T-Birds notebook: Angry coach, secondary scoring and thievery
The Thunderbirds are coming off a three-point weekend that turned out to be pretty eventful. They came just short of picking up all four points, losing Saturday in overtime, but there are signs they might have found their scoring touch as they lit the lamp five times Friday night against Spokane in a win.
With a couple of games upcoming this week, here’s the latest news.
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk was fined $750 for his comments following Saturday night’s game in Everett. If you haven’t read them yet, Konowalchuk was upset with a couple of high-sticking calls against the T-Birds that would result in Everett’s two goals.
Konowalchuk has spent many years as a player and coach dealing with the media and you have to believe that he knew exactly what he was doing with his comments about the officials. Was he frustrated? Absolutely. But his rant served a couple of purposes besides letting off steam. For starters – and perhaps most important – he did it to back up his players. They had played hard all night and this was a way to let them know that he had their back. Mission accomplished.
He also knows that he has to play Everett eight more times this year. By pointing out what he thought were Silvertips players embellishing to draw a penalty, he just may have planted a seed in the officials’ minds for the next game. If it makes the league officiate games with more care and scrutiny, than it was a $750 well spent.
The search for secondary scoring
The T-Birds have scored 32 goals so far this year, which is just under 2.5 goals per game. The Ryan Gropp, Mathew Barzal and Justin Hickman line are responsible for 14 of those 32 goals, which begs the question of who else will supply scoring? Having a top line like the T-Birds have is great, but they will need to get contributions from other guys in the lineup.
The team misses last year’s leading scorer, Shea Theodore. When Theodore was injured in Anaheim the initial diagnosis was four-to-six weeks, which would mean he could be back in Seattle any day now. Theodore will instantly improve the T-Birds’ offense as he generates from the back end and quarterbacks the power play for Seattle.
In the meantime we are starting to see some candidates emerge. Keegan Kolesar has four goals – already doubling his output in 60 games last year. If he can continue to contribute it will be a big boost for the T-Birds.
The Scott Eansor, Donovan Neuls and Nolan Volcan line may be starting to emerge as a second scoring line. Those three players, all on the smaller size, are possessed with great speed and have been effective shutting down the oppositions’ top lines. But now they are starting to score. Eansor only scored three goals last season and has equaled that total by potting three goals in his last three games.
Eansor could easily have four or five more goals as he has has missed on some chances. The key is that he, and his line mates are continuing to generate those chances, which is half the battle.
“Eansor seems to be getting better and better each game,” Konowalchuk said pre-rant Saturday. “He’s creating chances for us and he’s good defensively.”
So far, Eansor has managed to contribute more offensively without sacrificing any of his defensive value.
“I think last year I had a little different role,” Eansor said Saturday night. “This year I think I just have more confidence. I’m stronger, I feel a lot better with the puck. It’s all coming together now.”
The great Saskatoon heist
The T-Birds have their work cut out for them coming into this year with the number of 20-year-olds they had. General manager Russ Farwell knew he had to get rid of all but three of them, something every other GM in the league knew. The last move Farwell made in regards to the over-agers was to send defenseman Adam Henry to the Saskatoon Blades. Usually these deals result in a later-round draft pick coming the other way. For Henry, Farwell was able to snag Turner Ottenbreit, a 17-year-old defenseman.
So far that has turned out to be a steal for Seattle.
That is not a slight on Henry, who was a solid player for Seattle. Henry was smart, has a lot of skill and was a leader off the ice. But he’s only going to be in Saskatoon for this season while Ottenbreit looks like he’ll be in Seattle for three more.
With injuries and suspensions, Ottenbreit has been thrown feet first into the fire. He only had 12 WHL games on his resume before suiting up for the T-Birds and has been one of their top defensemen since then. Konowalchuk has total confidence in him, never fearing to put Ottenbreit on the ice during overtimes or four-on-four situations.
Saturday night he had another strong game and on a couple of occasions calmly shut down Everett star – and Montreal Canadiens first rounder – Nikita Scherbak.
The week ahead
The T-Birds will have their hands full Thursday night as they will host the defending WHL and Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings. Edmonton has lost a lot of its star power – as you expect from a championship team that won two out of the last three league titles – but is still talented and is off to a solid start. Edmonton’s biggest star is in net as goalie Tristan Jarry is back and playing well. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ second-round pick has a .925 save percentage and a tiny 2.05 goals-against average. The key for Seattle will be shots and traffic, as it always is with a great goaltender.
Saturday night the T-Birds will get their first look at the B.C. Division’s Vancouver Giants. The Giants are off to an up and down start – with an early 6-7-0-0 record – and this should be a winnable game for Seattle on its home ice. Keep an eye on rookie Tyler Benson for the Giants. The former No. 1 overall Bantam pick is off to a good start for Vancouver, with 11 points in 12 games.