Portland, ME – The Portland Pirates are heading into their longest road trip of the season that will take them to the beaches of Virginia, and the home of NASCAR in Charlotte, NC.
It’s also a road trip that couldn’t have come at a better time for the Pirates.
The Pirates have started the season 6-2-0, and currently sit in first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division, but Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen’s frustration was clearly evident after this weekend’s contest against Springfield and Bridgeport.
The Pirates split the weekend (1-1-0) with a 2-1 win over Bridgeport, but could have easily gone 0-2 despite having a third period lead in both games; leaving Dineen to use this week’s practice as teaching moments.
Having the trip at this point of the season gives the players the chance to bond and regroup, and after last weekend, it’s an opportunity to hit the reset button. Especially, with the Pirates still looking for their first road win of the season.
“Certainly, getting on the road and spending seven days together is good for our chemistry and we’ve got a big goal of trying to get that first road win on the weekend,” said Dineen. It all translates into games and a lot of time it gets down to one-on-one hockey.”
It will be up to the pupils to see if they’ve learned anything and the first big exam come on Friday and Saturday when Portland battles against the Norfolk Admirals before making the five hour trek westward to Charlotte, NC to play Tuesday and Wednesday against the Checkers.
The Admirals have been an offensive juggernaut early on in the season.
Currently sitting in second place in the AHL’s East Division, only two points behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Norfolk is sporting a 5-2-0 record and an offense that has been averaging over four goals a game.
Likewise, their defense has been just as stingy allowing 2.28 goals per game, but even more impressive is they’ve only allowed two goals total on home ice to remain unbeaten at home while the Pirates try to earn their first road win of the season.
A large part of that is attributed to the improved defensive corps of the Admirals, and newly acquired goaltender Cedrick Desjardins.
Desjardins, who was acquired by trade from Montreal in the off-season, is 2-2-0 with a 2.02GAA and a .915 save percentage. He also has one shutout to his credit this season.
Pirates forward Mark Parrish spent last season with Norfolk and understands they’re a team that doesn’t back down under pressure.
“They were a hard working team last year,” said Parrish. “It was a lot about hard work and effort. They make it real hard to play against, and I’m sure that hasn’t changed it’s not going to be easy for us.”
A team going in the opposite direction has been the Charlotte Checkers.
The Checkers are in their first season in the Queen City since relocating from Albany, NY and currently have a 2-6-0, which includes a 5-1 loss to the Pirates back at the Civic Center on Oct. 11.
Their offense has been nearly non-existent since the start of the season scoring only 19 goals in eight games, of which 16 of their 19 goals have come from only five players including Jon Matsumoto, who leads the team in scoring.
Goaltender which was expected to be a strong part of Charlotte organization this season has also struggled early on with Justin Pogge between the pipes. Pogge has only played in three games this season in favor of Mike Murphy after going 0-3-0 with a 3.74GAA and a .878 save percentage. Murphy has fared better going 2-3-0 with 2.21GAA and a .918 save percentage.
After the pair of games in Charlotte, the team will fly to Boston before making their way back to Portland by bus where they will return to the Civic Center for a game on Nov. 5 against the Adirondack Phantoms.