Raiders in mix for playoffs in muddy Eastern Conference

Darren Steinke

Special to the Herald

Parity might be the name of the game in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, when you get past the conference’s top four teams.

As November nears a conclusion, all 12 teams in the Eastern Conference can claim they are in the thick of the playoff race. The circuit’s most veteran observers would have a tough time remembering the last time that happened.

Usually at this point in time, you would usually have one or two teams that were in an obvious rebuild hanging around the bottom of the conference standings.

Going into Wednesday’s action, the Prince Albert Raiders sit last in the WHL’s East Division with a 6-11-0-1 record. If the Raiders had just four more points in the standings, they would be sitting third in the East Division and fifth overall in the Eastern Conference.

It is crazy to think about how much the Raiders are in the thick of things.

The top four teams in the Eastern Conference have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. The Winnipeg ICE sit first overall and are the class of the conference posting a 19-1 record having outscored their opposition 106-36.

The Edmonton Oil Kings are second overall at 14-3-2-1, the surprising Red Deer Rebels are third overall with a 14-6-1 mark and the Saskatoon Blades are fourth 11-7-1.

The other eight teams in the conference are all under .500. Those eight clubs are battling it out for four playoff spots.

Out of those eight teams, you are wondering who is going take the ball and run with it. If one of those squads can roll off a five or six game winning streak in the short term, that team would solidify itself for fifth overall in the conference.

On paper, the Raiders are one of those teams that could potentially roll off a five or six game winning streak. Their top four in their defensive pairings are solid.

The top pairing sees 19-year-old captain Kaiden Guhle, who might be the best defenceman in the WHL, teamed with 20-year-old Remy Aquilon. The second pairing sees Nolan Allan, who is a first round NHL Entry Draft selection of the Chicago Blackhawks, partnered with 19-year-old Landon Kosior.

That foursome gives you a base to be solid in the back end.

The Raiders need a touch better play from their goaltenders in Carter Serhyenko and import Tikhon Chaika. It would be great if one of those netminders could get their save percentage above 90 per cent.

As a team, the Raiders need a little bit better puck luck around the net in the offensive zone. In recent losses, the effort has been there, but the goals haven’t come.

The Raiders have to continue that effort in the offensive end with the hope the goal gusher will come.

Right now, we are waiting to see which out of the eight teams that are below .500 in the Eastern Conference will step up and be “the team” out of that group. That team could very well be the Raiders.

How about those Silvertips and Blazers

The Everett Silvertips and the Kamloops Blazers are the class of the WHL’s Western Conference at the quarter point of the season.

The Silvertips are riding a nine-game winning streak and have yet to lose in regulation posting a 15-0-0-1 record to top the conference. Former Blades netminder Koen MacInnes has started half of Everett’s games winning all eight of those contests posting a 1.62 goals against average, a .927 save percentage and two shutouts.

The Silvertips acquired MacInnes on Aug. 12 in swap of 19-year-olds sending left-winger Brendan Lee to the Blades.

In traditional Silvertips form, they are winning being tough on defence. Czech import centre Michal Gut leads the Silvertips in scoring with four goals and 16 assists in 13 games played. He has a plus-14 rating in the plus-minus department.

The Blazers are second overall in the conference with a 14-2 mark having scored the second most goals in the WHL at 80, while giving up just 31 goals.

Veteran forwards Logan Stankoven, Josh Pillar and Matthew Seminoff sit top three in team scoring with 26, 25 and 24 points respectively. Veteran puck stopper Dylan Garand has posted a 12-2 record, a 1.79 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and two shutouts.

Those two clubs are slated to meet for the first time this season on Saturday in Everett in what should be a heavyweight tilt.

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