It will be the Pirates first three-in-three this season, in part due to the American Hockey League reducing the schedule from 80 down to 76-games.
“It’s a good test for us to go on the road and see where we stack up,” said Pirates coach Ray Edwards. “The nice thing is the guys are starting to believe in their identity and the philosophy that we have to play with as a team.”
After a slow start to the season that saw the Pirates go 4-7-0-1, they’ve steadily made the climb out of the basement of the Eastern Conference, riding a season-high seven-game point streak (6-0-1) into the weekend.
Curtis McElhinney, who struggle along with the rest of the team, has been in net for most of the Pirates turn around. After recording a 4.73GAA with a .869 save percentage in his first nine starts, he’s slowly begun to find his game, posting a 2.10GAA and a .935 save percentage in his last five games.
“We’ve had a couple really good games over the last stretch,” said Edwards. “We’ve had some games that we haven’t been as good, but our goaltender has come up big, which is what you have to have. It’s been a staple of the (Coyotes’) organization that you have goaltenders that can win games.”
Not only has the goaltending improved, but the veteran leadership on the team namely Pirates’ captain Dean Arsene and Ryan Hollweg, has taken more of roll of establishing a team identity, something that Edwards felt was missing at the beginning to year.
“(Arsene and Hollweg) are the ones driving that philosophy,” said Edwards. “That’s what they are all about. The work ethic, character and compete level. It’s about understanding how we have to play and establishing that identity and working the way we’ve worked.”
“I think the team is beginning to understand that philosophy.”
Not only is the team winning right now, but they are doing it without some of their key regulars in the lineup because of either injuries or call ups to the Pirates’ parent club, the Phoenix Coyotes’, however the positive is several players are on the verge of returning to the lineup potentially within the next seven days.
The Pirates’ long-term injuries are to forward Mathieu Beaudoin, who is not expected to return until sometime late February after suffering a dislocated thumb on his left hand and Alexandre Bolduc, who has missed the season because of off-season shoulder surgery. He’s still on target for a post-Christmas return.
Goaltender Justin Pogge missed four games with a lower-body injury, but is back skating with the Pirates and will be available to play this weekend. Pogge was 3-1-0-1 with a 2.37GAA and .911 save percentage before suffering the injury against Providence on Nov. 12. Rookie Ethan Werek is skating on the fourth line after taking a shot to the mouth in a game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which resulted in a infection that forced him into the hospital for a couple of day.
Brock Trotter and Nathan Oystrick will travel with the team this weekend, but both are not expected to play. Trotter, who has missed the last eight games with an upper-body injury, could be available if needed. Edwards said that he would have a better picture once Trotter received medical clearance.
Oystrick is still at least a week away, but is getting close, skating in practice wearing a non-contact jersey. His status will be clarified once he visits with the doctors.
The AHL announced this afternoon that forward Andy Miele has been named the AHL Rookie of the Month for November.
Miele recorded four goals, nine assists with a plus-7 rating in 10 games with the Pirates this month. Miele spent the first portion of the month on recall with the Coyotes, playing five games.
The Hobey Baker Award winner is the first Rookie of the Month recipient for the Pirates since Luke Adam won the award last October.