
• The T-Birds’ recent goal scoring should not come as too much of a surprise. Earlier in the year, they were generating chances on a consistent basis but just weren’t able to find the net. Shots that were being missed then, now are hitting home.
• Secondary scoring will be key for the T-Birds moving forward. The Barzal line was good again on Thursday, picking up two goals and two assists, but they were matched by Eansor’s line. Teams will now have to start worrying about more than just one T-Birds line.
• Speaking of Eansor, he’s playing as well as anyone on the roster right now. The spark-plug center is still wreaking havoc on opponents’ top lines but now is becoming an offensive threat. His three-game goal scoring streak was snapped but his two assists give him a four-game scoring streak and he now has points in five of his last six games. On top of all that, he’s plus-three on the season, which is impressive considering his defensive assignments each night.
• Thursday was Seattle’s first game since Konowalchuk criticized the officiating in Everett. Seattle was only whistled for one penalty Thursday night, a third-period delay-of-game call. Was that a coincidence?