T-Birds bounce back to blank Blades 4-0
KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds were looking for a bounce-back win on Tuesday night and got it in dominating fashion.
Seattle (25-16-3-0) dominated the Saskatoon Blades 4-0 to pick up its fifth win in its last seven games. Mathew Barzal scored once and set up two other Seattle goals while the T-Birds’ defense clamped down on the Blades all night.
The T-Birds made life easy on goalie Landon Bow, who only had to make 17 saves to pick up his fourth shutout of the season, his second with Seattle.
In an attempt to jump-start his offense, head coach Steve Konowalchuk mixed up his forward lines on Tuesday. In the end, it worked as they scoured four times and dominated the shot totals, out shooting Saskatoon 44-17.
“With Keegan (Kolesar), (Ryan) Gropp and Barzal there, they’ve played four games together and have one game with five-on-five goals,” Konowalchuk said. “A couple of games they weren’t even in the other team’s end that much. So if you’re going to put your three guys there, they need to produce more than that.”
One player who stepped up is Donovan Neuls, who opened the scoring late in the first period when Barzal fed him in the slot. It was Neuls’ seventh goal of the year and third in three games.
He’s been asked to move from the wing to playing center and the hard-working Saskatchewan native is getting rewarded.
“It shows how versatile Neuls is,” Konowalchuk said. “I like him at center maybe even more than wing. He played some last year and then had a lot of experience when everybody was gone. He’s good down low and a good hockey player.”
The seven goals ties the mark Neuls set during his rookie year last year and he’s finally getting to show off some of the offensive skill he has.
“I think I’m just going to the net more, just shooting everything I can,” Neuls said. “My linemates are helping me out, giving me the puck.”
Going to the net was a theme on Tuesday as well.
Not happy with the traffic in front of Everett’s Carter Hart on Saturday, Konowalchuk drilled home the importance of going to the net on Tuesday. Saskatoon’s Evan Smith had to face a barrage of Seattle shots and ended his night allowing four goals on 44 shots.
“It was a focus,” Konowalchuk said. “You can’t score goals from the corner. The last game we were standing around the corner and didn’t have anyone in front. Not only are there rebounds but that creates havoc and it’s hard for the D to find what to do.”
Kolesar would extend Seattle’s lead on the power play early in the second period by tapping in a nice pass from Barzal. It was the big winger’s 20th goal of the year, which is a career high for the Columbus Blue Jacket prospect.
More importantly it was one of two power-play goals the T-Birds scored. After struggling earlier in the month with the man advantage, Seattle now has goals on five of it’s last 11 chances.
With the score 2-0, newcomer Bryan Allbee fired a slap shot through traffic that beat Smith for his first goal as a T-Bird. Allbee has been solid on the Seattle blue-line since joining the club at the trade deadline. He moves the puck well and Tuesday, got on the scoreboard.
“It was nice to get the first one out of the way in the new colors,” Allbee said. “It’s a pretty good feeling. I love the fans here so it’s nice to get one.”
Barzal would finish the scoring for the T-Birds midway through the second period when he poked home a loose puck in the crease that had somehow snuck through Smith. It was Seattle’s second power-play goal, Barzal’s 13th, and sealed the deal for the T-Birds.
Saskatoon (17-26-4-0), which was playing the last game on a nine-day road trip, could not generate any offense as the night wore on. The Blades didn’t pick up their 10th shot on goal until the 9-minute mark of the third period.
They ended the game with 17 after a late rally to try and break the shutout.
“We were playing with pace,” Konowalchuk said. “I thought every line had a purpose and was playing together. They were good with the puck and didn’t spend a whole lot of time in our end because of it.”
The win pulls the T-Birds back to within five points of first place Everett in the U.S. Division standings as every game becomes more and more important.
Seattle moves on to a big home-and-home series with the Portland Winterhawks this weekend. They travel to the Rose Center Friday and return to host their I-5 rivals on Saturday.
“Its a huge bounce-back game after a bad loss in Everett,” Neuls said on Tuesday. “Its huge to get the win tonight and we’ll keep it rolling on Friday.”
• Tuesday’s shutout was Bow’s second of the season against Saskatoon. He made 30 saves during a 5-0 win for the Swift Current Broncos on Oct. 10.
Bow is now third in the WHL with four shutouts this year. He trails Everett’s Carter Hart (six) and Red Deer’s Rylan Toth (five).
• Turner Ottenbreit and Josh Uhrich were both facing off against their former clubs. Ottenbreit was traded to Seattle from Saskatoon last year for Adam Henry and Seattle acquired Uhrich from the Blades earlier this season.
• Barzal’s 13th goal puts him one shy of his career best he set during his rookie campaign in 2013-14. He potted 12 markers during an injury-shortened season last year.