Updated Mar 19, 2013 - 10:11 pm
Seattle vs. Kelowna by the numbers
Seattle was 1-2-1-0 versus Kelowna during the regular season (Seattle Thunderbirds)
By Tim Pigulski
If one pays attention only to the numbers, it doesn't appear as though the Thunderbirds stand much of a chance in their first round playoff series against the Kelowna Rockets.
The Rockets, with a regular season record of 52-16-3-1 and 108 points, finished second only to the Portland Winterhawks (117 points) in the Western Conference and tied the Edmonton Oil Kings for the second most points in the entire league.
Seattle, on the other hand, fought until the season's second to last night to earn the seventh seed and the opportunity to face the Rockets. With 58 points, they would have finished second to last in the WHL's Eastern Conference and been well out of the playoff picture.
In four matchups this season, Kelowna has won three meetings against Seattle, one of which was an overtime victory, and outscored the T-Birds by a score of 18-8, including an 8-0 blowout back at the end of January.
If that ugly game is discounted, this has actually been a relatively close series. Seattle handily won the first game of the season between the two teams and led for much of the third meeting before allowing the Rockets to tie the game in the third and win it in overtime.
Offensively, Kelowna boasts some impressive numbers. They rank second in the league in goals scored with 309, and fourth in power play efficiency, converting at a 22.2% rate.
The T-Birds rank near the middle of the league in goals scored with 210, placing them thirteenth of 22 teams in the league. Their power play is in a similar range, as they have scored on 18.7% of their opportunities with the man advantage, fourteenth in the league.
The Rockets are no less intimidating defensively, as their 178 goals against puts them third in the WHL. Their penalty kill ranks fifth, holding opponents scoreless 83.9% of the time.
Seattle has allowed fewer goals than only one team, the Vancouver Giants, allowing opponents to score 286 times this season. They've been average with the man down, killing 79.3% of their penalties.
Both teams do a good job of spreading their scoring around. Aside from Myles Bell, who scored 93 points in 69 regular season games, no one on the Rockets put up very jaw-dropping individual numbers. Captain Colton Sissons, who scored 67 points in 61 games, including 28 goals, will miss this series with an upper body injury. Sissons was recently named the team's Most Valuable Player and Top Defensive Forward, so his loss will hurt, but probably not as much as one might think. Earlier in the season Sissons missed 11 games due to injury and the Rockets only lost one game during that span.
The Rockets feature 11 players who scored over 30 points in the regular season, and that number would certainly be higher if not for forwards JT Barnett and Carter Rigby missing significant time.
Nine players on the Thunderbirds put up 30 or more points during the regular season, led by Latvian rookie Roberts Lipsbergs, who finished tops on the team in goals with 30 and points with 58. In the final game of the regular season, Lipsbergs tallied four goals against the Portland Winterhawks.
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, Seattle has played a much more physical game, using their forecheck to set up better scoring opportunities and as a result have looked much better overall.
The Thunderbirds will need to use that size and aggressiveness to control the tempo of the game, but will need to ensure that it's controlled as they most certainly can't afford to take any bad penalties if they want to have a chance in this series.
Kelowna can't compare in size to Seattle, but they do feature some grit, especially in the form of 19-year-old center Tyrell Goulbourne, who had 135 penalty minutes this year and isn't afraid to drop the gloves. The feisty forward made short work of Portland tough guy Joe Mahon, who has had his share of bouts with T-Birds enforcer Mitch Elliot, and will be a player to watch during this series. His aggressiveness and physicality could be a key in this series.
It will undoubtedly be an uphill battle for the T-Birds, as the numbers show that the Rockets would be a tough matchup for any team in the league.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski
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