Chiefs come to life, rock Lethbridge
When a team is on a roll, everything seems to go right.
Midway through Friday night’s game against Lethbridge, when the only things the Arena crowd of 5,423 had to cheer about were the Eastern Washington football team and an own goal, Spokane Chiefs’ coach Don Nachbaur started over.
Nachbaur made changes on all four lines and the Chiefs responded with a 6-0 win over the Hurricanes. James Reid picked up his fourth shutout as Spokane closed within two points of U.S. Division leading Portland heading into tonight’s home game against Everett.
“All four lines had different guys,” Nachbaur said. “We were flat, I didn’t like the way we were playing. I tried to inject a little life into us and it paid dividends. It doesn’t always work that way, though.”
Not only did the changes make a difference, they took affect almost immediately.
Dominik Uher, moved from the Tyler Johnson line to Steve Kuhn’s, got a rebound to dribble under Lethbridge goalie Brandon Anderson at 13:27 of the second period. Then he set up Kenton Miller on their next shift.
“We didn’t play good, didn’t have enough luck,” said Uher, who now has nine goals and 27 points after having just one goal and nine assists entering December. “Coach saw that something has to change and he made a great decision to put me on the second line. It was good for us, we scored some goals. It was a great move.
“You have to be ready to play with everyone at any time. This time it helped to win our game.”
The first period was kind of like watching a slow drain. The Chiefs (23-10-3-2, 51 points) spent a lot of time in the Lethbridge end but ended up with two shots to seven for the Hurricanes (13-17-2-6, 34), who did a good job of clogging things up.
On the first shift of the second period, Johnson rushed the puck from his own end before sending a crossing pass toward Levko Koper, only to have the puck go off a Lethbridge defenseman. But even that didn’t spark the Chiefs.
“I just didn’t like the way Johnny’s line was clicking tonight, or Kuhnner’s line,” Nachbaur said. “Sometimes shuffling the deck works. We got a little more jump when we needed it. It wasn’t going well.”
Things changed with Uher’s goal and by the end of the period the shots were 17-14 for the Chiefs.
“I tried to do some workouts on my legs to be stronger so I can go to the net,” Uher said. “It paid off, I improved in front of the net, taking rebounds and scoring goals.”
And it was more of the same in the third.
Gal broke a 14-game goal drought 5 minutes into the third period, then Anthony Bardaro and Mitch Holmberg scored 20 seconds apart.
“We set our bar pretty high now,” Nachbaur said. “We have this 6-0 victory and we’re craving more. Give the guys credit. We did what we had to tonight. We scored some timely goals. It was one of those typical Western Conference-Eastern Conference games. There wasn’t a lot of emotion attached to the game. It will be different (tonight).”
The Chiefs were without defensemen Jared Cowen, who is spending the weekend with his family after playing in the World Junior Tournament, and Tanner Mort, who is dinged up. They still managed their third shutout since Cowen departed.
“The younger guys and guys not playing as much stepped up and played really well without Jared,” said veteran defenseman Corbin Baldwin, who has replaced Cowen in a pairing with Brenden Kichton. “It’s tough to lose such a key component to the defense but everyone knows their roles and stepped up, they knew they had to fill big shoes.
“I’ve liked playing against top lines and playing with Kich, he’s such a good player. But we’ll be excited when (Cowen) gets back.”