Prince Albert Raiders forward Matteo Gennaro fires the puck into the Calgary Hitmen zone while drawing a hooking penalty by Jake Virtanen (18) late in the second period during their WHL game at the Art Hauser Centre on Tuesday evening. Hitmen defenceman Lochlan Morrison can also be seen keeping a close eye on the play. The Raiders failed to score on the ensuing powerplay. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
The Prince Albert Raiders failed to get past the Calgary Hitmen for the second time this season, falling to the Eastern Conference leaders 4-2 at the Art Hauser Centre on Tuesday.
Suffering their second loss in three games, the Raiders were held scoreless on the power play against the Conference's second best penalty killing unit.
A season-high 3,201 fans filled the seats of the Art Hauser Centre on Tuesday. The large crowd was largely attributed to the 10 members of the 2013 Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders and their hardware who were in attendance as part of the team's provincial tour with the Cup.
With the shots tied at 26 apiece, Raiders coach Cory Clouston felt his team played well against a strong opponent, but attributed the loss to a couple of key defensive lapses in their own zone.
"A couple of their goals were weak," Clouston said. "We just lost focus in front of the net, didn't cover our posts and let pucks in or around our crease that had no business of being there."
Raiders import defenceman Tomas Andrlik kicked off scoring three minutes into the opening period with his first WHL goal, ripping a shot from the point past Hitmen backstop Chris Driedger.
The Hitmen gave Raiders goalie Cole Cheveldave little time to settle in, tying things up midway through the period on just their third shot on net with a marker from the team's leading scorer centre Greg Chase.
While both teams battled defensively throughout the first period, former Hitmen left wing Calder Brooks was eager to stick it to the team that dealt him to the Raiders last Saturday. With just over two minutes remaining in the frame, Brooks tallied a wraparound goal to give the Raiders a 2-1 lead going into the second period.
"He did a good job on the penalty kill," Clouston said of Brooks. "It wouldn't have been an easy game for him to play but he was solid and strong for us."
Capitalizing on a defensive lapse in front of Cheveldave's crease three minutes into the second period, right wing Cal Babych tied things up on a rebound shot.
Outshooting the Raiders 10-7, the Hitmen rendered the Raiders scoreless on a pair of power play opportunities before centre Brady Brassart beat Cheveldave from the wing to carry a 3-2 lead into the third frame.
A combination of hot goaltending, the absence of power play anchors centre Leon Drasaitl, defenceman Josh Morrissey and a strong Hitmen penalty killing corps silenced the Raiders extra-man unit on Tuesday, Clouston said.
"They have a very good kill and we are missing a couple world class hockey players, that's what it comes down to," Clouston said of the Raiders 0-for-4 power play. "When we had the chances their goaltender made some really good saves."
Adding to the lead 41 seconds into the third period, Hitmen centre Jake Virtanen fed left wing Zane Jones who was all alone in the slot to tally his 10th goal of the season.
Although they tightened up to keep the Hitmen off the board for the remainder of the period, the Raiders were unable to match the Hitmen's pace and beat Driedger who stopped 24 of 26 shots en route to the win.
"They were opportunistic," Clouston said of the Hitmen. "They scored on our mistakes and we didn't make them pay."
With the loss, the Raiders records fell to 21-18-2 as they cling to eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Raiders will have two days to regroup before they take on the Brandon Wheat Kings on the road in back-to-back games at Westman Place on Friday and Saturday.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Tuesday were Morrissey, Leon Draisaitl, Darcy Zaharichuk and Tyler Dea … Morrissey and Draisaitl have yet to return from competition in the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship in Malmo, Sweden ... The Raiders acquired 16-year-old defenceman Brennan Riddle and a third round pick in the 2015 Bantam Draft from the Hitmen on Tuesday. In exchange for Riddle, the Raiders sent to the Hitmen a second round pick in the 2014 draft and a fourth round selection in 2015 … Riddle has tallied 12 points in 27 games with the Midget-AAA Tisdale Trojans this season … Forward Gage Quinney entered Tuesday's game leading the Raiders with a rating of plus-14, tied for third among all WHL rookies … Former Raider Mike Winther, who was dealt to the Hitmen last Saturday, was not in the lineup on Tuesday, still sidelined with a finger injury ...