Spokane Chiefs Blog: Tough sledding
Posted on December 2, 2013 at 7:38 PM
The end of November and the start of December would see the Chiefs play 3 games in 3 nights against rivals in the U.S. Division as Spokane hoped to move their way up in the standings. First up were the second place Portland Winterhawks, who came into the contest 4 points ahead of the 3rd place Chiefs. Spokane had lost 8 games in regulation entering the game, 4 of those to Portland, who had knocked off the Chiefs in every matchup this year and had won 12 straight against Spokane over 2 seasons. You had to figure the odds of Spokane winning one game against the Hawks were increasing, right?
The biggest problem of late has been that Spokane has allowed Portland to take the lead early..to the tune of allowing the Winterhawks to score first in 18 straight games coming into Friday. Spokane had won just 2 of those meetings, so a good start seemed to be a good remedy to getting a win against Portland. Unfortunately, it was the Hawks that would strike first again, as a power play goal from Dominic Turgeon, just his 2nd goal of the year 3:47 into the game gave Portland a 1-0 edge. The Chiefs would come back at 14:22 when Mitch Holmberg would score his league leading 28th of the year and the Chiefs looked like they would go to the intermission all even. Instead, Portland would score just over 2 minutes later on an Oliver Bjorkstrand score off an odd man rush, and Spokane would be down 2-1 after one.
Portland would extend the lead to 3-1 when Brendan Leipsic scored only 1:28 into the second period. Things were not looking good for Spokane at that point. Holmberg would get the Chiefs back in the game though with his second of the game at 4:33 to get Spokane within 3-2. Portland would score a power play goal midway through the period to regain a 4-2 lead, but Holmberg would cap his 3rd hat trick of the year with a power play tally at 17:56 to bring the Chiefs within 4-3 after two periods. It was a game that was up for grabs for Spokane as the Chiefs had generally played very well in the third period this season, as well as against Portland.
On this night though, it was the Winterhawks that got the edge in the third, especially when the Chiefs put Portland on the power play 3 straight times in the first 6 minutes of the period. Bjorkstrand would convert on the first man advantage at 2:52 to put the Hawks ahead 5-3. Bjorkstrand would then cap a hat trick night of his own with an empty netter in the final minute and a half and Portland had their 5th win in a row this season over Spokane, and 13th straight over 2 seasons, with a 6-3 victory. The Winterhawks went 3-6 on the power play and outshot Spokane 33-26 as the Chiefs now fell 6 points back of Portland for second in the division.
Spokane would try to bounce back the next night down in the Tri Cities as they faced an Americans team that had lost the night before at home to Victoria 3-1. The Chiefs had won their previous 3 matchups with the Ams, including a 4-3 overtime win in Spokane the previous Saturday. It was Spokane's first visit to Tri since the season opener in September, and the Chiefs jumped out to a quick lead in this contest as Riley Whittingham banged home his 5th goal of the year 7:41 into the game to give Spokane a 1-0 lead. Little did we know that was going to be the extent of the Chiefs offense on the night.
Tri City would even the game when Jessey Astles pushed home the puck over the goal line on the power play with just 40 seconds left in the first to make it a 1-1 game. The two teams would trade chances, albeit not great ones through the next two periods, as Spokane goalie Eric Williams and Tri City goalie Eric Comrie kept the teams off the scoreboard. Tri would get a great chance to win the game when the Chiefs took a penalty with just 11 seconds left in regulation. The Ams had a power play for the first 1:49 of overtime, but failed to score. The two teams finished overtime tied at one, and for the third time this year the Chiefs went to a shootout. Spokane had split the first two, winning in Calgary and losing to Regina.
Mitch Holmberg would give the Chiefs a 1-0 lead after round one of the three round shootout, but Connor Rankin would counter in round two for Tri City to tie it up at 1 after two rounds. Williams would deny Tri in rounds 3 through 5 as the shootout moved into sudden death rounds. The Chiefs were shooting second in each round, so Spokane had a chance to win the game in rounds 3, 4, and 5, but Comrie turned away each shot to keep it 1-1. The Americans Philip Tot would beat Williams in round 6 to make it 2-1 Ams, and when Connor Chartier was turned away by Comrie, Tri City had their first win of the season over Spokane with a 2-1 shootout victory. The Spokane power play was not sharp, going 0-4 in the game and it turned out to be a key reason why the Chiefs came away with a loss in this game and not a win.
Now the team headed home to salvage the weekend as they hosted Seattle for the first time this year. The Thunderbirds were on a roll, having won 3 in a row to move within 2 points of Spokane for 3rd in the division. The Chiefs were hoping not having to travel on game 3 in 3 nights would help their energy level. Unfortunately, it became apparent early on that the only team with energy was the visitors from Seattle. The T-Birds outshot Spokane 18-2 in te first half of the first period and would notch the only goal of the stanza on a power play goal from Roberts Lipsbergs midway through the first to take a 1-0 lead.
The second period wasn't much better for Spokane as the Chiefs went 0-3 on the power play and surrendered a Brendan Troock goal midway through the second as the Thunderbirds led it 2-0 after two. Chiefs goalie Garret Hughson was the only reason the game was close as he turned aside 29 shots through 40 minutes. Things would fall apart on the Chiefs in the third though as Seattle would score 3 goals in a 5:01 period to put the game on ice at 5-0. Spokane would avoid a shutout as Whittingham scored for the 2nd straight game at 11:27, but it was far too little, too late as the Chiefs suffered their worst loss of the year at 5-1. Spokane gave up a season high 46 shots as Seattle went 3-6 on the power play.
It was the worst effort the team has had in 29 games this year. Over the course of the season, teams are going to have games that they'd rather forget. This was one of them. The biggest worry for me is that the Chiefs are off their game at both ends of the ice, and Holmberg and Mike Aviani are looking a bit fatigued after carrying the club the first third of the season. Spokane needs improved secondary scoring, particularly from the veteran forwards whose names are not Holmberg and Aviani. The Chiefs are in far and away the toughest division in the WHL, and any kind of losing streak, which is now at a season high 3, can take you from first to last in a big hurry..
Now Spokane will go out of the division on Wednesday when they host Saskatoon from the East Division. The Chiefs will then get an opportunity for a bit of revenge on Seattle when the T-Birds come back to Spokane on Friday before the two clubs head to Seattle for a rematch on Saturday. I'll have the call on 1510 KGA on Wednesday and Friday with the pre-game shows at 6:30pm and the puck drops at 7:05pm. Saturday's game will be on 790 KJRB due to Gonzaga taking over 1510 that night. Pre-game and puck drop times will be the same as Wednesday and Friday. Let's hope the team gets back to its' workman like demeanor it showed in October and play the same way it did this past weekend. We hope to see you at the rink!