T-Birds succumb to Winterhawks 4-1 in New Year Eve’s clash

Jan 1, 2016, 7:48 AM | Updated: 10:48 am

PORTLAND, Ore. – Playing short handed once again, the Thunderbirds needed to play three solid periods Thursday night in Portland.

Seattle was only able to turn in two such periods and it cost them in a 4-1 loss to the Winterhawks in Portland’s Moda Center.

Portland scored three straight goals in the second period, two by defenseman Jack Dougherty, and would hold off the T-Birds in the third period. Seattle’s lone goal came off the stick of defenseman Jerret Smith.

Along with three key players away at the World Junior Championships, the T-Birds were also without Jamal Watson who injured his ankle on Tuesday. That forced them to only play with ten forwards on the night but the game was still winnable, if not for that fateful second period.

“There was effort in the first and third,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said afterwards. “The second period, we were hoping to get through and that was the game.”

After a scoreless first period the Winterhawks had Seattle on its heels in the first four minutes of the second.

Early on they blistered the Seattle net and goalie Logan Flodell and were credited with the period’s first 12 shots. Somehow the T-Birds managed to keep the puck out of the net while killing off two Portland power plays but the tone was set.

A key moment came after they were awarded a power play of their own.

A mishandled puck led to a two-on-one break the other way and after an initial Flodell save, Colton Veloso potted a short-handed goal to give Portland the lead.

That put Seattle on its heels and they were in tough for the rest of the period.

Dougherty would then score when a point shot hit a Seattle defender in front of Flodell and later the Nashville Predators prospect added his second goal after a three-on-one resulted in a scramble in front of the Seattle net.

When the horn sounded, the short-handed T-Birds were in a three-goal hole with only 20 minutes to play.

“Guys quit working,” Konowalchuk said of the second period. “Not every guy but key guys, thought they could just get through. But you can’t get through, especially when you’re short handed so that was the game. We tried to battle back in the third but you can’t always do that.”

Seattle was better in the third and out shot the Winterhawks 11-6 while cutting the lead on a Smith power-play goal. They had some late chances to try and come back by Winterhawks’ goalie Adin Hill made his best saves of the night to keep the Portland lead where it was.

The T-Birds have had a tough December due to losing players for various reasons and need all hands on deck. They’ve had that in some games, but not in every game and its cost them.

“That’s what’s disappointing about it,” Konowalchuk said. “We expect some guys that are getting more ice time to chip in offensively. Our key guys can produce more than they’re producing but you’ve got to put effort in for the full 60 minutes.”

It doesn’t appear that reinforcements are coming soon for the T-Birds.

Konowalchuk described Watson’s injury as day-to-day but couldn’t say if he’d play on Saturday when Seattle hosts Tri City. Mathew Barzal, Scott Eansor and Alexander True all have advanced to the quarter finals of the World Junior Championships and will still be out for a while.

The rest of the T-Birds need to persevere.

“There’s still three or four guys on this team that I’d take and put head to head with any other three or four guys on other teams,” Konowalchuk said.

The one silver lining through this stretch is that Seattle’s younger players are getting more minutes in key situations. Last season the T-Birds went through a similar stretch due to injury and in the end, it made them a better team.

Could that be the case this season?

“There’s always learning experiences so it could make you better in the end,” Konowalchuk said. “But we’ve got other key guys who really have to be consistent to give us a chance. They’ve got to learn how to do that.”

Notes

• After struggling to find consistency with their power play over the past couple of games, the T-Birds did convert one on Tuesday. Smith pinched in and snapped home a rebound that Hill couldn’t control and the T-Birds ended the night 1-for-4 with the man advantage.

• With a strange scheduling quirk to this season, Tuesday was only the third meeting between the two rivals. Seattle is now 2-1 against Portland and the two clubs will meet nine more times over the second half.

• Flodell made 37 saves on Tuesday and overall was good enough to keep the T-Birds in the game.

• Newcomer Andreas Schumacher had a solid game on Tuesday night. The big Swede played hard and was physical, especially on the Smith goal where he was parked in front of the net. He picked up an assist on the goal for his first point with the club.

Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.

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