In The Corners: Work To Do

By: Thom Beuning

The weekend didn’t quite go the way the Thunderbirds expected.  Instead, it ended with two frustrating losses in two very winnable games. We know from experience that to beat Everett you must play as close to flawless as possible.  You’ll never play the perfect, error free game but you must minimize mistakes, particularly mental lapses.  Seattle has now lost eight straight games to the ‘Tips going back to last season and it’s probably more the small picture items, rather then the big picture items, that are the main culprits.  In other words, attention to details.

And if there’s no such thing as the perfect game, that means your opponent isn’t playing perfectly either.  Everett made mistakes too.  So, what it really came down to, is which team capitalized on more of the other team’s errors.  I think it is fair to say, that in this instance, the Silvertips were the more opportunistic team. And not to take anything away from the ‘Tips effort, especially their goaltender Saturday night, but too many of the T-Birds miscues were self-inflicted, unforced errors.

You can’t do much about a fluky carom off the dashers but you can clean up turnovers in the defensive zone.  You can limit the number of your opponent’s power plays by staying out of the penalty box.  That means controlling your emotions and eliminating the after-the-whistle stuff.  Head Coach Matt O’Dette is right.  The T-Birds are a very good 5-on-5 team.  So, work on playing more 5-on-5 hockey.  Let your strong cycle game force your opponent into taking penalties.  The T-Birds have enough depth that they should be drawing the penalties, not taking them.

As Thunderbirds captain Ty Bauer told me after the loss Saturday, there are things that need to be cleaned up.  It’s early in the season.  We’re only four games into a 68-game schedule.  Bauer is confident the raw talent is there. Now it is a matter of refining it.  It doesn’t help injuries are popping up early on that are interrupting the T-Birds rhythm.

The T-birds essentially played the first three games without Henrik Rybinski. Their number one goalie is still not one hundred percent after suffering a minor injury in preseason.  Jeremy Hanzel was on the shelf all of training camp and preseason.  He’s just now getting up to game speed.  And Reid Schaefer missed much of Saturday’s game after suffering an upper body injury in the first period.

Injuries aren’t an excuse, but they are a fact of life in sports. They do affect outcomes, especially when they cost you a player’s service during a game.  That’s happened to Seattle twice already this season and the season is barely two weeks old.

Saturday’s game is exhibit A.  The T-Birds came out and were controlling the tempo.  They were rolling four lines and had Everett hemmed in their own zone.  Then came the Schaefer injury and the complexion of the game changed.  Instead of rolling four lines, Seattle had to rotate their remaining 11 forwards. Players were being double shifted.  They had to grind it out.  To their credit players stepped up, but while the T-Birds effort remained, the continuity was lost.

When the Thunderbirds are executing the game plan, their systems are a beautiful thing to watch.  They are not playing dump and chase.  They want to get the puck up ice quickly, open up the defense and get on the attack as quick as possible.  It’s how most teams want to play now, with speed and efficiency. The teams that do it best are going to win more games.

Done correctly, it leads to odd man opportunities.  The key is the first pass out of the defensive zone.  Get the puck to the wingers with their momentum carrying them through the neutral zone.  The second key is getting cleanly into the attacking zone. At times it might look like dump and chase, but really, you are putting a puck in a spot and letting your forwards skate on to the puck. Most often it is just putting the puck on the tape of your teammate’s stick. In the early going, the T-Birds have been inconsistent in this regard.

Saturday was probably affected by the shortened bench and it being the second game of the weekend, but the T-Birds missed too often with their passes up ice.  Sometimes you credit the opponent for getting sticks into passing lanes, but I saw several chances fail to develop because of an errant pass.

Thirdly, finish your scoring chances.  Over the weekend Seattle was easily at its best in the first period both nights.  They easily created a dozen grade “A” chances.  A few decades back I had a college football coach tell me he was the architect and the players the builders.  He would say never leave the house unfinished.  Always put a roof on it. Too often this weekend the T-birds didn’t put a roof on it.

My T-Birds Three Stars of the Weekend

Third Star: G Thomas Milic.  You can’t ask more from your goalie then to give you a chance every game.  Milic has done that through four starts.  I’m not sure there was a goal allowed this weekend that could be blamed on his play.  Knowing goalies though, he’d probably say he should have stopped them all.

Second Star:  C Henrik Rybinski.  Rybinski earned his first point of the season Friday night with an assist on a T-Birds power play goal.  As the weekend went along, he got better.  When Seattle was driving the play he was usually on the ice. After essentially missing the first three games of the season, it might take him a few games to get back  up to full speed but he’ll drive the engine when he does.

First Star:  C/W Jordan Gustafson.  Seattle’s first selection in the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft is just scratching the surface of what he can do, but he was so fun to watch both nights. He scored his first goal of the season Friday.  He’s going to be such a complete top line player before his time here is done. He’s close to that right now. He’s an all-situations type player and plays a 200-foot game.  He’s becoming that player that, when you see him come over the boards, you anticipate something good is about to happen.



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