Seattle will get a look at B.C. Division teams Victoria and Kelowna this week (photo whl.ca)
By Andrew Eide
There is no beating around the bush when it comes to the current state of the Thunderbirds -- they are in a slump. They have lost five straight games and were not competitive in four of those as they have been heavily out scored of late. They have a chance to right the ship this week and get back on the winning side of the ledger as they play three games in the B.C. Division.
One good news item for Seattle is that they will get Evan Wardley back this weekend as he has served his full suspension for his hit on Portland's Adam De Champlain. He will be welcome as Seattle's defense has struggled lately -- giving up 30 goals during the losing streak.
Here's what the T-Birds have on tap this week.
Friday and Saturday: Victoria Royals
Record: 12-9-0-1 (second, B.C. Division)
T-Birds all-time record against: 16-4-0-3-1
This season: 0-1
Scouting Report: The T-Birds head to Vancouver Island to take on the Royals for two games this weekend. Seattle and Victoria played last Friday and while the Royals came away with a 5-3 win, it was a game that Seattle dominated from start to finish. Seattle ran into some great goaltending by Coleman Vollrath combined with a bit of bad puck luck as they missed some open nets and hit at least three cross bars. The Royals are a tough team to play against normally as they have a good top line and play a physical brand of hockey.
They do come into this weekend a bit banged up as reports say that Joe Hicketts, Jordan Fransoo, Keegan Kanzig, Jack Walker and Brandon Magee all missed practice time earlier this week. All of those players appear on the WHL report as injured as well. If those guys can't go this weekend Seattle should be able to wear down the Royals and pick up some wins.
Victoria's led by Logan Nelson and Austin Carroll up front but with the injuries guys like rookie Tyler Soy and Brandon Fushimi (who scored twice against Seattle last week) could be asked to log more ice time. The biggest injury hit will be on their back end where they could be missing two of their top defeneseman in Hicketts and Kanzig.
In net Seattle got a full dose of Vollrath last week and it appears that he might be wresting the number one goalie spot away from Patrik Polivka. With back-to-back games the T-Birds may see both guys in net and both are good. Vollrath followed up his 46 save night against Seattle the next night with a 43 save win at Portland -- only giving up two goals.
On paper the T-Birds should be able to come out and control the play against the banged up Royals again this weekend. The key is that Seattle has not been able to control much of anything lately. Seattle has a chance to win both of these games but the Royals are not going to hand it to them. They will need to come out of the gates breathing fire and not let up, which is something that has been glaringly missing from their game of late.
Tuesday: Kelowna Rockets
Record: 14-2-0-2 (first, B.C. Division)
T-Birds all-time record against: 56-48-2-9-10
This season: 1-0
Scouting Report: The Rockets return to the ShoWare Center for the first time since Game 6 of the playoffs last year. They won that game in overtime -- something that happens a lot when these two teams match up. They've played once this year, in Kelowna, and Seattle won in a shoot out as once again 60 minutes was not enough to settle it. The Rockets can make an argument to be the best team in the WHL but due to a scheduling quirk they have played a league-low 18 games this season. That being said they currently are sitting on a seven game win streak.
The strength of Kelowna is on their back end and in goal. They have only allowed 2.38 goals per game which is good enough for the league's best. Along with that they also can boast the WHL's best penalty kill unit. Seattle has struggled on the power play this year and failed to score on any of their power play attempts in the seven game playoff series - as well as the first meeting this year.
When you give up the fewest goals in the league you can bet that you're getting good goaltending, and that's exactly what 20-year-old Jordan Cooke is giving the Rockets. So far Cooke has a minuscule goals-against average of 2.03 and has a save percentage of .932. Those numbers are helped by a solid blue-line group led by Damon Severson and Madison Bowey, two guys who are capable of shutting you down but are also contributing on the offensive side of things.
Up front the Rockets are getting a good year out of NHL Draft Prospect Tyson Baillie who is having a strong season. Just behind Baillie is 16-year-old rookie Nick Merkley who has 19 points and is a fun player to watch. The key for Seattle will be to get pucks deep and make Kelowna's defense turn and chase. That will allow the T-Birds to get their forecheck going and be able to pin the Rockets in their own end. Again, the way the T-Birds have been playing that is easier said then done.
This will be a big test for Seattle and if they come out as flat as they did against Portland this past week they will be in for a long night.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide