The good news, the Tri-City Americans should get a couple of players back in the lineup this weekend.
The bad news, a couple of other players have joined the walking wounded as the Americans go into the final weekend of the regular season.
Tri-City, which has lost five games in a row, hosts Spokane on Friday, plays at Spokane on Saturday, and finishes the regular season with a home game against Everett on Sunday.
“We are hoping to get some guys filtering back into the lineup, I think that will help a lot,” Tri-City coach Mike Williamson said of the possibility of Vladislav Lukin and Max James playing this weekend. “We don’t want to make decisions that could lead to guys coming back too soon and being out longer, but we really need to get some guys back.”
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Joining the injured list are Nolan Yaremko, who suffered a lower-body injury during practice this week, and Juuso Välimäki, who took a puck off of his foot and was hobbling a bit Thursday.
“Juuso is just precautionary — cross our fingers,” Williamson said. “Max is a maybe, and Nolan a little further out. We have too many out right now. We have four key guys out of our forward group. Guys have to step up, we need to do a better job on special teams, do a better job of not giving up good opportunities, and find a way to keep ourselves in these game. This is short-term pain, but we have to do a better job.”
Before the Americans hit their five-game skid, they had a seven-game win streak that saw them outscore opponents 40-18, averaging 5.7 goals a game. In the recent slide, they have been outscored 24-7 — less than 1.5 points per game.
“We have some high-scoring power out of our lineup,” said Morgan Geekie, who leads the team with 86 points. “The bounces haven’t gone our way, but I think our play has something to do with that. We need to pick it up here toward the end. If we can get some scoring up and down our lineup, we will be fine like we were before.”
The Americans (38-28-3-0, 79 points) are battling for playoff positioning this weekend. They are eighth in the Western Conference standings, one point back of Victoria and three behind Portland.
Tri-City is 8-2 against Spokane this season, which is out of the playoffs, but can play spoiler.
“It’s the end of the year, the playoffs are coming up and we have to treat every game as a playoff game,” Geekie said. “We are battling for our lives. If we come to play good these last few games, it will set the tone for the playoffs.”
But for that to happen, the puck has to go in the net.
Geekie, who was on pace for a 100-point season, has seen his production fall off, as well as everyone else the past two weeks. He has no goals and nine assists in his past nine games. Tyler Sandhu, who is second in scoring with 76 points, has just one goal and two assists in the past five games.
“It’s a rough spot for me personally, but I have to look past it,” said Geekie, who has 32 goals. “There is a bigger picture. The team is definitely in a slump, as well. That is the main thing on my mind right now, and what’s important to me. We can start winning games and it will look up for me and the team. There is some confusion right now and we need to figure it out right away with playoffs coming. We’ve had a couple of good practices, now we need to make it work for us.”
Scoring has been an issue, but the problems have been from front to back on the ice.
“Once we get guys back, that experience should help us out,” Williamson said. “Until then, we have to play a tight game, create more opportunities and keep the puck to the outside in our end. We are asking a lot from guys who haven’t been in certain situations. There are growing pains, and mistakes are being made from just lack of experience, age or strength.”
The Americans will get defenseman Dakota Krebs back tonight after he served a one-game league imposed suspension for a cross-checking major and a game misconduct against Everett on March 11, but will be without call-up forward Landon Fuller, who received a one-game suspension for a charging major and a game misconduct against Portland on Tuesday.