Kamloops Blazers defenceman Edson Harlacher falls over prone netminder Taran Kozun as the puck deflects way during a wild scramble in the third period at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert. Prince Albert Raiders forward Carson Perreaux can be seen on the far side of the net while Blazers defenceman Josh Connolly chases after the puck. The Blazers won 4-2. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Kamloops Blazers backstop and former Prince Albert Minto Taran Kozun stopped 39 of 41 shots as the Prince Albert Raiders suffered their fifth consecutive loss, falling to the Blazers 4-2 at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday.
The Raiders record fell to 17-14-2, extending their longest losing stretch of the season with the loss to the Western Conference basement dwellers.
Outshooting the Blazers 41-28, Raiders coach Cory Clouston said it was a combination of hot goaltending and some bad puck luck that kept his team off the score sheet.
"I thought we had good quality shots," Clouston said. "In the first period we had some grade-A chances and we just didn't pull the trigger. You get 40 shots on net, you should score more than a couple goals."
Clouston added that he felt the Raiders effort out of the gate was less than adequate.
"Tonight was the first game we maybe didn't show up and play hard right from the start of the game but we sure got our game going the last half of the second period and all of the third," Clouston said of the game's last two periods where the Raiders outshot the Blazers 30-16. "We played well enough to win but not for long enough."
Fans in attendance at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday's Teddy Bear Toss Night gripped their plush donations in eager anticipation awaiting the first Raiders goal.
The Blazers would strike first however, when centre Aspen Sterzer ripped a wrist shot past Raiders rookie goaltender Nick McBride seven and a half minutes into the opening period.
With the Raiders outshot 12-11 in the opening period, fans would have to keep their hands on their Teddy Bears through intermission as the Raiders failed to beat Kozun who entered Friday's game with a record of 2-13-3.
Raiders defenceman Mackenze Stewart pulled the Teddy Bear trigger just under two minutes into the second period beating Kozun with a wrist shot from the point to tie things up and tally his first WHL goal.
"It was nice to get that first one out of the way, especially in the Teddy Bear toss game, but it would have been better if we won," Stewart said of his first marker.
All the plush toys tossed on the ice were promptly collected and are to be donated to the Prince Albert Salvation Army and the pediatric ward at the Victoria Hospital.
Midway through the second period, the Blazers chipped away at McBride's crease and left wing Cole Ully eventually put the puck in the net off a rebound. Seconds later, centre Matt Needham broke free on a breakaway to score the Blazers second unanswered goal of the period, handing the Raiders a two-goal deficit.
McBride stood on his head, facing 14 shots in the middle frame to hold the Blazers to a 3-1 lead going into the third period.
A Raiders 5-on-3 power play opportunity from the second frame carried over into the third and right wing Dakota Conroy scored his sixth goal in five games, extending his point streak to eight games.
The Raiders top line of Conroy, centre Leon Draisaitl and left wing Chance Braid continues to produce offensively, however Clouston said they simply must be better in the back end.
When asked if the trio form what could be a permanent fixture on the Raiders No. 1 line, Clouston responded, "To a certain extent.
"That line was a minus-four today, they have to be better," Clouston said. "You can't point a finger at one specific line but tonight, even strength, they weren't near good enough. When you have a line like that, they have to be your best players every night, they can't have a game like this."
While previously down on the shot board, the Blazers helped the Raiders to catch up by recording just a pair of shots in the third period. As the Raiders poured the shots on Kozun, the Nipawin native shut the door, facing 18 shots in the third period.
With over a minute to go, Clouston gave McBride the yank. The Raiders put in a solid effort with the extra-man, however after Kozun made a series of saves, the Blazers took the puck the other way, tallying the empty-netter with 40 seconds to go to put the nail in the coffin.
The Raiders will have the day off on Saturday before they take on the Kelowna Rockets in their lone tilt of the season on Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Friday were Tyler Dea, Mike Winther, Reid Gardiner and Josh Morrissey … Both Winther and Gardiner are day-to-day with undisclosed injuries ... Morrissey is in Toronto attending Team Canada WJHC selection camp .... Forward Lance Yaremchuk is back with the Raiders after being re-assigned to the Midget-AAA Prince Albert Mintos on Nov. 16. Yaremchuk has tallied 17 points in 10 games with the Mintos this season ... Centre Leon Draisaitl and right wing Dakota Conroy are both riding eight-game point streaks … Morrissey overtook Dean Kolstad, Nick Schlutz and Dave Van Drunen for second in all-time scoring by a Raiders defenceman with 37 goals … Draisaitl has posted points in all but eight games this season and has not gone longer than two games without a point ... Draisaitl was named to the BMO top prospects game roster of Friday, he will compete in the contest which features CHL and NHL prospects on Jan. 15 in Calgary ... Following Friday's game, Draisaitl will depart the team to attend Team Germany's WJHC training camp.