Prince George holds off Thunderbirds 3-1
KENT – The Thunderbirds played their third game in four nights Friday night and once again struggled to score goals.
The Prince George Cougars skated into the ShoWare Center and left with a 3-1 victory over the home-standing T-Birds. The Cougars were led by 2015 NHL Draft prospect Jansen Harkins, who chipped in a goal and an assist. On the back end, goalie Ty Edmonds stymied the T-Birds’ shooters all night to make 26 saves.
Seattle avoided the shutout when Keegan Kolesar beat the buzzer with just .3 seconds remaining on the clock.
Friday’s game followed a similar theme for the T-Birds this season – lots of puck possession but no goals.
“I liked our first two periods,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We generated chances, we forechecked. We didn’t finish our chances … but I thought we played with a pretty good pace.”
Seattle got its offense going early, forcing two Prince George penalties and despite moving the puck well on the power play couldn’t convert. The T-Birds came close though. Justin Hickman rang an early chance with the man advantage off the post and out, setting the tone for the rest of the night. Seattle would end the night 0 for 4 while on the power play.
The Cougars opened the scoring halfway through the period when Harkins beat goalie Logan Flodell with a backhand for the 1-0 led. Friday night marked Flodell’s first start of the season and the 17-year-old played a solid game.
“I got quite a few shots and felt I got into the game,” the Regina, Saskatchewan product said. “They got a quick goal but we were definitely hard on them in the first 10 minutes.”
The second period was more of the same for the T-Birds as their struggles continued. Edmonds made some big saves, Keegan Kolesar hit a post and the frustration was building. The Cougars would then extend their lead on a Chance Braid power-play goal.
“It was tough,” Ryan Gropp said. “We definitely pushed for periods of the game, just couldn’t bear down. We came close a handful of times, the D made a couple of good blocks, we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Only down two after 40 minutes the T-Birds were still within striking distance. Prince George came out strong to start the third period, hemming the T-Birds in their own zone. That seemed to sap whatever remaining energy Seattle had and when Jari Erricson banged home a rebound for the Cougars’ third goal 3:49 into the period, the game was essentially over.
Afterward, the message from the coaches and players was to keep pushing.
“They’ll go, it’s a matter of numbers,” Konowalchuk said. “If you get enough shots, eventually with the shooting percentages you’re going to get goals … now we’ve got to bear down more and take that extra second and get it on net.”
Prince George is a strong offensive team and despite the 40 shots that the scoreboard said Seattle allowed, the depleted defense held strong.
“That shot clock was 10 over,” Konowalchuk pointed out. “We have our own guy who does the shot clock and it was 10 over, so we didn’t do 40 shots, we gave up 30. They (the defense) held up fine … we’ve got to score goals.”
The T-Birds have a quick turnaround now as they will host the Kamloops Blazers Saturday night at the ShoWare Center. This will be Seattle’s fourth game in five nights.
“The goals are going to come,” Konowalchuk said. “We’re getting good chances … but it’s still not good enough and there’s always a couple shift where we can do a little bit more.”
• Ryan Gropp picked up an assist on Kolesar’s last-second goal to extend his scoring streak to seven games. Over that stretch he has four goals and eight points.
• Flodell played well in only his second WHL start, and first of this season. His first career start came last season against Prince George on the road. He won a wild game that night, allowing seven goals but winning the game 9-7. With the excellent start from Taran Kozun, it has been hard for Konowalchuk to find time for Flodell or Danny Mumaugh, both of whom are still trying to win the back up spot. “It’s been a challenge for both of them,” Konowalchuk said. “They both have been doing a good job working hard in practice and getting ready for the game.”
Kozun will get the start against his former club on Saturday night as Kamloops comes to town. It’s also a chance for Gropp to face his hometown team and the Kamloops product is looking forward to it. “It’s always pretty cool to play the team you watch growing up,” Gropp said. “I’ve got a couple of friends on that team, but there’s no friends tomorrow.”
• Seattle has four wins on the season. All four have come on the road, three against Portland and three have come either in overtime or in the shootout. Seattle has yet to win a home game in four chances.