Tough Start For The Blades

PHOTO COURTESY (Steve Hiscock/Saskatoon Blades)

The Saskatoon Blades are oh-and-2 to start the young WHL season. The Bridge City Bunch were topped in both ends of their home-and-home series with the Prince Albert Raiders.

Indeed, the Saskatoon Blades probably deserved a better fate. But for the second consecutive game, the Prince Albert Raiders had the upper hand by night’s end.

Tomas Andrlik, Dakota Conroy and Reid Gardiner each scored as part of an unanswered trio, lifting the Raiders to a 3-1 win over the Blades on Saturday night at the Credit Union Centre.

Netting his second is as many nights off the top of the new year, Nick Zajac recorded the lone goal for the home side.

“We wanted more out of these games, obviously,” Blades veteran Brett Stovin said following the game. “We have a lot of video to watch. Some teams have some slow starts; others start hot. Hopefully it’s just these two games and we can get rolling next weekend.”

First-period penalties to Isaac Schacher, Cory Millette and Alex Forsberg tilted the ice in PA’s favour, but the Blades – eager to avenge last night’s opening-night loss – rallied anyway.

Zajac was the beneficiary of a wonderful solo effort by rookie defenceman Amil Krupic, who, shorthanded, sailed coast-to-coast before delivering a backhand pass into the crease. First on scene, Zajac quickly made contact, pinballing a shot off the back of Nick McBride, giving the double blue a 1-0 lead at 15:11.

Unfortunately for the Blades, that was all she wrote on the offensive side of the ledger.

“The main thing is that we’ve got to be working harder than we did tonight,” Zajac said. “We can’t be too worried, we can’t be gripping that stick too tight. Once we get those first ones out of the way – the first win and those first points, it’ll be huge for us.”

Added Stovin: “We’ve got to shoot more pucks – and hopefully when we do something will bounce in. Once we break this little slump we’re in here, once we get some pucks in the net, three or four goals a game, things are going to heat up for us and we’ll put some wins together.”

The Raiders brought the game back on level terms early in the second period, as Tomas Andrlik willed a backhand shot through the wickets of the Blades goaltender. Undeterred, Martin came up with an enormous save shortly thereafter, robbing Gennaro on a breakaway after the Raiders vet split the D and survived Nolan Reid’s diving attempt.

Martin had a solid night in his WHL debut, posting 25 saves in the loss.

The Raiders took a 2-1 lead at 13:06, finally connecting on one of their many power-play chances. Teed up by a nifty play from Gage Quinney, Dakota Conroy showed off the hands, swatting the puck out of midair and past Martin for the PPG.

Special teams were a theme all night. The Raiders had seven opportunities with the man-advantage, scoring once but giving up another shorthanded. The Blades, meanwhile, had five, and were held scoreless.

After 40 minutes of play, PA continued to control the shot clock, extending to a 23-13 advantage (28-21 overall). Despite the discrepancy, the game was well within reach.

“We had chances all night, all over their net,” Stovin said. “They got some bounces, some turnovers that they capitalized on and we couldn’t capitalize on ours. We feel like we should have won, but sometimes it doesn’t go that way.”

As far as linemate Zajac is concerned, it’s about less flair and more dare in around the dirty areas.

“At the beginning of the season, those goals that are going to go in are the ones where you’re crashing the net, where you’re getting second and third cracks at it. Those are the pucks that go in at this point in the season,” he said.

“These games were huge for us – they’re four-point night. It’s a tough one to take, but we’ll come out flying next Friday (at Brandon, 6:30pm).”

The Raiders extended to a 3-1 lead with 5:45 to play, as Gardiner silenced the crowd of 6,337 with a wicked slingshot up under the bar, punishing Jordan Thomson for an all-advised pass up the wall.

“We had some tough turnovers at some tough times,” Head Coach and General Manager Bob Woods said.

“We’re seeing some improvement. I liked tonight’s effort a whole lot better than last night’s. We’ll stick with it, get our offence going and the results will come.”

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