Time winding down for T-Birds to solve U.S. Division woes

Feb 11, 2016, 11:01 AM | Updated: 1:51 pm
Seattle’s issues in the U.S. Division include a 1-5-0-0 record against division-leading Evere...
Seattle's issues in the U.S. Division include a 1-5-0-0 record against division-leading Everett. (T-Birds photo)
(T-Birds photo)

Expectations were high for the Seattle Thunderbirds prior to this season. Most considered the T-Birds to be the hands down favorite to win the U.S. Division, contend for the Western Conference title and perhaps even factor into the conversation as the best team in the WHL. There were even whispers that this team had an outside shot at Memorial Cup contention as they would feature perhaps the best line in all of junior hockey and an experienced supporting cast.

So far, those expectations haven’t been met – for fans, the coaching staff, or the players. Seattle’s current 29-22-3-0 record isn’t bad, but its fifth-place standing is well below where we, and the team, thought they might be at this point in the season.

In particular, Seattle’s performance against the U.S. Division has been sub-par, and it’s an issue it’s going to need to fix quickly to make any noise in the playoffs. Overall, the Thunderbirds are a pedestrian 10-13-2-0 against their divisional opponents. Outside of the U.S., their 19-9-1-0 record is far more reflective of their level of talent.

The T-Birds’ biggest struggle has come against their nearby rivals, the Everett Silvertips, who they hold a dismal 1-5-0-0 record against. Seattle has been outscored by the Tips 19-7 and only once amassed more than one goal in a game which, not coincidentally, stands as its only victory.

Everett deserves credit as it’s the best team in the WHL defensively and doesn’t allow many goals to any of its opponents, but that doesn’t change the fact that Seattle will need to figure out the neutral zone trap employed by Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine.

Past Everett, the numbers are a little bit better, but by no means are they indicative of a top team. The Thunderbirds are 2-4-0-0 against a Spokane team that trails them in the standings by just four points. The contests between the two clubs have been back and forth affairs, featuring close games and blowouts by both sides. With two games remaining between Seattle and Spokane this season and every point making a difference in the standings, those are two contests the T-Birds need to win.

Against Portland and Tri-City, Seattle has records of 4-3-0-0 and 3-1-2-0, respectively. A winning record is positive, but hovering right around the .500 mark against teams that are merely fighting to make the playoffs is not where Seattle saw itself at this point.

What does this all mean for the T-Birds?

At the current rate, things aren’t particularly promising for Seattle. With the WHL playoff format encouraging division rivalries continue into the playoffs, it’s almost a sure bet that Seattle will face a division opponent in at least the first round. If Seattle ends up matched up with Everett and can’t figure the Tips out in their remaining four regular season games, the outlook will be bleak.

This isn’t a new issue for Seattle, particularly when it comes to Everett. Constantine has been behind the Everett bench now for three seasons in his second stint as their head coach and he’s run the trap the entire time. It’s been effective across the board, however, as the Tips are first in goals allowed this season, finished second last season, and finished third in the Western Conference in 2013-14. Their defensive style counters Seattle’s style well, clogging the neutral zone and preventing the T-Birds’ offensive dynamos from getting into a groove.

With 18 games still remaining in the regular season, Seattle has more than enough time to figure out their issues against their U.S. Division opponents. However, every point the T-Birds lose along the way weakens their playoff position and puts them in less control of their own destiny.

A huge 6-0 shutout against Kelowna, currently tied for first in the Western Conference, on Tuesday night has the chance to be a difference-making victory for Seattle. It hadn’t had a decisive victory against any of the West’s top three teams – Kelowna, Victoria, and Everett – up until that point. We’ll have a chance to see if that victory has bigger implications when the T-Birds face Portland on Saturday night in their continued quest to become the class of the U.S. Division.


Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge has some moves to make this offseason. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds photo)...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds GM Bil La Forge dishes on the upcoming offseason

Thunderbirds general manager Bil La Forge will make some moves this summer to improve his club. Will they be big ones?
2 years ago
Seattle’s Keltie Jeri-Leon celebrates his final WHL goal Sunday against Spokane. (Brian Liess...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds end strange and hard season on a high note with dominating win over Spokane

The Seattle Thunderbirds dealt with a lot of adversity this season but end on a high note.
2 years ago
Keltie Jeri-Leon plays his final WHL game for the Thunderbirds Sunday night. (Brian Liesse)...
Andy Eide

Keltie Jeri-Leon set to play his final WHL game as Thunderbirds face Spokane Sunday

After five seasons, Seattle's lone over-aged player, Keltie Jeri-Leon will play his final junior game Sunday night.
2 years ago
Seattle rookie Scott Ratzlaff won his first WHL game in his first start. (Judy Simpson/TC Americans...
Andy Eide

Scott Ratzlaff earns first WHL win as Thunderbirds beat Tri-City

Behind a rookie goalie, the Thunderbirds kicked off the season's final weekend with a 5-2 win in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans.
2 years ago
The Seattle Thunderbirds celebrate after snapping a six-game losing streak Sunday night. (Brian Lie...
Andy Eide

Thunderbirds enjoy winning again after snapping six-game losing streak

The Seattle Thunderbirds have been scuffling but battled against a good Portland Winterhawks club to snap a six-game losing streak.
2 years ago
Thunderbirds forward Reid Schaefer fights for position Sunday in Portland. (Megan Connelly/Winterha...
Andy Eide

Dealing with adversity, young Thunderbirds drop pair of games in Portland

Injuries and penalties have thrown a ton of adversity at the young Thunderbirds which showed up in a pair of losses at Portland this weekend.
2 years ago
Time winding down for T-Birds to solve U.S. Division woes