T-Birds’ short-handed ordeal ends with 4-2 loss to Tri City

Jan 2, 2016, 10:27 PM | Updated: Jan 3, 2016, 7:20 pm

KENT – The month-long ordeal of the Thunderbirds having to play short-handed came to a merciful end Saturday night at the ShoWare Center.

Playing with another empty bench, the T-Birds fell behind the Tri City Americans early and were unable to fight back during a 4-2 loss. Tri City was paced by two goals from Parker Bowles and 27 saves from Black Diamond native Evan Sarthou in net.

Already down to ten forwards, the T-Birds would lose Donovan Neuls on the game’s first shift, limiting them to just three lines for the majority of the game.

“Short bench and we lose a guy right off the hop there,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said. “We’re rolling three lines all night. We pretty much rolled three lines for three, four games now. You can roll three lines for a while but it will eventually take its toll.”

Neuls had been stepping in to play center, not his natural position, and losing him had a ripple effect down the lineup.

“He’s a good player for us and eats a lot of minutes,” Konowalchuk said. “We battled and I thought for the most part we tried to get ‘er done.”

Seattle still was able to generate chances and shots, however, and ended the first period with a 16-6 shot advantage. Despite that, it trailed in the game.

Tri City opened the scoring by taking advantage of a bad break for the T-Birds. It was a Seattle broken stick that allowed Bowles to streak down the ice on a breakaway and beat starting goalie Logan Flodell for his 23rd goal of the season.

That set an ominous tone for the night, and a minute and a half later Austyn Playfair streaked past the Seattle defense to make it 2-0. The T-Birds would respond with a Turner Ottenbreit power-play goal but missed on a number of opportunities.

“We’ve played a lot of hockey with short numbers in an awful lot of games,” Konowalchuk said. “I think at times our legs weren’t there. We still generated some shots and chances; they capitalized on theirs.”

The Americans would get their two-goal lead back early in the second period as Bowles scored again, this time on a power play. The T-Birds battled back to cut the lead on Josh Uhrich’s first goal with the team, but Seattle ran out of steam in the third period.

Seattle pushed with everything it had in the third – including a recovered Neuls – but either just missed on deflections or passes or could not muster enough to beat Sarthou and tie the game.

Morgan Geekie would fling a wrist shot past Taz Burman, who replaced Flodell after the third goal, late in the third to put the game away.

“You’d like to get a little more,” Konowalchuk said of the third period. “Before they got their fourth goal there’s a few deflections wide. We had a couple big shifts there where we had some chances. We just didn’t get it in.”

The bad news is that this stretch of games has cost the Thunderbirds their lead in the U.S. Division. They now find themselves trailing the Everett Silvertips by three points and are tied with Spokane for second.

Seattle has now lost seven out of its last 10 games, but the good news is that they should be back to a full roster by their next game. The World Juniors Championships will end on Tuesday, which means that Mathew Barzal, Scott Eansor and Alexander True will be available to the T-Birds. On top of that, they get a week of practice to regroup before the second half run begins on Friday.

“We get a couple of bodies back now,” Konowalchuk said. “But, more importantly, mentally we get rested up here and we’ll work on things in practice. Most of our practices we haven’t been able to go hard.”

Seattle plays next on Friday night when it will host the Portland Winterhawks.

Notes

• Jamal Watson was a scratch again as he is nursing a lower-body injury that he suffered earlier in the week. “Watson going down there, it taxed us,” Konowalchuk said. “It was just one more straw that maybe a couple extra chances he generates per game can tilt the game a little.”

• Barzal’s Team Canada was eliminated Saturday morning by the host Finns and will now make his way back to North America. Alexander True and Team Denmark almost pulled off a big upset to the Russians but lost in overtime.

• Scott Eansor scored a short-handed goal for the U.S. squad in their win and they will advance to the semi-finals against the Russians on Monday. Asked if he was surprised that Eansor and the Americans were the last ones standing, Konowalchuk managed a smile and offered, “No, I’m a USA guy. Not at all, not surprised at all.”

• Andreas Schumacher played another strong game on Saturday and is turning into a much needed front of the net presence for Seattle.

Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.

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