It wasn’t lack of opportunities or competitiveness. To outshoot the Tri-City Americans nearly 2-1, the Spokane Chiefs had to compete for chances.
Execution, however, was a different story.
The Western Conference-leading Americans were 2 for 2 on the power play and added a short-handed and an empty-net goal as Tri-City handed the Chiefs a 4-2 loss in Western Hockey League action in front of 9,234 fans on Friday night at the Arena.
“That’s surely not the way we wanted to play as a team,” said Spokane coach Don Nachbaur, whose Chiefs (35-23-5-4) outshot the rival Americans 37-19.
“We got beat by a team that exploited us in a lot of areas,” he added. “There were spurts and times in the game that we played real well and deserved to score but … for sure we had guys that didn’t play their best. It could be a different story.
“We’re not executing.”
When it came to special teams, the Americans (48-17-1-2) did.
Adam Hughesman scored twice in the opening period, both on the power play. His first goal came 4 minutes, 38 seconds into the first. With Chiefs defenseman Corbin Baldwin in the penalty box for hooking, Hughesman cleaned up the rebound of a Brendan Shinnimin shot.
“We came out really strong,” Chiefs captain Darren Kramer said. “The first penalty took the wind out of our sails. For the most part we competed – some mistakes killed us in the end.”
One of those mistakes occurred with a second remaining in the first. Hughesman scored again at 19:59, taking advantage of Todd Fiddler’s interference penalty.
“We’ve got to lay it on the line and block that shot,” Nachbaur said. “We had guys that weren’t willing to pay the price at that moment.”
Spokane cut the lead to one goal early in the second period as Dominik Uher went top shelf with the rebound of a Marek Kalus shot at 1:41, but the Americans increased their lead to 3-1 with a short-handed goal from Justin Feser at 11:57.
“For sure the short-handed goal killed us,” Nachbaur said. “That goal was on our tape, and we threw it away blindly to them, and we paid the price.”
Opportunity and execution aligned late in the third period for Spokane, as Davis Vandane scored his third goal of the season at 18:54 to cut the lead to a goal.
Chiefs goalie Mac Engel, who made 15 saves in the loss, came off the ice in the final minute to give Spokane a one-man advantage. But the Chiefs turned the puck over and Shinnimin struck for the 55th time this season and scored on the empty net at 19:27.
“We had it on our tape in the corner, and we made a bad play, turned it over, and you can’t have those types of plays against good teams,” Nachbaur said of the final goal.
“I thought we competed,” he added. “But did we compete for 60 minutes? No. Our power play lost every battle on a wall, and it was 3-on-3 situations that we lost and that took away momentum. Our power play is one area that we definitely have to get better at.”
Especially when you consider the fact that Spokane was more often than not the better team when skating 5-on-5.
“They didn’t score 5-on-5,” Kramer said. “It’s something we have to figure out, and we’re running out of time to learn. It’s time we figure it out now and move forward into tomorrow’s game with a positive attitude. It’s a little bit of a puzzle right now. We should have a good playoff run if we can figure everything out.”
With three assists, Shinnimin increased his point streak to 19 games, which ties Medicine Hat’s Emerson Etem’s streak from earlier this season as the longest in the WHL.
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