Seattle’s Zack Andrusiak snaps a shot during the Thunderbirds 3-1 loss to the Kelowna Rockets (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)
KENT – Getting back to home ice at the accesso ShoWare Center turned out not to be the elixir that the Seattle Thunderbirds needed to cure their goal-scoring woes.
Seattle managed just one goal against the Kelowna Rockets Friday night and failed on the power play, all of which resulted in its fourth straight loss. It’s a stretch of games where the offense has struggled as well as what the coach thought has been a loss of the team’s identity.
They were able to get some of that back Friday, but it wouldn’t be enough.
“We played with some jam and push back, stuck up for each other,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “We played hard, the compete level was there but obviously you have to score goals and execute on the power play.”
Rockets goalie Roman Basran made 32 saves to pick up the win for Kelowna while Kyle Topping led the offensive charge with a goal and an assist. Seattle would get one goal from Zack Andrusiak on its way to a 3-1 loss.
Seattle (7-7-2-0) once again struggled on the power play, failing to score on five chances. Those chances included a three-minute major penalty in the second period. The Thunderbirds have now gone scoreless in their last 27 power-play chances and haven’t found the net in five straight games.
“We got some looks early and didn’t cash in,” O’Dette said of the power play. “Frustration on the power play can kill it. You’ve got to keep plugging away, keep sticking with the game plan. Guys started to force some things, pressing a bit trying to make individual plays. When the power play deviates from one unit trying to work together it can malfunction.”
As was the case Saturday in Prince George, the Thunderbirds missed some open nets on Friday. Other times they would get good looks, but shots would go wide or high.
With a struggling power play, the five-on-five scoring has also been missing in action for the Thunderbirds. In the four-game losing streak they are stuck on, they’ve only managed three goals.
“Guys are gripping their sticks a little bit when the puck’s on their stick around the net,” O’Dette added. “We had some good looks but give credit to their goalie, we ran into another hot goalie tonight. When you’re missing some guys, you have to score by committee and it’s nice to have goals chipped in by a lot of guys and right now we don’t have a lot of that going on.”
The Thunderbirds were without Noah Philp at center and Payton Mount on the second line wing. Other injuries meant that defenseman Cade McNelly took some shifts as a forward on the fourth line.
Kelowna (8-10-0-0) opened the scoring Friday at 10:44 of the first period thanks to a power-play goal from Kyle Topping. It came during a four-on-three power-play chance as Topping got the puck in front of the net, spun, and scored his eighth of the season.
The Rockets would add two quick scores in the first five minutes of the second period. Libor Zabransky would notch his second of the year at 3:10 of the period when he found a rebound after a scramble in front of Seattle goalie Liam Hughes. Just over a minute later, Nolan Foote would convert a centering pass from Topping for his 11th goal of the season and the Rockets had a three-goal lead.
Hughes ended the night by stopping 30 shots for the Thunderbirds.
Andrusiak would tip in a point shot for his seventh of the year with just under five minutes left in the second period but that would be as close as the Thunderbirds would get.
Seattle pressed in the third, recording 13 shots, but would not be able to take advantage of two more power play opportunities.
As the Thunderbirds look to fix their stalled offense, they will most likely have to do it by scoring so-called ‘greasy’ goals. The type of plays where the team crashes the net and gets bodies in front of the opposing goalies.
Its something that hasn’t been happening of late.
“We have to manufacture our chances through hard work,” O’Dette said. “That’s how we get started. Chip away with some greasy goals and then the confidence comes around and the next thing you know, you have some offensive momentum going.”
The Thunderbirds will get a chance to find that momentum Saturday night when they host the Everett Silvertips at 6 PM.
• Friday’s win was the fourth straight for the Rockets. All four wins have come since Adam Foote has taken over behind their bench as head coach.
• Seattle defenseman Loeden Schaufler picked up an assist on Andrudiak’s goal for his first point as a member of the Thunderbirds. He had started the season with the Kootenay ICE before being acquired in a trade by Seattle.
• Many of the Thunderbirds are in goal-scoring droughts but Andrusiak’s goal snapped his eight-game streak without a goal.
• Saturday night will be Military Appreciation night at the ShoWare Center and the Thunderbirds will be wearing special red, white, and blue sweaters.