The Spokane Chiefs appear primed to keep pace with Portland for the rest of the Western Hockey League season because the Winterhawks are likely to give up a lot of goals. Read story
The Chiefs and Winterhawks are dead-even in points (47) and tied for second place in the U.S. Division, although Portland has played three more games than Spokane.
Spokane has averaged almost four goals in four games against the Winterhawks, and that's been a yearlong theme for Portland. The Winterhawks are tied for seventh in league scoring with 142 goals, but they've also allowed more goals (141) than 13 of the WHL's 22 teams, including every other U.S. Division team.
As Portland left wing Paul Bittner pointed out, the Winterhawks had three superior defensemen last year who are no longer with the team. All of the six players on Portland's roster who have been drafted by NHL teams are forwards.
"Those were tough (defensive) losses for us, but we have guys who are filling those positions who are coming together nicely as the season's coming along," Bittner said. "We still have the firepower, so as the defense comes along I think the wins will start to come."
Center Nicolas Petan, who has 33 points in 26 games with Portland, hasn't played in the four games against the Chiefs because of his selection to premier tournaments. Petan was selected in the second round by Winnipeg in 2013. Keegan Iverson (New York Rangers, third round, 2014) also didn't play Wednesday and Friday against Spokane.
"They have some high-end guys sitting out," Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. "They're a good team and I give them all the credit in the world. But so are we. We were also missing guys." (Most notably, 20-year-old center Calder Brooks (upper-body injury) and his 39 points.)
Every Chiefs goal and almost every point Friday came from the No. 1 line of Liam Stewart, Adam Helewka and Kailer Yamamoto (and Jason Fram on the No. 1 defense.)
"We had one line do all the scoring today and the other guys really didn't do a whole lot," Nachbaur said. "We're not going to win like that, relying on one line. That's how we won the (Wednesday) game."
Nachbaur was asked whether he was confident that the Chiefs, who have four regular-season games left against Portland, will have continued success against the Winterhawks' defense.
"I don't want to talk about them," he said. "They won the game, we lost the game, and we have to get back to what we do."
Bittner, for one, likes the challenge.
"It's fun and it's exciting when you add tight races to the end of the season like that," he said.