Portland, ME – Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen held a light, but brisk practice at the Civic Center as they prepare for Wednesday’s game against the Worcester Sharks in Massachusetts.
Although, the Pirates have been on a roll to start the season by going an impressive 6-1-1, Dineen refused to sit idle. Instead, he opted to spend most of the time in practice working on forward drills, specifically on the forward’s defensive coverage on the transition.
One eye-catching surprise was defenseman Mike Funk skating as a forward, which led to the belief he may be seeing action as soon as Wednesday in Worcester and could possibly be skating up front. However, Dineen said he wasn’t quite ready yet and playing up front was more for the purpose of getting Funk a good skating workout than playing as a forward.
It’s expected Funk will instead return over the weekend when the Pirates play a pair of home games against Springfield and Philadelphia, which will be good news for Portland as they still have a small rash of injuries with Tyler Bouck (infection) and Dylan Hunter (broken toe) out for an extended period of time.
Because of the injuries, Dineen has had to make several adjustments to his lineup, signing forward Aaron Slattengren to an AHL contract, bringing Matt MacDonald in on a PTO and Marc-Andre Gragnani has had to play forward the last two games for the Pirates.
Dineen wanted to keep him on defense, but whether it’s been forward or defense, he’s really liked what Gragnani has brought to the table so far this season.
“You lose Bouck and Hunter and (Gragnani) doesn’t play the same sort of role, but he’s talented enough and intelligent enough to do a lot of good things with the forwards,” said Dineen.
“It’s nice to have that versatility. I met with him a few days before (the road trip) and I was really enjoying watching him playing defense. We talked about a lot of things defensively. I told him how my long-term play was to keep him on defense and two days later, I had to tell him he had to play forward.”
It may be a tougher decision for Dineen in the next few days as Buffalo is getting healthy and that will have a direct impact on the Pirates. Jochen Hecht is close to returning, possibly as soon as Friday when the Sabres play Atlanta, and if that’s the case, it will mean a forward will have to be assigned to Portland to make room.
Right now, it’s like a real guessing game as neither Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier or head coach Lindy Ruff are tipping their hand, but possible candidates to be assigned are Matt Ellis, Andrew Peters, Patrick Kaleta or even Drew Stafford. It’s unlikely to be Kaleta or Stafford and by sending Peters to Portland, the Sabres lose some toughness in their lineup so by the process of elimination. It likely that Ellis would be the one sent to Portland.
It’s amazing that how things have changed since the beginning of season when the pundits spoke of the Pirates lack of depth and how it would be their downfall, but yet despite their injuries Dineen has been able to find talent and keep the Pirates winning.