Portland, ME – When the master plan was being drawn up by Kevin Dineen and the Buffalo Sabres for their vision of this year’s Portland Pirates. One word came to mind.
The Pirates showed plenty of grit with a 5-2 victory over the Adirondack Phantoms before a sold out crowd of 6,783 at the Cumberland County on Friday night.
It was the first game back at the Civic Center since the Pirates completed an eight day road trip through Virginia and North Carolina, and they showed signs of sluggish hockey in the first period.“We talked strongly about our mental focus and how important that was going to be especially early on we knew that out legs might not be there,” said Pirates captain Matt Ellis, who scored a score and two assists. “We’ve logged a lot miles, but it was going to be that mental focus. Making sure we’re doing the little things early.”
It took the Pirates until the seven minute mark of the first period to register their first shot, however they’d get on the board first scoring late in the period when Dennis Persson scored his first goal of the season.
Ellis, below the goal line, found Persson streaking in from the top of the left face-off circle where he ripped a one-timer by Phantoms goalie Johan Backlund at the 15:47 mark of the period.
It was only Persson’s second goal on his AHL career.
Only 1:13 later, Adirondack tied the game as David Laliberte tipped the shot by Pirates goalkeeper David Leggio while on the power play.
“It was a competitive game in the beginning,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “I think we had a letdown in the first period. We talked about it, but we slowly we built back up, and that’s the way the game played out by the scoreboard.”
“I think that was indicative of our play.”
In the second period, the Pirates regained the lead, 2-1, with the only goal of the period as Dennis McCauley, in front of the net, swept the puck in off a play by Corey Tropp at the left post.
The Phantoms tried to be physical against the Pirates, but Portland matched the intensity and the game took a chippy turn midway into the period until five foot nine inch Paul Byron faced off against Zac Rinaldo, sending message.
Byron’s teammates took notice.
“They came out early and tried to play physical and tried to take it to us, but we responded and kept getting better.”
“We’ve got some guys like that I’d like to use the word team toughness. Guys like (Byron)… Stuff like that is contagious. It’s great to see and a sign of a good team.”
The Pirates found their legs in the third period scoring three times including both a power play and shorthanded goal.
The Phantoms found themselves down five-on-three early in the third period after Stefan Legein was whistled for hooking, and only 19 seconds later, JP Testwuide was called for delay of game.
Luke Adam took advantage to score his league-leading 10th goal of the season with a nifty play near the right post, taking backhanded whack at the puck as it fuddled off Backlund into the net at 2:07, giving Portland a 3-1 lead.
At 5:17, Matt Ellis would make it 4-1 as he finished off a 2-on-1 opportunity while shorthanded.
It was mistakes like those that proved costly to the Phantoms as they are now the worst team in the American Hockey League (2-9-1-0) with five points on the season.
“I thought we played well for two periods,” said Phantoms head coach Greg Gilbert. “A lot of things that have been costing us games have been self-inflicted. Bad turnovers, bad penalties and it will kill you every night.”
“That’s what killed us again tonight.”
Dennis Hamel playing in his first game with the Phantoms scored on a breakaway midway into the period as he snapped a shot under the crossbar by Leggio, cutting into the Pirates lead, 4-2, but it was short-lived.
At 11:58, Mark Parrish picked up his own rebound, beating a diving Backlund as the Pirates regained their three-goal lead.
Leggio earned his sixth straight victory to remain undefeated, stopping 28 shots in the win.
Johan Backlund made 14 saves in the loss.
Portland was 1-for-7 on the power play, while Adirondack finished night 1-for-6.
NOTES: Colin Stuart’s point-scoring streak came to an end at seven games… The top-4 spots in AHL plus/minus is held by the Pirates led by Drew Schiestel (+14), Colin Stuart (+10) and Luke Adam and Mark Mancari tied at +9… The Pirates will face-off tomorrow against the Providence Bruins. The Bruins hadn’t had the success they’ve expected, starting the season with 3-5-1-1 record… Alex Biega and Jacob Lagace were healthy scratches.