Try as they might, the Prince Albert Raiders just couldn’t crack Max Paddock.
The Regina Pats netminder backstopped his team to a 37-save, 3-1 win in Western Hockey League action Monday afternoon from P.A.
“I don’t think we could be satisfied with how we played, but sometimes you have to depend on your goaltender to win a game,” Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock said. (Max is John’s nephew.)
The teams ended the first period of play with Regina up 2-0 on even-strength scores from Nick Henry and Jared Legien.
But that was all the offence the Pats could muster, going zero for 15 on the shots they fired on P.A. goalie Ian Scott through the second and third periods. (The team’s third score was an empty-netter from Matt Bradley in the game’s final minute.)
“It was a hard game to win tonight. A hard game to close. We’ve played seven games in 11 days; (There were) a lot of emotions going into the Moose Jaw games, so it was difficult,” the Regina coach said.
Of those seven games, dating back to a Feb. 9 loss to Kootenay, the Pats had four wins, two regulation losses and one shootout loss. That stretch included a loss and two wins against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Feb. 14, 16 and 18.
Paddock said he wants some of his other players to be better, but “Max was on his game tonight, so that was a big factor for us.”
Meanwhile, the Raiders continued coming up short against Regina’s goalie. Winger Brett Leason was the lone Raider able to find the back of the net.
He converted a deadly wrist shot 13 minutes into the second period, beating Paddock on his top-right, blocker side. That cut Regina’s lead to one goal.
“We probably deserved better again. Their goaltender played great; he made that save off (Parker) Kelly at the end there. That was a tying goal on his stick,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.
As Raiders centreman Kody McDonald corralled the puck behind Regina’s net late in the third period, winger Parker Kelly slipped behind a set of distracted Pats players to sit at the edge of Paddock’s crease.
McDonald spotted Kelly and made a tape-to-tape pass to his teammate, setting him up for a close-range, forehand shot. The Pats goalie slid his left leg to the net’s wide side, stopping Kelly on his first shot and on his second try at the rebound.
“We stuck with it,” Habscheid said. “I thought we changed a couple things to get them off balance. I thought we did a good job of it and created a lot of chances.”
For all the talk of their goalie, who was superb, the Pats also found success from their hard-checking defencemen.
Though not consistent through the entire game, the Regina d-men gummed up the neutral zone and the areas around their blue line frequently enough to foil the Raiders’ speed and transition play. That bought time for Paddock to ready himself in his crease for a Raiders’ shot.
On the flip side of the ice, Brady Pouteau was instrumental in holding the blue line in the Raiders’ zone while his teammates cycled the puck. At least three times, the six-foot-three-inch Manitoban stood up Raiders players at the blue line as they tried to move the puck out of their zone.
“He’s been outstanding. Right from the start when he came … we thought he was a good player last year against us in the playoffs, but he’s a higher-level player than when we had him last year, before we traded him. He’s just been fantastic,” Paddock said of the defenceman. The Pats reacquired Pouteau this year at the trade deadline after trading him to Lethbridge in the 2016-17 season.
For a large portion of the game, Regina’s defensive unit had to play a skater short, after Liam Schioler put a check from behind on McDonald at 8:49 in the first period.
McDonald carried the puck into Regina’s zone and turned away from Schioler towards the boards while in the faceoff circle. Schioler used his hands and forearms to push McDonald on his hips into the boards, sending the P.A. centreman face-first into the barrier.
The Regina defenceman received a five minute major penalty and was ejected from the game on a game misconduct call. Despite being down a defender, the Pats held the Raiders off the score sheet during the ensuing five minute penalty kill.
McDonald remained out for the rest of the period, but he returned in the second period to finish the game. Habscheid said he was lucky to return: “That was a bad hit.”
The Raiders (23-25-9-2) are off from play on Tuesday. They next play a stretch of games in Alberta, starting on Wednesday against the Lethbridge Hurricanes (29-24-6-0).
The Pats’ win, plus a Saskatoon Blades win on Sunday pushes the Raiders further back in the WHL’s East Division standings as they hunt for a playoff spot.
The Pats have jumped ahead of the Brandon Wheat Kings to take third spot in the division, making Brandon, Saskatoon and Prince Albert the three teams vying for one of two wildcard playoff spots this year in the league’s Eastern Conference.
Currently Brandon and Saskatoon hold those two spots. The Wheat Kings are 10 points ahead of the Raiders, and the Blades are eight points ahead.