It seems like just a couple of weeks ago that the Everett Silvertips were in the U.S. Division driver’s seat. They had a comfortable lead in the division and the real race looked to be for second place.
Things have a way of changing quickly however and after the weekend that was, the Silvertips are no longer in first place in the U.S. Division. It happened quickly and thanks to an Everett losing streak and the Seattle Thunderbirds’ hot streak, its Seattle who is in first place as the new week begins.
The Silvertips are at the beginning of their Eastern Conference swing and bounced back with a 2-0 win in Moose jaw. That ended a streak that saw them lose seven of eight games. That streak cost them the division lead but it is too early for the Everett faithful to panic. Carter Hart is coming off two consecutive shut outs, his 17th and 18th in his career, and they only trail the Thunderbirds by one point with two games in hand.
Everett has 18 games left and two head-to-heads with Seattle so nothing has been decided. During their losing streak they were playing without Noah Juulsen and Lucas Skrumeda but both are back as they prepare for a big Tuesday night showdown with the Regina Pats.
If Everett is going to hold off the charging Thunderbirds, they are going to need to find their power play. Earlier in the year, Everett had one of the league’s top power play units and have relied on it for a third of their goals this season. They are mired in a 2-for-39 man advantage drought at the moment and is costing them dearly.
So now the race is on.
Seattle has the edge at the moment, but Everett has the games in hand. It should set up an exciting stretch run to see who gets to hang the division banner at the end of the season.
The Thunderbirds have had a remarkable month of hockey. They dropped a 6-3 decision Monday afternoon in Kelowna but it was only the team’s second regulation loss in their last 20 games — a stretch that saw them go 17-2-0-1. That record is what allowed them to catch Everett and take over the division lead this past weekend. The remarkable thing about this stretch is that they are doing it with a number of key injuries. They have been without second-line center, Scott Eansor who is a point-per-game player, the team’s top penalty killer and one of the best shut down centers in the WHL. They’ve also been without 2017 NHL Draft eligible Matthew Wedman who has been hurt and have gone stretches without Nolan Volcan and defenseman Jarret Tyszka.
That would sink most clubs, so how have the Thunderbirds been doing it? Their top line of Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar have been spectacular. The numbers the trio have posted of late are staggering. Barzal has 56 points in 30 games, including 18 in his last six games. His run was highlighted this past Saturday with a career high six-point night (1G 5A) in a win over Portland. The play-maker now is averaging over an assist-per-game in his career — 194 apples in 191 games.
— Seattle Thunderbirds (@SeattleTbirds) February 12, 2017
Barzal isn’t the only hot Thunderbird though. New York Rangers prospect Ryan Gropp is on a 13-game point streak and has scored a goal in seven straight games. Defenseman Ethan Bear has set a career high with 23 goals — and has a four-game goal scoring streak underway — which has vaulted him to second in WHL defenseman scoring.
Seattle has a busy schedule ahead and one has to wonder how long they can maintain with the injuries that they’ve suffered. On the other hand, if they get healthy, they could be scary good as the playoffs approach.
Portland reeling in Tri City
The streaky Winterhawks have gone from fighting it out with Spokane for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference to pulling up on third place Tri City. They’ve won eight out of ten — their only blemish was a crazy 8-5 loss to red hot Seattle — and are one of the hottest clubs in the division and league.
If you like old school WHL hockey, the kind with end to end action and a ton of goals, then you’ll love watching the Winterhawks. Over the 10-game run they are on right now, an average of nearly nine goals have been scored between Portland and their opponents. You won’t find many 2-1 grind ’em out games with Portland. The eight wins have them sitting just two points behind Tri City for the third spot in the division and eight clear of Spokane.
After dropping a game in Seattle on Saturday, the Winterhawks rebounded for a solid 4-0 win at Kamloops on Monday afternoon. Goalie Cole Kehler had to enjoy his first WHL shutout as it came it against a Kamloops club that traded him in the preseason. He made 41 saves to out duel Connor Ingram in the win.
— Portland Winterhawks (@pdxwinterhawks) February 14, 2017
The Americans picked up a win in Vancouver on Monday to stay ahead of Portland and have been playing without Michael Rassmussen. The big center has missed the last four games for Tri City with an injury.
U.S. Division Player of the week
Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle Thunderbirds — In five games over the past week, Barzal has racked up 16 assists, oh, and one goal, which is tough to beat. Seattle won four of the five games over that span despite playing with a short roster in all of them. With Barzal pacing the offense, Seattle scored 14 goals in two games over the weekend. Barzal turned in a ton of minutes in all of those games, something that he seems comfortable doing.
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