The Spokane Chiefs played Game 48 of their Western Hockey League season on Saturday night, the official two-thirds mark of the season. The Chiefs capped a successful weekend at home with a 2-1 shootout win over Tri-City. Read story
The Chiefs are on pace for 44 or 45 wins this season after winning 44 in 2012-13.
"We won two games at home (this weekend), which you have to take care of, but I think if you went back to September and said, ‘Hey, you’ll have 28 or 29 wins at this point of the season and be right in the hunt, you’d be really happy,' " Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said.
Winning during the final one-third stretch of the season may be tougher. Spokane will play 13 of its final 24 games on the road, including four during a five-day stretch starting Tuesday at Kamloops. The Chiefs will play seven of their next eight games on the road.
Next week will take the Chiefs to Kelowna, which has lost just eight of 48 games, and Portland, which has won 14 consecutive games over Spokane counting postseason. Spokane, however, is 1-0 against Kelowna this season.
"It’s going to be tough, there’s no question about that," Nachbaur said. "The back end of that trip is going to be really tough, but the travel is going to be tougher. We go from Kelowna then 9-10 hours down to Portland, then climb right back on the bus and go to Everett."
Spokane is 6-0 against Everett this season. The Chiefs' record against U.S. Division teams is 11-10-2-1, thanks to a combined record of 11-1-0-1 against Everett and Tri-City.
But four of the Chiefs-Americans games have been decided by one goal, including Saturday's shootout win.
Nachbaur's strategy for the shootout was simple.
"I’ll look at who played well tonight and who’s in the zone mentally, because if you haven’t played well, you can’t expect to go in and beat a goalie," he said.
The Americans could have walked away with a 1-0 victory if not for the Chiefs' 5-on-3 first-period power play set up by Jessey Astles' 4-minute head butting penalty.
"I’m sure it was just the heat of the moment," said Spokane captain Reid Gow, who scored on that power play. "I’m sure the guy didn’t mean to.
"We tried one play (on the power play) and then it’s mostly ad-lib. They're obviously desperate and want to block the shots, so we just have to get it by them. Mike (Aviani) had an unbelievable screen and I got a nice pass out there."
Adam Helewka and Jason Fram assisted on the goal. Fram has 34 assists this season.
Spokane's six other power-play chances came up empty.
"Whether it’s the course of the season taking its toll right now, with scoring goals and the power play we have to be sharper," Nachbaur said.