Thunderbirds slash Blades 6-2
Alex Delnov had a huge night as Seattle drubbed the Saskatoon Blades 6-2 (photo Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Andrew Eide
KENT — The Thunderbirds welcomed in the Saskatoon Blades Friday night and uncerimonously dumped them by a 6-2 score in front of 3,221 fans at the ShoWare Center. Seattle was paced by Alex Delnov who had his best game of the season picking up two goals and three assists as the T-Birds turned this one into a laugher in the third period.
The T-Birds also got goals from Ryan Gropp, Branden Troock, Ethan Bear, and Sam McKechnie along with 26 saves from Justin Myles in the win.
Seattle (14-9-1-3) blew the game open with six goals in the final forty minutes to pick up their second straight win.
“We came out kind of slow in the first but we found our legs in the second and third.” Branden Troock said. “The boys played well tonight so it was good to get that, we’re going to have a big weekend.”
After a first period where Seattle played tentatively they picked it up in the second where they scored three unanswered goals before Saskatoon (10-15-1-2) cut the lead to one late. Seattle played well in the first but they took a late penalty and Saskatoon’s league leading power play went to work as Chase Clayton fired a slap shot from the point to give Saskatoon the lead.
“There were some things in the first period I was a little upset with but good response,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said of this team’s effort. “In the second period early they came out and battled and wanted to take that game over so, good response.”
The response the rest of the way was pretty special. Seattle out scored Saskatoon 6-1 the rest of the way as they put the game out of reach. Seattle got a big lift from their power play in the second period. The period devolved into a special teams fest as the two teams combined to take nine minor penalties.
Delnov was in the middle of the power play success.
His great night started in that period when on the power play when he attempted a crossing pass that deflected off a Saskatoon defender, who was on the ice, and past goalie Alex Moodie. Delnov struck again six minutes later when Adam Henry fed him a with a nice pass in the slot. Delnov had a lot of time and calmly put the puck past Moodie.
Seattle extended their lead to 3-1 later in the period when Delnov fed Ryan Gropp who backhanded the puck out of the air and in for his third goal of the year.
All night long the line of Troock-Delnov-Gropp were electric. The three players combined for four goals, five assists all while going plus-five. That line has played together for the past few games and is starting to generate a lot of chemistry and scoring chances.
“We’re getting some chemistry, they’re both really skilled players,” Troock said. “Delly had like five points tonight so it was a big night for him and Gropper has been using his speed so he’s been getting better and better each game.”
Ryan Gropp had three points, his best game to date, as the former number one draft pick is starting to find his groove.
“I’m definitely feeling more comfortable here,” he said. “I knew it would take me a while to get going…but now I’m feeling comfortable out there and confident — its working out.”
Delnov’s game was the first time a Seattle player has scored five points in a game since Brendan Rouse picked up five assists against Tri City last season. For Delnov, he now has seven points in his last four games. As good as the offensive numbers were for Delnov his overall game was just as impressive. He was aggressive on the forecheck and was sound in his own end.
“That was a strong game for him,” Konowalchuk said of his Russian import. “I thought he was digging in and competing for the puck and strong on the puck areas and when he does that he’ll get his opportunities because he’s got the skill.”
Seattle had been juggling lines for several weeks now as they attempted to find some consistent chemistry. For the past week they seem to have found four solid and consistent lines. Friday they rolled four lines all night and wore down the Blades — something that bodes well for the team moving forward.
“You start to get chemistry, guys want to do that and guys are playing more consistent,” Konowalchuk said of the lines. “You’d love to always keep your lines together but if you get through half a game and one guy is bringing the line down its hard, you’ve got to do something to get in the hockey game.”
For a T-Birds team that was struggling they now have picked up valuable points in five of their last six games as they’ve garnered eight points over that span. It is safe to say that the club has picked up some momentum.
“We kind of just carried over from the Portland game,” Troock said. “The key to us is being physical, being tough to play against. Mitch (Elliot) got in that big fight and we kind of fed off that.”
Seattle hits the ice again Saturday night as they host the red hot Victoria Royals at the ShoWare Center. The Royals beat Tri City 3-1 Friday night and have now won five straight.
Before the game the T-Birds made the signing of Minnesota high school player Calvin Spencer official. Konowalchuk desribed the 17-year-old as a big, strong, smart player and was not sure just yet when he would make his Seattle debut. He will wear jersey number six.
Seattle’s power play is starting to pick up steam. They scored three power play goals Friday night and now have power play goals in four of their last five games. Overall on the season they are 18th in the WHL with a 18.4 success rate. Saskatoon leads the league in power play percentage and went 2-for-5 Friday night.
Delnov picked up an assist Wednesday night for Team Russia on the game winning goal in the Superseries game against the WHL. The other asssist on that goal went to Saskatoon’s Nikita Scherbak. Scherbak leads the Blades in scoring but was held to one point Friday night.
Friday was another strong game by the Jaimen Yakubowski-Scott Eansor-Sam McKechnie line that is developing into a strong shut down line. They took on Saskatoon’s top scoring line of Scherbak,Collin Valcourt and Nathan Burns all night long and kept them from scoring any goals while at even strength. This comes off a night when they held their own against Portland’s top line.
Saturday’s opponents, Victoria have won five straight games, their last defeat was a 3-1 loss to the T-Birds in Victoria on November 16th.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide