For five games this season, the Spokane Chiefs’ offense hummed along behind one of the best lines in the Western Hockey League.
But without leading scorer Jake McGrew on Friday night, the Chiefs’ attack failed to find its groove.
Prince George, which came to the Arena with the worst record in the Western Conference, handed Spokane a 3-1 loss, the Chiefs’ second straight and third at the Arena in four games there this season.
“We didn’t compete as we need to compete to win in this league,” Spokane coach Manny Viveiros said. “We addressed that this week after Everett doing the same thing to us (on Sunday).
“I’ve seen us play disciplined, work hard, go to the dirty areas, block shots, those type of things you have to do in this game to have success. Then I’ve seen the other extreme where we’ve done nothing, and every time we’ve done nothing we don’t win.”
McGrew missed the last two periods of that game against Everett – a 4-3 loss – after he got in a fight with Gianni Fairbrother late in the first. He is officially listed as “day to day” for “upper- and lower-body” injuries.
Without him, the Chiefs (3-3-1 overall) couldn’t muster the necessary offense to get a win at home.
“He’s a big part of our team and a huge offensive threat for us, but that’s just giving guys a better chance to step up and fill that role,” said Spokane’s Luke Toporowski, who has two goals and an assist this season. “I know there’s guys that can fill that role.”
The line combination of Adam Beckman, Eli Zummack and McGrew has accounted for 25 points this year, including five goals from McGrew. The next-best line has been that of Jack Finley, Bear Hughes and Toporowski, with 12 points.
Cordel Larson took over McGrew’s spot on the top line Friday.
The Chiefs outshot the Cougars 45-24, but Viveiros cautioned about equating that advantage to the Chiefs outplaying their guests.
“No, they played great. They played an absolutely wonderful road game,” Viveiros said of Prince George. “Those shots are misleading. A lot of them were outside from the perimeter and they weren’t really dangerous.”
Two of the Cougars’ goals were direct results of Chiefs turnovers. Josh Maser scored the first on an open shot in the middle of the Chiefs’ zone, beating Campbell Arnold on his glove side late in the first period.
After Bobby Russell’s first goal of the season tied the game at 1 early in the second period, Prince George reclaimed the lead 2 1/2 minutes later on a 3-on-1 attack. Connor Bowie netted what proved to be the winner with a low shot across Arnold’s right blocker.
Mitchell Kohner’s slap shot on a right-side breakaway after another turnover gave the Cougars and insurance goal with less than 3 minutes left in the second period. Both teams went scoreless in the third.
The Chiefs entered with the second-best power play in the WHL (8 for 28) but failed to score on all three opportunities against the Cougars. Prince George lost all four games to Spokane last season, outscored in those contests 19-6.
The Chiefs will play the Cougars (2-4-1) twice more next weekend, as is the custom of a 12-hour road trip to Prince George.
But first they will host Victoria (2-3-1) on Saturday night, hoping to solve their troubles on home ice.
“Obviously, I don’t think this was our best 60-minute effort,” Toporowski said, “but we’re gonna learn from this and come back against Victoria and work our butts off and hopefully get a better outcome than tonight.”
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