In a span of eight days, the Spokane Chiefs have gone from being to one of the Western Hockey League’s hottest teams to being, in the words of head coach Don Nachbaur, “totally in disarray.”
The Chiefs lost their fifth consecutive game Sunday night as the WHL’s leader in goals-against average, Taran Kozun (2.14), made 24 saves to guide the Seattle Thunderbirds’ 4-1 victory at the Arena.
Spokane’s losing skid began Nov. 30 with another 4-1 loss to Seattle, but at the Thunderbirds’ arena in Kent. The night before, the Chiefs had defeated Lethbridge to improve to 14-7-3-0 – at the time, the fifth-best winning percentage in the league.
Spokane (14-12-3-0) has been held to seven goals in its last five games and has dropped to 10th in WHL winning percentage (.534). The Chiefs (31 points) also slipped to fourth place in the U.S. Division, one point ahead of last-place Seattle (13-13-2-2, 30).
“We played well through the four games that we lost leading up to tonight,” Nachbaur said. “I mean, it could have gone one bounce the other way for four wins. You look at the game last night (Kootenay won 3-2) and it was the same the night before in Kootenay (2-1 for the Ice). Tonight, we were just totally in disarray. Whether that was the four games in five nights, we were just disorganized for me.”
Worse, the Chiefs appeared to lose their composure, in Nachbaur’s estimation, for the first time this season.
“It’s easy when things are going your way,” he said. “Tonight, we had to find a way and we didn’t. We kind of imploded.”
The Chiefs were whistled for nine infractions for 29 minutes, including seven for 25 minutes during the second period, when Seattle scored twice to boost its advantage to 4-1.
“In the second period, we unraveled,” Nachbaur said. “We took penalties and you can’t win hockey games giving teams penalties like that. Punching guys to the head, the individuals who did that I think exposed themselves tonight.”
The teams have met seven times – Spokane is 3-3-1-0 – so familiarity may be breeding contempt.
“After every game, the rivalry gets going a little bit more and the guys get a little more excited,” Kozun said. “There’s always a little bit of bad blood here and there.”
The Chiefs also aren’t catching any breaks. Seattle’s first score, by Nolan Volcan just 90 seconds into the game, deflected off the skate of Chiefs defenseman Curtis Miske.
Volcan’s nifty pass out front to an unchecked Evan Wardley extended the lead to 2-0 a little more than 3 minutes later.
The Chiefs’ lone goal, Riley Whittingham’s sixth of the season, came at 12:58 of the first and 7 seconds into a power play.
Spokane held a 22-19 edge in shots on goal through two periods, but the Thunderbirds outshot the Chiefs 13-3 in the third. Seattle outshot Spokane 8-0 through the first 7 minutes of the final period.
The Chiefs will meet the Portland Winterhawks for the first time this season on Friday in Portland. The teams will meet eight times this season. Spokane was 0-8-0-0 against the Winterhawks last season.
Spokane’s next home game is Saturday against Prince George. The Chiefs will play just two home games in the next 30 days.
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