Spokane Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur is only exaggerating slightly when he says half of his lineup is sitting in the stands.
The injury-riddled Chiefs lost their season-high sixth consecutive game Sunday with their second 2-0 setback in less than 24 hours at the Arena.
Shea Theodore set up the first goal and scored the other on a power play as the Seattle Thunderbirds (23-18-3-3, 52 points) handed the Chiefs their third shutout in four games.
Western Hockey League goals-against average leader Taran Kozun made 20 saves for his first shutout of the season as Seattle took over third place alone in the U.S. Division, two points ahead of Spokane (23-20-3-1) and Tri-City.
Seattle, which entered the evening on a three-game losing streak, defeated the Chiefs for the fourth consecutive time. The Thunderbirds have won six of their nine matchups with Spokane this season.
The Chiefs started the night with seven scratches from their lineup and lost leading scorer Adam Helewka and center Kolten Olynek during the game. Helewka exited the penalty box and headed to the locker room after a second-period fight with Scott Eansor. Olynek was knocked over by teammate Jacob Cardiff with about 5 minutes left.
“Two teammates running into each other, but that’s the way things are going for us right now,” Nachbaur said.
Spokane began the game with just five defensemen, rotating center Curtis Miske to the third line on defense.
“It’s not the lineup right now that we envisioned in training camp…” Nachbaur said. “Most of these injuries have been long term, out for 6-8 weeks, so we just have to try to keep it together here.”
The Chiefs went 43 games into the season without being shut out. Since then, they’ve scored one goal in four games.
The frustration showed early as Chiefs Markson Bechtold and Tamas Laday served 5-minute majors for fighting early in the first period. Both teams finished with 10 infractions for 37 minutes.
“That was not part of what we talked about before the game and was, to me, just frustration,” Nachbaur said. “Our guys were frustrated and we reacted the wrong way.”
Donovan Neuls scored the only goal the Thunderbirds needed when he banged in a rebound of Ryan Gropp’s shot at 9:09 of the first.
The Chiefs had three power-play chances in the second period, including a 5-on-3 for 42 seconds, but couldn’t achieve the tie. Spokane goalie Tyson Verhelst, who finished with 25 saves, kept the Chiefs within reach by stopping a Gropp backhander late in the second.
Verhelst also stopped Seattle’s first three power-play chances of the final period. On the fourth, Theodore, the Anaheim Ducks’ first-round pick in the 2013 National Hockey League draft, wristed a shot through traffic for a 2-0 edge with 3:51 left.
“We kept the score down again tonight with a really thin lineup, and then toward the end we really imploded,” Nachbaur said. “We did a nice job killing (the power plays), but the (Theodore) goal killed us.”
Spokane has lost nine of its 11 games in 2015.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.