The Spokane Chiefs can’t seem to solve the puzzle that is the Portland Winterhawks.
The two teams have met five times so far this season with Portland winning all five, including Tuesday night’s 4-2 battle at the Arena.
The Winterhawks snapped a five-game losing streak. They sit atop the Western Hockey League’s U.S. Division standings with 43 points. The Chiefs are third with 35 points.
The Chiefs outshot the Winterhawks 32-29 and couldn’t capitalize on their numerous scoring chances. Against a team like Portland, those missed chances are huge. Portland goaltender Cole Kehler, who just signed a contract with the Los Angeles Kings, stopped 30 shots.
“I thought we had a lot more grade-A scoring chances than they did,” Chiefs coach Dan Lambert said. “They capitalized on theirs and we didn’t.”
The Winterhawks also took advantage of Spokane’s mistakes.
Up 1-0 after the first period on a Hudson Elynuik goal, the Chiefs found themselves on a power play with an opportunity to get some breathing room. But Elynuik took an interference penalty to negate the power play and the teams played 4-on-4.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Joachim Blichfeld put his 12th goal of the season past Spokane goaltender Donovan Buskey. Just over a minute later, Kieffer Bellows took a Jaret Anderson-Dolan turnover and scored on a breakaway to give Portland a 2-1 lead.
Kailer Yamamoto scored his second of the season and first at home to tie the game at 2 at 15:56 of the second period. Elynuik and Riley Woods assisted.
Portland broke the tie in the third period when defenseman Keoni Texeira handled the puck past two Spokane defenders and deked Buskey. Blichfeld’s added an empty-net goal with a second remaining.
Spokane forward Zach Fischer left the game after the first period due to an injury, causing some line juggling. It also left the Chiefs without a top offensive player and someone who isn’t afraid to get physical.
“It threw a lot of curveballs for our group,” Lambert said. “But that’s what happens. I thought our energy levels went down once he got hurt. We weren’t as physical and just our energy on the bench wasn’t the same.”
Yamamoto, the team’s leading scorer last year and the Edmonton Oilers’ first-round draft pick this past June, had a goal and an assist. Coming into Tuesday, he was scoring just 0.83 points per game, well below last season’s output of 1.52.
The goal tonight was a relief to the 19-year-old.
“It’s nice to get the monkey off your back,” he said. “It’s always nice to end your drought so I hope I can keeping getting more.”
His coach agreed.
“I think he feels he’s been snake-bitten, and he has been,” Lambert said. “He’s had opportunities and tonight he made one count and let’s hope he goes to the World Juniors and finds that touch and that passion and will to score.”
Yamamoto and defenseman Filip Kral played their last games before they depart for their respective teams for the World Junior Hockey Championships, which take place in Buffalo, New York, Dec. 26-Jan. 5. Yamamoto will head to Team USA’s invite camp, while Kral is looking to represent his native Czech Republic.
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