Last week, the Spokane Chiefs faced an important task.
They played three games – and picked up three wins in the process – to gain a little ground on the Tri-City Americans in the U.S. Division race.
This week the Chiefs, who have won five straight games, are essentially presented with the same task.
They’ll play three divisional matchups, beginning tonight in Everett, continuing Friday in Seattle and concluding with a Saturday night meeting with the Americans at the Arena.
Spokane (27-14-0-3) is still eight points behind Tri-City (31-13-0-3). The teams met in Kennewick on Saturday, with the Chiefs earning two points for a shootout victory.
“It’s not only the Tri-City factor right now, but Seattle and Everett are behind us in the division and they aren’t miles behind,” Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter said of this week’s importance. “The more space we can put between us and them, the better. And, of course, if we are fortunate to win Wednesday and Friday’s games, that builds momentum into the weekend.”
They will have to do the work without three key players, though, as defenseman Mike Reddington remains sidelined with a groin injury and captain Justin McCrae is still out with a foot injury. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon was hit from behind Saturday and Sauter said he won’t play for sure tonight, and possibly this weekend. McCrae and Reddington aren’t likely to be back for the weekend, either.
“We’re still not 100 percent as far as health goes,” Sauter said. “We are getting better all the time and as we can put the injured guys back in the lineup we should keep getting better.”
As guys get healthy, Sauter will also start keeping consistent line combinations and defensive pairings on the ice.
“It would be nice to have that luxury right now, but with injuries and the lack of a full lineup it’s just not the case,” he said. “But actually, right now it’s almost the norm for the guys to play with different people, and they do a good job handling it.”
Now if they can do as good of a job handling their division rivals, they’ll cover some ground and make the race down the stretch even more interesting – especially Saturday’s game against the Americans.
“It’s important for that reason only,” Sauter said of Saturday’s matchup. “It could serve as a momentum keeper. It could just be another two points in the race for the U.S. Division.
“If we were to win, it would keep everyone that much more interested in how the season unfolds. It would be nice to beat them head to head, but it’s not the end of the world, either.”