By Nick Patterson / Herald Writer
Here’s a look at how the Everett Silvertips and Spokane Chiefs match up heading into their best-of-seven first-round playoff series:
Everett and Spokane go about scoring goals in very different ways.
Everett relies substantially on its top players for offense. Both Zach Hamill, the league’s scoring champion, and Peter Mueller scored at a significantly greater rate than anyone for the Chiefs. Kyle Beach and Moises Gutierrez scored a lot of goals, particularly on the power play, and Dan Gendur was an even-strength demon after arriving in a midseason trade. But after those five, no other Everett forward tallied more than 24 points.
In contrast, Spokane comes at opponents in waves with eight forwards capable of scoring, though none of those eight scored more than 59 points during the regular season. Michael Grabner is a game-breaker on par with Hamill and Mueller, though he’s more of a goal scorer while Hamill and Mueller are better set-up men.
The two methods proved equally effectiveness during the season as Everett scored 239 goals while Spokane scored 232.
Both teams have experienced defenses devoid of big names. Everett acquired Jesse Zetariuk and Dane Crowley in trades during the regular season specifically to upgrade the team’s size and toughness for the playoffs, and the Tips led the league in fewest goals allowed with 142. The Tips will likely be without Taylor Ellington for the start of the series because of a neck injury.
Spokane’s defense, led by Sean Zimmerman, is a little bigger than Everett’s, but not quite as mobile. That’s one of the reasons why the Chiefs surrendered 75 more goals than Everett during the regular season.
Both teams could end up fielding a 1991-born defenseman. Jared Cowen, the first overall pick in the 2006 bantam draft, is expected to be in the lineup for the Chiefs. Jeff Regier, a second-round pick, is a candidate to take Ellington’s place in Everett’s lineup.
This is where the biggest discrepancy between the two teams shows up.
In Leland Irving, Everett has a playoff-tested goaltender who was a first-round pick in the NHL draft and finished in the top two in the league in every positive statistical category. If anything should happen to Irving, the Tips have a backup in David Reekie whose stats were as good as Irving’s and who also has playoff experience.
Meanwhile, Spokane doesn’t have a defined No. 1. Dustin Tokarski became the starter by default, at least for the start of the series, because Kevin Armstrong came down with the flu. Tokarski played well when facing Everett during the regular season, but he’s still a 17-year-old rookie, and neither he nor Armstrong has ever experienced the pressure of the WHL playoffs.
Everett was among the league’s leaders on both the power play and the penalty kill all season long. At times the Tips led the league in both categories before slipping to fourth on the power play (20 percent) and second on the penalty kill (88.6 percent), in large part because of injuries and illness to key performers late in the season. Most of those players, in particular power-play point man Mueller, are back.
Spokane had average special teams during the season, with the power play being particularly erratic. Despite their overall offensive talent, the Chiefs finished 16th in the league on the power play at 16.3 percent. They finished 10th on the penalty kill at 82.9 percent.
Bill Peters did a solid job with Spokane this season, getting the Chiefs back in the playoffs after a two-year hiatus. However, this is his first foray into the playoffs as a WHL head coach, and he still has to prove he can come up with the right formula in goal once Armstrong is healthy.
He faces one of the league’s best in Constantine, who was nominated for the Dunc McCallum Trophy as the league’s coach of the year. Constantine’s teams have never lost a first-round playoff series in his four years at the helm.
The teams split their eight games during the regular season. However, the Tips won the final three, and Spokane’s only victory in Everett came in a shootout. With head-to-head momentum and home-ice advantage, Everett should have enough to come out on top against a difficult first-round opponent.
Prediction: Everett in six games