T-Birds notebook: Secondary scoring, Bow and Marleau
By Andy Eide
With 13 games left on their regular season schedule, its safe to say that every one of them is crucial for the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Its especially crucial when you consider that 12 of those 13 games are against divisional opponents.
The U.S. Division is the most competitive division in the WHL as the season draws to an end. Every club has a .500 or better record and all five teams could end up making the playoffs.
Seattle currently is six points behind first place Everett and three ahead of third place Spokane. The Chiefs have the Portland Winterhawks bested by one point and Tri City is four points behind them. Needless to say, things are far from settled.
The T-Birds are gearing up for a three-in-three weekend which will start Friday night in Tri City. If they are going to catch Everett they need to pick up every point possible as well as beating Everett on Saturday. They don’t want to fall further behind as the number of games remaining shrinks.
Seattle has six home games remaining on their schedule and seven on the road – including two this weekend. Everett has seven home games remaining and their schedule is U.S. Division heavy as well, with the exception of a season ending home-in-home with the Victoria Royals – which is tough and could have an impact on the division.
Here’s the latest news and trends surrounding the team:
Secondary scoring remains key
For much of the season the T-Birds have relied on Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar to carry the offensive load. Those three haven’t let them down either. They’ve combined to score 76 of Seattle’s goals which represent 41% of the T-Birds makers.
In January and early February, goal scoring had been an issue for Seattle. Mainly because outside of the top three, there wasn’t much production but things have been better of late.
Starting with their February 8th loss at Kelowna the T-Birds have averaged four goals-per-game in a seven game span. That is a marked improvement over their season long average of 3.15 goals-per-game.
The reason for the up tick? They’re getting secondary scoring.
In those games Seattle has three goals from Scott Eansor, five from Ethan Bear, two from Donovan Neuls, two from Jerret Smith along with scores from Jared Pelechaty, Nolan Volcan, Josh Uhrich, Alexander True, Turner Ottenbreit and Cavin Leth. That represents 18 of Seattle’s 28 goals scored over that same seven game stretch and the T-Birds are 5-2.
“We need everybody,” head coach Steve Konowalchuk said last week. “We need everybody chipping in and it makes them feel like a part of it, feel good about themselves. That’s huge.”
Konowalchuk has juggled his lines from game to game and sometimes period to period. While that may be a head scratcher to some folks, he’s doing it to spread offense around.
He has moved Kolesar to a couple of different lines which has paid off as the big forward has continued to score, even picking up a hat trick against Victoria. The T-Birds will need to keep pulling the right strings to find the right offensive mix.
Eansor, Bear and True could end up being important players for Seattle down the stretch and into the post season. With as much attention that Barzal and company are going to garner, if those three can start to produce the way they have this past couple of weeks, Seattle could be tough to beat.
Goalie Landon Bow has not played for the T-Birds since injuring himself in a game against Everett on February 6th but he appears ready to return. He suited up for Tuesday’s win over Vancouver but served as the back up to Logan Flodell.
With a big three-in-three weekend coming up it would stand to reason that he will be in action for at least two of the games. With Seattle, Bow has appeared in 14 games with a 7-6 record, 2.10 goals-against and a .926 save percentage and was specifically acquired for this time of year.
The WHL is counting down the top players in the history of the league as part of its 50th season celebration. Thursday former Thunderbirds star Patrick Marleau was named the 34th best player in WHL history.
Marleau played for Seattle for two seasons between 1995-97 and led the T-Birds to their lone WHL Finals appearance in 1997. He was selected second overall that spring by the San Jose Sharks in the NHL Draft and is currently in his 18th season with them. The 1996-97 season was his best with Seattle when he potted 51 goals and 71 assists.
He is the first T-Bird honored in the count down but you can guess that Seattle’s all time leader in goals and points, Glen Goodall, will make an appearance as well.
Around the WHL
It turns out that Vancouver Giants captain Tyler Benson scored his last goal of the season Tuesday night against the T-Birds. The team announced Thursday that Benson was being shut down for the remainder of the year due to a lower-body injury. It’s been a rough campaign for the 2016 NHL Draft eligible player. He missed the first ten games of the year and has struggled with injuries ever since. He played in 30 games and picked up 28 points for the last place Giants and it will be interesting to see how his draft stock is affected by this injury. He had been thought of as a first round pick but this may change things.
With only a handful of games left in the season the races at the top of each conference are wide open. In the East the Lethbridge Hurricanes hold a slim one-point lead over the Brandon Wheat Kings. Lethbridge has been the feel good story all year but have struggled of late. They’ve lost four in a row and the preseason favorite Wheat Kings are coming on strong. Don’t be surprised if Brandon ends up the number one seed at the end of the month.
Out west the Victoria Royals continue to impress and actually had a one-point lead over the defending champion Kelowna Rockets heading into Wednesday’s action. The Rockets nearly blew a four-goal lead in the third period to Everett Wednesday but were able to sneak away with an overtime win. While that didn’t do the T-Birds any favors, it did put the Rockets back ahead of the Royals.
Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.