Prince Albert Raiders captain and defenceman Josh Morrissey preps for a faceoff in Saturday's tilt against the Regina Pats at the Art Hauser Centre. Since returning from the World Junior Hockey Championship in Malmo, Sweden, Morrissey has tallied four points in five WHL games. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
With 26 games to go and out of playoff position, the Prince Albert Raiders need their captain now more than ever.
The Raiders have lost four straight games, scoring just five goals on 142 shots in that span, as they post a .500 record of 22-22-2 for the first time this season.
“It’s not fun,” Raiders defenceman Josh Morrissey said of the team’s losing skid that has seen the team drop to ninth in the Eastern Conference. “No one likes going through these things but if you handle it properly, you can come out stronger.”
As captain, Morrissey is doing what he can leadership wise to right the ship and get the team back in the win column.
“I try to stay positive, push the guys in practice and bring the compete level up,” Morrissey said. “From there it will translate into games and hopefully into wins.”
With the pucks staying out of the net, Morrissey said his teammates may be losing confidence, contributing to the snake bite. Through his leadership and encouragement, it’s his job to get the group going.
“I think right now guys are starting to clutch the stick a little too tight and that’s a factor of going through this slump,” Morrissey said. “Sometimes it just seems like you can’t get a break, you have to make breaks for yourself by working hard in practice, doing the right things and being prepared.”
Though admitting it’s no excuse, Morrissey said there are still adjustments to be made as the team acclimates to a re-tooled roster. Prior to the Jan. 10 WHL trade deadline, the Raiders welcomed four new players to their roster from the Saskatoon Blades and Calgary Hitmen.
The stellar goaltending of their opponents has been another significant factor in the Raiders losing skid. The likes of Saskatoon Blades goalie Alex Moodie, Regina Pats Daniel Wapple and Swift Current Broncos import Eetu Laurikainen who posted a 7-0 shutout against the Raiders on Monday, have been lights out in the past three games.
“There are good goalies in this league and teams see our lineup knowing we have a lot of skilled, veteran players and they are ready to go,” Morrissey said of their opponent’s recent success between the pipes. “When you play a top end goaltender, it gets in your head and there are times where maybe you grip the stick too tight or try and make that extra move.”
The Raiders will have their work cut out for them on Wednesday when they will likely face yet another elite goaltender in Red Deer Rebels import keeper Patrik Bartosak at the Art Hauser Centre.
“He’s one of the best goalies for sure, but no goalie can stop what they can’t see,” Morrissey said of Bartosak adding how the Raiders plan to beat the 20-year-old Czech. “We need to get traffic to the net, get to the tough areas, put traffic in front and put pucks to the net.”
The Raiders are no strangers to Bartosak who was sensational against them in the first round of the 2013 WHL playoffs when they mustered just five goals as the Rebels completed the series sweep.
Since returning to WHL action from representing Canada in the World Junior Hockey Championship in Malmo, Sweden, Morrissey has posted four points in five games as he adjusts back to league play.
“I was able to come back with some confidence,” he said. “It takes a little bit of time to adjust to teammates you haven’t played with for a month, new teammates and a different pace, but I think the last couple of nights I felt a lot better.”
With Brent Sutter who coached the Rebels to a 2001 Memorial Cup Championship at the helm, the Rebels sit in the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with a record of 23-21-2.
On Wednesday, the Raiders will need to keep their eyes on top prospects defenseman Haydn Fleury and center Conner Bleackley, projected to go in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Posting a record of 1-1-1 so far this season against the Rebels, the Raiders will look to earn a valuable two points in the standings to reclaim that eighth spot.
Morrissey said the Raiders aren’t overly worried about the currently playoff situation, sticking with the old cliché of taking things “one game at a time.”
“No one wants to be sitting outside the playoffs,” he said. “We really have to capitalize and get those points but at the same time we cant put to much focus on it and get ahead of ourselves or to worried about the standings.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. when the Raiders take on the Rebels at the Art Hauser Centre on Wednesday.