The Tri-City Americans have gone through a tough stretch as of late, suffering through injuries that have forced coach Jim Hiller to not only change up his lines, but also tinker with his defensive pairings.
For defenseman Sam Grist and forward Patrick Holland, those changes have helped elevate their games to a whole new level.
Grist has gone from playing with Michal Plutnar to pairing with Zach Yuen.
"I like playing with Zach," said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Grist. "He's an opposite player -- he's a skilled defensive defenseman and I stay at home."
Hiller couldn't be more pleased with the results.
"Hamo (Justin Hamonic) has been playing more lately and Hamo and Mitch (Topping) were a good pairing in the preseason," Hiller said. "Zach and Sam are on the penalty kill together and I thought 5-on-5 they would be good together."
For Holland, playing on the same line at Brendan Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman has parlayed into points.
"When you play with Shinny and Hughesman, it's hard not to get points," Holland said. "I have 13 assists in the last 10 games and no goals."
Look for the new pairings to continue tonight when the Everett Silvertips visit Toyota Center.
While the Americans (40-14-1-2, 83 points) already have clinched a playoff spot, the Silvertips (16-33-1-8, 41 points) are fighting for the final spot in the Western Conference, and trail eighth-place Victoria by one point.
"They are playing much better," Hiller said of Everett. "They are chasing the playoffs. (Ryan) Murray is healthy and we haven't had an easy game with them this year. I don't expect that to change."
Tri-City is 3-1 against Everett this season, with four more games to play.
"Regardless of the standings, we've always struggled against Everett," Holland said. "Against us, they always bring a tough team. We have to play hard if we want to win."
Good things should continue happen if Holland continues his hot play. In 58 games, Holland has 20 goals and a team-high 60 assists. He ranks 10th in league scoring with 80 points, and second in assists.
"That's pretty cool," Holland said of the numbers. "It's a nice thing to look at before you go to bed and feel good about yourself."
In addition to his steady defensive play, Grist has chipped in offensively this year with three assists and five assists. He has no goals last year.
His plus-22 rating is second to Yuen's plus-37 among the Tri-City defenseman, and a huge improvement from last year's minus-11.
"My mindset is getting more offensive and I'm playing both ends of the game," Grist said. "I think I have matured a little bit."
Grist also is a key component in the Americans' top-ranked penalty kill (84.5 percent).
"That's a lot of fun," said Grist, who noted that he took a puck to the gut, off his wrist and off his knee Saturday against Spokane.
Grist's efforts have not gone unnoticed.
"He's never been as good in the 1 3/4 years he's been here than he has in the latest stretch," Hiller said. "He's been our most consistent player. He plays with an edge and has been staying out of the box. He walks a fine line."
After playing shorthanded the last few games, the Americans brought in prospect Parker Bowles, who will play tonight.
"He's had a great run since Christmas in the midget league," Hiller said of Bowles. "He has a lot of tenacity and skill in his game. He will have a good career here with us."
Bowles, who plays for the Okanagan Rockets (British Columbia Major Midget League), arrived in Kennewick on Sunday.
"I've dreamed of the playing in the WHL," Bowles said Monday afternoon. "When I got the call, I couldn't believe it. I'm going to be really nervous (Tuesday night). Once I get in a couple of shifts and get the legs going, we'll see what happens."
Bowles, who possess speed and a scoring touch, said he is willing to do whatever the team needs.
"I'm a playmaker, but (tonight) I know I will have to take on a different role," he said.