Raiders 4 Rebels 3
If you give an inch to the top team in the Canadian Hockey League, they’ll take a mile.
The Prince Albert Raiders showed why they have just one loss in 25 games this season, with a 4-3 win Tuesday at the Centrium.
Prince Albert scored twice in the opening five minutes and the Red Deer Rebels were unable to catch the top-ranked Raiders.
“First period. Really the difference in the game,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“We gave up too many two-on-ones and didn’t have great goaltending. Our power play in the first period didn’t produce for us when we needed something. Last two periods I thought we played well. Only gave up 10 or 11 shots.”
The Rebels power play, without the steadying presence of top defenceman Alex Alexeyev, struggled in the contest. Alexeyev missed the game with an upper-body injury and is day-to-day.
Red Deer had a full two-minute five-on-three down 2-1 in the first period and could not score. Against the Raiders WHL best penalty kill, the Rebels only converted once on the power play in seven chances.
“They were looking to pass instead of shooting. Not enough shots directed at the net,” Sutter said.
“I didn’t like our low guys on the goal line. Their feet were pointed in the wrong direction… we were getting pucks down low and when your placement on the ice is like that, you’re only looking to be a passer, not a shooter.
“The first unit, especially on that five-on-three, we tried to pass the puck and nothing was being directed on the net and we weren’t generating enough.”
Raiders forward Spencer Moe opened the scoring just under three minutes into the contest and it went from bad to worse for the home side.
Only 72 seconds later, on a Rebels’ delayed penalty the Raiders zipped the puck around the offensive zone and Parker Kelly tapped in a great pass from Sergei Sapego.
Sutter took a timeout after that goal and had a stern message for his club.
“Just get on your toes and get playing. You’re showing a team way too much respect and you have to have some urgency in your game,” the Rebels bench boss said post-game.
After the timeout, Ethan Sakowich cut the deficit in half. The defenceman fired a wrist shot through a crowd and it eluded Raiders goalie Ian Scott.
At the midway point of the frame, Cole Fonstad ended the night for Rebels netminder Ethan Anders.
On a two-on-one, Fonstad faked a pass and blasted a wrist shot past Anders for the Raiders third tally in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
Anders allowed three goals on 10 shots and was relieved by Byron Fancy.
“That’s two games in a row where Andy hasn’t been great for us. Your starting goaltender has to be good for you,” Sutter said.
Red Deer played a much stronger second period and a good shot from Alex Morozoff shifted the momentum.
His shot bounced off Scott and right to Zak Smith, who notched his fourth of the season when he tapped home the rebound.
It cut the Raiders lead to 3-2.
Prince Albert’s Brett Leason, who extended his 25-game point streak with an assist in the first, scored his 26th goal on the season in the second.
With just seven seconds left in a Sakowich holding penalty, Leason, the top goal scorer in the WHL, wired a wrister past Fancy.
It was the only goal Fancy allowed in the contest, stopping 17 of 18 shots he faced.
“He was solid. Made some big saves, he gave us what we needed,” Sutter said.
The Rebels pushed back with under a minute to play in regulation and nine seconds into a power play.
It was veteran forward Jeff de Wit who squeezed a rebound past Scott to cut the deficit to the goal. De Wit leads the Rebels with 16 goals on the year.
With the extra attacker in the final 58 seconds, the Rebels were not able to get a shot on Scott.
Alexeyev is not expected to be out long-term but will miss the game Wednesday in Medicine Hat.
Sapego was the first star, Chris Douglas was the second star and Scott was third star.