Spokane Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said it himself – somebody has to take the bull by the horns.
Nachbaur was speaking specifically in regards to his specialty teams units, which again were the Chiefs’ Achilles’ heel on Wednesday night.
Spokane gave up two power-play goals, scored once on five power-play opportunities, and lost 3-2 in a shootout with the Kelowna Rockets in a Western Hockey League contest in front of 4,108 fans at the Arena.
“It’s a tough loss because we played well for the most part,” said Chiefs forward Dominik Uher, who scored both of Spokane’s goals to bring his team-leading season total to 31. “We had some rough moments, but I think the power play made the difference.”
“There’s got to be a power-play specialist, whether it’s the guy that breaks it into the zone or the guy that controls the puck,” Nachbaur said. “Our entries and our breakout coming up the ice weren’t very good. We came up the ice too slow – there wasn’t a lot of speed to our game.”
That became true – but it certainly didn’t start that way.
The Chiefs (35-22-5-4) played a solid, uptempo first period in which they outshot the Rockets 12-3. The Rockets didn’t even take their first shot of the game on goalie Mac Engel – who turned in a 23-save performance on the day of his 19th birthday – until 5 minutes into the period.
Spokane’s hard work paid off in the period as Uher, who positioned himself in front of the crease, cleaned up Brenden Kichton’s shot from the point and banged home the rebound at 10:52.
“The first period was one of our better periods we’ve had in the last couple weeks,” Nachbaur said.
It was in the second period that Spokane noticeably slowed down – and Kelowna was able to take advantage at 9:04 as Carter Rigby scored the equalizer with Chiefs defenseman Reid Gow in the penalty box for cross checking.
“We started slowing down, or changing our style, but we sure didn’t play the same as we did in the first,” Nachbaur said.
Uher scored on the power play at the 2:11 mark in the third period as Spokane took a 2-1 lead. The lead wouldn’t last long. Collin Valcourt was whistled for hooking at 5:47 and Kelowna’s Zach Franko got the puck past Engel 21 seconds later.
“It comes down to us giving up two power-play goals and only scoring one,” Nachbaur said. “That’s been a tough area for us. It comes down to competing, and I don’t think we compete that hard in that department.
“The guys I’ve been putting on the ice haven’t done the job as far as competing goes.”
The Chiefs, who remain tied with first-round playoff opponent Vancouver after the Giants fell 2-1 to the Tri-City Americans in overtime on Wednesday, have six regular-season games remaining to up their level of competition and find their consistency.
They’ll look for it when they host the Americans on Friday and the Kootenay Ice on Saturday.
“You can say whatever you want, but we don’t have Tyler Johnson ripping goals top shelf,” Nachbaur said. “We’ve got to score by rolling up our sleeves and getting to the front of the net. That’s exactly where Dom was on the first goal when (Kichton) made the play to him and it was the same thing on the second goal – right in the paint and right around that net area.
“We need more guys willing to do that this time of year. You’re not going to win any games this time of year playing a soft game. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get into those dirty, red areas. When we do that, we have success, and when we don’t, we lose.”