Following the Prince Albert Raiders seventh straight loss, a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Moose Jaw Warriors on Dec. 17, Raiders coach Cory Clouston said he hoped his team would do a little soul searching during their 10 day Christmas break.
After a lengthy vacation celebrating the holidays with their families, the Raiders return to WHL action on Friday when they take on the Saskatoon Blades at the Art Hauser Centre, riding the season-high losing skid.
The Raiders dressed seven rookies in the Dec. 17 loss at the Art Hauser Centre and will continue to look to their organizational depth on Friday, as they struggle to fill the void left by defenceman Josh Morrissey and centre Leon Draisaitl, who are both competing in the World Junior Hockey Championship in Malmo, Sweden.
WHL teammates Morrissey and Draisaitl squared off against each other in the tournament's opening match on Thursday. Draisaitl was held off the score sheet while Morrissey posted an assist on a Sam Reinhart marker en route to Team Canada's 7-2 triumph over the Germans.
In addition to Morrissey and Draisaitl, the Raiders will also be without the services of centre Matteo Gennaro, defenceman Brendan Guhle and goalie Nick McBride, who will all represent Team Pacific in the World U-17 Challenge in Nova Scotia. The trio's first preliminary match is slated for Sunday against Quebec in North Sydney, N.S.
Outshooting their opponents 228-206 over the course of the losing streak, the Raiders may have been on the blunt end of bad bounces and missed opportunities, with six of their seven losses being close games decided by one or two goals.
Winless in December, the Raiders record has fallen to 17-16-2, the closest they have been to the .500 level since their first win of the season, a 6-1 triumph over the Blades in the season opener on Sept. 20 at the Credit Union Centre.
Both teams will be playing with an air of desperation on Friday. The Raiders seven-game skid almost pales in comparison to that of the Blades, who have lost 11 in a row. Starting the season off a surprising 7-6-2, the Blades begun to tailspin, winning just three games since Oct. 23 as they plummeted to eleventh in the Eastern Conference with a season record of 10-25-3.
The Raiders are an undefeated 3-0-0 in the season series versus the Blades. While they post a league high 157 goals against, the Blades have gotten some scoring power from Russian import right wing Nikita Scherbak who leads the team with 48 points in 37 games, tied for tenth in overall league scoring with Kootenay Ice right wing Jaedon Descheneau.
While the Raiders look the heat up against the Blades, centre Dakota Conroy will try to stay red-hot. The 19-year-old Edmonton native has scored 18 points in his past 10 games and is just four goals shy of his total of 21 from last season.
Giving up a series of questionable rebounds and goals in his recent starts between the pipes, Raiders overage starting goaltender Cole Cheveldave will look to bounce back in the second half of the season.
Cheveldave's numbers have taken a significant hit in the wake of the Raiders losing streak. Cheveldave's goals against average has fallen to 3.55 with a record of 13-11-2, a far cry from his 2.38 GAA and record of 36-16-2 he posted with the Kamloops Blazers last season.
The Raiders have outscored the basement dwelling Blades 16-7 this season and they just might be the remedy to cure the Raiders blues.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday.