By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Wednesday evening the Everett Silvertips provided a textbook example of what their 2009-10 season has been all about.
Playing host to the Vancouver Giants, Everett lost the special teams battle, and the Tips lost it in a big way. Vancouver received just three power plays during the game. The first of those lasted just 15 seconds, much of which was spent outside the offensive zone. Both times the Giants were given a full two minutes to work with they scored. Meanwhile, Everett hardly had a sniff at goal during its six power-play opportunities.
Yet the Tips won the game, thanks to their even-strength play. Everett outscored Vancouver 3-0 at even strength en route to a 3-2 victory over the B.C. Division leaders.
That’s been Everett’s modus operandi all season long. While the Tips have struggled on special teams, Everett’s been carried by its even-strength play, and the Tips hope that skill serves them well once the postseason arrives.
“Everyone’s happy about that,” Everett captain Zack Dailey said of the team’s even-strength success. “We say, ‘You know what boys, our power play and penalty kill may be struggling, but five-on-five is where we have to take it to teams.’”
Going into the weekend Everett had scored 152 goals and had allowed 130, a goal differential of plus-22. Among the five teams in the Western Conference with winning records — Tri-City, Vancouver, Portland and Spokane being the other four — that ranked fourth. Tri-City, which leads the conference, was an impressive plus-70.
But when adjusted for even-strength play (both five-on-five and four-on-four), Everett zooms to the top. Eliminating goals scored on the power play, while short-handed, and for winning shootouts, the Tips had scored 106 and allowed 67, an even-strength differential of plus-39. That total is the best in the conference, six better than second-place Tri-City.
The numbers are not just a product of Everett’s 10 straight victories heading into the weekend. The Tips were an impressive plus-19 playing even strength during the streak. But that means the Tips were still a plus-20 at even strength before the streak, even though Everett had lost as many games as it had won.
“We’ve been pretty solid,” was Everett coach Craig Hartsburg’s evaluation of his team’s even-strength play. “We want to be a team that plays 60 minutes, and the majority of the game is five-on-five. We’d like our special teams down the stretch to pick up, but it’s important for us to be good five-on-five.”
There are other indications of Everett’s even-strength efficiency. Individual player plus/minus ratings are sometimes used to help evaluate a player’s even-strength play. Of the 21 skaters currently on Everett’s roster, 16 entered the weekend with a positive rating and 10 were a plus-10 or better. Defenseman Radko Gudas was tied for fourth in the league at a plus-31, a rating that was the best among Western Conference players.
Tips winger Shane Harper is another example. Harper went into the weekend tied for sixth in the league in goals with 29. However, Harper has scored just four power-play goals and none short-handed, giving him a league-leading 25 even-strength goals. Only one other player in the league has cracked 20 even-strength goals, Spokane’s Kyle Beach with 21.
So what makes Everett such an effective even-strength team?
“I think it’s guys willing to play in all three zones,” Hartsburg said. “Certain players around the league, and even in the NHL, are one-zone players, whether it’s defensive players or offensive players. But we try to get our kids to focus on being good in all three zones. If you are, then you have a chance to be a decent five-on-five team.”
Hartsburg said he hasn’t put any special emphasis on being a good even-strength team, that it just evolved that way as the season’s progressed. Right now it’s working for the Tips.
“I think everyone’s on the same page,” Harper said. “Once we did that we’re not giving up too many odd-man rushes and we’re keeping the puck in their zone. I think that’s helping five-on-five.”
The even-strength success could bode well for Everett’s hopes once the playoffs begin in March. One school of thought suggests even-strength play becomes more important in the postseason, when referees tend to make fewer penalty calls.
But while that may be conventional hockey wisdom, the Tips aren’t buying it.
“Special teams are still very important in the game and it’s an area where we need to continue to work at,” Hartsburg said. “In the playoffs every minute of the game is so important. Focus and execution throughout the 60 minutes, whether it’s power play or penalty killing or five-on-five, is always important. One bad shift could cost you a game or a series.”
But even-strength play can decide games, too. And should it come down to even strength, Everett’s chances are as good as anyone’s.
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog