Hawks’ early success no predictor
Chiefs open WHL series in Portland tonight
Mention the old cliché about throwing records out the window come playoff time and Spokane Chiefs coach Hardy Sauter has a mixed reaction.
He doesn’t mind forgetting that Portland, the Chiefs’ first-round opponent for the best-of-7 Western Hockey League series that begins tonight, went 5-3 against the Chiefs, winning all four games in Spokane.
But he’s just as quick to point out that seven of those games came in the first half of the season and in the only matchup in 2010 the Chiefs won 4-0 in Portland.
Ask Portland coach Mike Johnston if he’s worried because his team allowed almost one goal per game more than the Chiefs this season and he’s quick to point out that the Winterhawks also scored 26 more goals.
In the eight matchups, both teams scored 23 goals and the four games in a nine-game stretch in December were decided by one goal.
“Reading too much into the stats going into this you can talk yourself into and out of a lot of different scenarios,” Sauter said. “We’re just going to go in and play hard like we’ve been doing. It’s going to be a good series. If someone thinks it’s going to be over in four, they’re mistaken. But if we play our best, we like our chances.”
“I think we match up well against them,” said Mitch Wahl, Spokane’s leading scorer (30 goals, 66 assists, 96 points). “They have good forwards, we have good forwards. I think it will be a good series. It will be interesting.”
The Chiefs go into the series with two injury concerns. Kyle Beach, the league’s leading goal scorer with 52, and Ryan Letts are hobbled from knee-to-knee hits last weekend. Beach is probable and Letts is considered day-to-day.
Portland’s firepower concerns Sauter the most.
The Winterhawks’ top two lines are centered by their top two scorers, Chris Francis (26-56-82) and Ryan Johansen (25-44-69).
Left wings Brad Ross (27-41-68) and Nino Niederreiter (36-24-60) and right wing Luke Walker (27-30-57) are right behind.
“They have a lot of scoring depth,” Sauter said. “Defensively, we’re going to have to be on our game.”
“They’re a bit bigger than (most teams),” Chiefs defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “It’s playoff time. You’re going to have to sacrifice your body and do everything you can to get a win.”
The Chiefs have only one meeting with Portland since the Hawks acquired defenseman Luca Sbisa at the trade deadline. A first-round NHL draft pick, Sbisa played 39 games for the Philadelphia Flyers last season and with Switzerland in the Winter Olympics.
“The addition of Sbisa really improved their back end,” Sauter said. “Having said that, our team has really started to play well the last two months so they really haven’t seen us at our best except for the last time.”
Chief James Reid has the best numbers among the goalies, starting with a league-leading 38 wins. His goals-against average is 2.41 and he notched two shutouts against the Winterhawks. Backup Michael Tadjedeh has a 2.81 GAA and he was in goal when Portland won 2-0 in Spokane. The winning goalie in that game, Kurtis Mucha, was traded. Portland’s No. 1 goalie is Ian Curtis, who won 21 games with a 3.25 GAA.
The final piece of the puzzle is the format, which goes 2-3-1-1 so the Chiefs can regain their home-ice advantage after the NCAA tournament clears the Arena.