In a game in which Spokane was presented with several scoring chances and fired 35 shots on goal, the Chiefs left the ice with a reminder of how fickle luck can be in hockey.
The Chiefs surrendered two early goals and couldn’t recover in a 2-1 Western Hockey League loss to the Portland Winterhawks at the Arena on Wednesday.
“Sometimes the puck is going to go in for you and you have Lady Luck on your side,” Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said. “Tonight, we weren’t lucky.
“But you know what, sometimes you create your luck, too. If you’re quicker, you create your luck.”
A lack of urgency and effort doomed the Chiefs early on, according to Nachbuar. Portland struck with two early goals in the opening period, first with Cody Glass’ goal at the 16:29 mark followed by Ryan Hughes’ goal off a beautiful centering pass from Evan Weigner at 13:22. Both were power-play goals.
At the game’s first media timeout, Portland led 15-2 in shots on goal.
Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said he saw it coming.
“One team (Portland) was really flying in warmups and other team (Spokane) I thought was just going through the motions,” he said. “They were the quicker team, the bigger, stronger team in the first period. We didn’t stick to our game plan, but half of that is because we were a step slow. Everything was a step slow.”
The Chiefs scored their only goal with 2 minutes, 5 seconds to go, as Keanu Yamamoto fired a slapshot from the right circle past Winterhawks goaltender Cole Kehler.
It was the only luck the Chiefs were able to generate.
“I wasn’t trying to shoot for a goal,” Yamamoto said. “I was trying to shoot at the goalie’s pad and try and get a rebound. We had three guys in front. I think he just had his pad up for a quick second and it snuck in, so (it was a) pretty lucky goal.”
Spokane pulled its goaltender to add an extra forward but couldn’t put one in the back of the net. The Chiefs finished with one goal on 35 shots after scoring 15 total goals in their previous two games.
A silver lining in a mostly negative result was the performance of Jayden Sittler, who finished with 38 saves.
“He gave us a chance tonight and that’s what you expect from your goaltender,” Nachbaur said. “I hope he builds on it. We need that.”
Sittler, who was traded from Lethbridge to Spokane in the offseason, was expected to be the primary netminder for the Chiefs this season – being one of the Chiefs’ three overage players. But early season struggles presented doubts of whether Spokane could count on him. Stittler entered tonight’s game averaging 3.42 goals allowed and an .869 save percentage.
“It kind of snowballed the other direction on me a little bit,” Sittler said.
While Dawson Weatherill, the Chiefs’ other goaltender, has received a lion’s share of the minutes recently, Sittler knows what a game like this can do for a goalie’s confidence.
“I’ve had a string of a couple of good games, and you’re sure satisfied with that and it builds your confidence,” Sittler said. “It all starts in practice. You work hard in practice, you get confidence in games and it all goes forward from there.”
Nachbaur says the Chiefs need solid goaltender play now more than ever.
With a league-high five playres injured, including leading point scorer (31 points, 17 goals) Kailer Yamamoto, the Chiefs’ players are seeing a lot of minutes.
“Some kids are just overwhelmed out there,” Nachbaur said.
While Nachbaur didn’t offer any explanation on the status of the Chiefs’ star forward, he mentioned Yamamoto practiced leading up to the game.
Yamamoto was expected to return from an upper-body injury in time for Wednesday’s game.
“I don’t know when he’s going to play next,” Nachbaur said. “I can’t even speculate on that.”
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