Pats look to strike back against Blades in season series on WHL on Access action
Saskatoon Blades (23-22-2-1) at
Regina Pats (24-20-5-0)
Wednesday, January 24 – Brandt Centre – 7 p.m. (Central)
Channels: Access7 SD, Access 70 HD, WHL Live
One of the longer-lasting rivalries in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference has been built up since the founding of the league in 1966. That rivalry will continue once again Wednesday in WHL on Access action from the Brandt Centre.
If they haven’t played each other enough over the past 52 seasons, four meetings in the past 41 days – including tonight – and two high-profile trades between the divisional opponents have only served to increase the raised stakes that are a part of each contest.
Those with their fingers on the pulse of the WHL standings will know how important Wednesday’s matchup is as well, with the Pats and Blades occupying the first and second wild card spots in the Eastern Conference respectively, four points separating the two clubs.
The Pats have lofty goals for this season and have started to show signs of an upswing in January with a 6-2-2-0 record that features a recent overtime loss to the Blades. The team’s additions have worked out well to compliment a roster that was already brimming with offensive talent, but the additions of Jesse Gabrielle (Boston Bruins) and his seven points (5G-2A) in six games, Cameron Hebig (Edmonton Oilers) and his six points (2G-4A) in five games with the Pats are signs of a team that has a more balanced attack. The four losses, coming by a combined total of six goals, indicate that things could still pick up in the offensive department.
Surprisingly, a trio of players picking up their game at the right time are ones that Pats already had on their roster. Leading the team in January is defenceman Josh Mahura (Anaheim Ducks) and his 17 points (5G-12A) in 10 games, followed closely by Matt Bradley’s 13 points (6G-7A) in 10 games this month. Rounding out the trio is captain Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks), who has played in just five games, but still recorded eight points (3G-5A).
The Blades are still contending this season, but with so many contenders in their own division, their decisions at the WHL Trade Deadline were that of a team selling high on their assets at the moment while building up for contending in future years.
Since Jan. 10, Eric Florchuk and Max Gerlach have tallied seven and six points respectively for the Blades, with Florchuk’s multi-goal game last Saturday helping the Blades top the Pats in overtime. Florchuk won’t be available to the Blades for Wednesday’s game with his attendance requested for the 2018 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, so seeing how the Blades play without one of their younger stars in the lineup will be a telling story as well going forward.
Gerlach picked up a point in his first four games with the Blades, including an assist against his former team in his Blades’ debut and then a multi-goal effort against the Red Deer Rebels three nights later that featured him scoring the game-winner.
If last Saturday’s matchup was any indication, WHL fans are in for a treat Wednesday night and for the two other remaining games in the season series – Feb. 11 and Feb. 23 – in Saskatoon.
What could tip part of the balance in Wednesday’s game is the lineup of players on the sidelines. The Pats have four players nursing injuries at the moment, including Jake Leschyshyn (Vegas Golden Knights) and Emil Oksanen, while the subtractions of Caleb Fantillo and Mark Rubinchik from the Blades’ roster aren’t easy losses, but still manageable for Saskatoon.
In what seems to be a recurring theme, the Pats will once again be looking to improve their home penalty killed, ranked 20th in the league, in Wednesday’s contest, the first in a stretch of five games that will see them at home four times. The Pats had the fourth-best home penalty kill last season (82.3 %) and over the past 10 seasons have never dipped lower than 77.5 % (2010-11), which makes this year’s mark of 73.4 %. There’s still 10 regular season games left for the Pats to turn things around and an additional two months before the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup, to work on things to work in a positive direction, but this probably ranks high on John Paddock’s list of questions he’d like to know the answer to well before the middle of May.
They won’t get much help from the Blades and their eighth-ranked road power play (23.9 %). They’ve been put on the man-advantage 92 times this season while playing away from home, converting on 22 of those opportunities. Having given up only three short-handed goals on the road as well, the Blades find themselves in the top half of the league for that statistic, sitting in a three-way tie for ninth.
Watch another classic meeting between the Blades and Pats live on Access this evening!
GAME DAY PREVIEW: Highway 11 rivalry heads back to the Queen City
— Saskatoon Blades (@BladesHockey) January 24, 2018
Head coach: Dean Brockman
Leading scorers: LW Braylon Shmyr (24-39-63); RW Max Gerlach (20-21-41); C Josh Paterson (23-14-37)
Leading goaltender: Nolan Maier (26GP, 15-9-0-1, 3.31 GAA, .902 SV%)
Power play: 16th – 19.9%
Penalty kill: 16th – 76.4%
Injuries/Unavailable: C Eric Florchuk (2018 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game); RW Caleb Fantillo (lower body, day-to-day); D Mark Rubinchik (lower body, day-to-day)
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) January 24, 2018
Head coach: John Paddock
Leading scorers: C Cameron Hebig (32-32-64); C Matt Bradley (29-27-56); D Josh Mahura (16-30-46)
Leading goaltender: Ryan Kubic (25GP, 11-12-2-0, 3.75 GAA, .884 SV%)
Power play: 13th – 21.8%
Penalty kill: 20th – 73.5%
Injuries/unavailable: C Jake Leschyshyn (lower body, day-to-day); C Scott Mahovlich (lower body, one-to-two weeks); RW Emil Oksanen (upper body, day-to-day); D Liam Schioler (upper body, indefinite)
Oct. 7 – Saskatoon 3 Regina 7
Oct. 11 – Saskatoon 6 Regina 4
Dec. 15 – Saskatoon 4 Regina 3 – OT
Dec. 17 – Regina 2 Saskatoon 3
Jan. 20 – Regina 3 Saskatoon 4 – OT
Jan. 24 – Saskatoon at Regina*
Feb. 11 – Regina at Saskatoon*
Feb. 23 – Regina at Saskatoon
* Indicates WHL on Access broadcast