Maine Hockey Journal

Inconsistency costing Pirates points on and off the ice

After playing 10-games in there last 15-days, the Portland Pirates will certainly enjoy the week off. However, they will be left feeling that two important points were left on the table as they blew a two-goal lead in the second period to the Lowell Devils.

The Devils scored three goals in the second and one in the third to beat the Pirates 4-3 at Tsongas Arena on Sunday afternoon.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Devils.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve said it this season, but once again, the Pirates failed to put together a full 60-minute game. Portland came out with a good amount of jump in their legs – probably from the energy in the OT win against Manchester, but whatever it was, it worked as the Pirates played effective hockey for the first 20 minutes.

Too bad it didn’t last.

So far this season, the team has had a lot of individual achievements, but they have difficultly playing as a team. Andrew Ebbett is leading the Pirates in scoring with 24 points. He’s currently ranked fourth in the league and again posted two more assists in the game against the Devils. Bobby Ryan’s play as of late has picked up, mainly because of his new linemate in Geoff Platt, but nonetheless he has really found his confidence. Speaking of Platt, since he arrived in Portland on November 16, he’s been on fire and racking up points like my fiancée with the Visa card.

In seven games with the Pirates, he has 13 points (5g, 8a) and there doesn’t seem to be any stopping him at this rate. Jason King cooled off a little bit, but has once again piled some points on the board. Pirates’ defenseman Brian Salcido ranked second in the league in scoring among AHL defenseman has played strong has of late.

So with all of the positives during the early portion of the season, why have the Pirates not been able to put together a full 60 minutes on a more consistent basis?

Part of the answer still lies with a problem I pointed out earlier in the season, which is they aren’t getting secondary scoring.

Once the Pirates get beyond the names I mentioned earlier, scoring is pretty thin among the ranks. Sure, Stephen Dixon has managed to toss a few points up on the board, but they really need to get scoring from Wirtanen, Keith, Segal and Bouck with a little more regularity. Between those four players alone, they have only accounted for nine of Portland’s 63 goals for.

Another Pirate, who needs to right the ship, and quickly is Ryan Carter, despite missing a few games due to an upper body injury, he’s been slow to respond when he’s been in the Pirates lineup. He’s spent some time with the parent club in Anaheim, playing six games, going scoreless. One won’t fault him for effort, but he needs to step up and get his game going offensively.
The other reason why the Pirates haven’t been able to put other opponents away has been the goaltending.

At the start of the season, J.P. Levasseur started the year and it was quickly realized that he needed to play with Augusta because he wasn’t ready. He still hadn’t found his timing to a game that was much faster then what he was used to in the QMJHL. Playing in the ECHL will allow him to gain the timing and in the end, he’ll be a great goalie, but just not yet.

Portland then signed Mike McKenna, who was playing for the Las Vegas Wranglers at the time. He’s highly regarded at the ECHL level, where he’s a two-time ECHL All-Star. He finished second ECHL goaltender of the year and league MVP voting and guided the Las Vegas Wranglers to 11 straight victories last season. McKenna spent time with the St. Louis Blues during their training, but there wasn’t any room for him so he went back to Vegas until getting the call from Portland. He rattled off two shootout victories, stopping all 10 shots he faced and looked like he could be something special, but in his last two games, he’s looked inconsistent in between the pipes, losing his last two starts.

Then Jonas Hiller arrived, who was not without his troubles, but played very well for the Pirates as he became acclimated to North American hockey.

He played six games, going 3-2-1 with a 2.11GAA and a .929 save percentage.

His lateral movement when down was strong and he had lightning quick reflexes, especially with his glove, but he gave up a lot of rebounds. Something the fans will get find out all about in Anaheim.

So why is he in Anaheim?

He was signed to one-year entry-level contract during the playoff last year by Anaheim and at the time, it went under the radar, except to the St. Louis, who still to this day is screaming about the deal (Any story for another time).

It was known that Ilya Bryzgalov would be dealt at some point during the season and Hiller would become the number two goaltender to Giguere. However, in the meantime he would play in Portland, learn the North American game and when Bryz was dealt he would be brought up.

Come to find out, apparently, Hiller had other ideas, opting to sign with a Russian team if Brian Burke didn’t bring him up. (When did the player dictate policy?) Burke, fearing to lose him to Russia, had little choice, but to place Bryzgalov on waivers and recall Hiller to Anaheim.

Brian Burke made the comment that Hiller wasn’t signed to play in Portland and that is true. No player, for the most part, is signed to play in Portland. They play here because of where they end up on the depth chart of the organization.
The rest as they say history.

That leaves the Pirates with Gerald Coleman as the only goaltender with any experience at the AHL level. Again, inconsistency is a killer to this team. One night he can be on fire, making 35 saves and earn the shutout or he can face 18 shots, allowing four goals and get the lost. You just don’t know what you are getting with him. To give Coleman credit, he worked extremely hard this off-season and he worked with Ducks goaltending consultant Francois Allaire. I’m sure fans are hoping it pays off soon because the Pirates will have to rely on him for the bulk of their goaltending duties.

The Pirates will have the week off, it will be chance to regroup and learn from these past 10 games as they embark on even a busier schedule in December.

NOTE: Bobby Goepfert was reassigned by the Portland Pirates on Saturday to the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL. He has yet to see any game action after suffering a severe groin strain during training camp.

Official Score Sheet

Game Recap from Portland Pirates.com

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