The Pirates have been on a roller coast ride all season long. At times, they’ve been a team that looks like they could compete with the very best in the AHL, while on some nights they’re just going through the motions.
“We’ve tried to put together a plan regardless of who is in the lineup, but it’s been a struggle to get that done on a nightly basis,” said Edwards. “We’ve been really inconsistent in executing our game plan every night. Some nights we got it, but other nights, we just don’t for whatever reason.”
The Pirates are currently 21-18-2-3, which is good enough for 47 points and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, however at points during the first 44 games they were battling just to stay out of the cellar in the American Hockey League standings.
If that’s not enough to be concerned about, the low light of the season was a new franchise record for the longest scoreless streak of 167 minutes, 50 seconds, eclipsing the previous record of 137:23, which dated back to 2004-’05 season under a Tim Army led Pirates squad, which by the franchise’s standard was considered the low of the low points in franchise history.
In other words, anything associated with the Pirates under Tim Army’s tenure is not the type history you should be proud of setting, and it’s not what was expected when the season began.
The Pirates new parent club, the Phoenix Coyotes, made a splash in Portland by bolstering its’ roster during the summer with several high-end free agents, but through the first half none of them have done anything that sets themselves apart from anyone else in the league or the rest of the team for that matter.
Instead, the roster appears to be more like a ‘paper tiger’ than a heavyweight contender, which shouldn’t be the case. Not with this roster. Not with this group of players.
Goaltending and defense was supposed to be the trademark of this team.
Curtis McElhinney and Justin Pogge were going to lead the way in net as a tandem that hadn’t been seen in Portland since the days of Olaf Kolzig and Byron Dafoe, a tandem who could shut down the most prolific scorer on any given night.
What we’ve seen is McElhinney – who is now out long-term with an abdominal injury – post a 10-12-1-0 record with a 3.04GAA and .907 save percentage and Pogge a 9-6-1-3 record with a 2.94GAA and a .892 save percentage. Neither goaltender has been terrible. We’ve seen glimpses of what they can do with highlight reel saves, but the words that Edwards used to describe much of this team this season.
Average and Inconsistent.
“When you look at goals against, that’s a team stat and it has to be lower, it’s too high and our save percentage has to be higher,” said Edwards. “(Pogge and McElhinney) can be better. There have been nights where they been inconsistent, but they also won us some games this season. Both goalies have had stretches were they gave us a chance every night. A lot of these stats are team stats and right now we’re one or two games over .500 and to me that’s just average and I know we can be better than that.”
On the offensive side of the puck, the Pirates have nobody in the top-20 in AHL scoring.
Last season, the Pirates had four 25-plus goal scorers with Mark Mancari (32), Luke Adam (29), Paul Byron (26), and Derek Whitmore (27).
Offense — B
Defense — B
Goaltending — B
Special Teams — B
This year the Pirates are on pace to have just two. Brock Trotter, who was acquired in a trade for defenseman Garrett Stafford less than a month into the regular season, has 12 goals, 23 assists as the leading point scorer for the Pirates. Brett MacLean, who was claimed by Winnipeg prior to the season, and reclaimed by the Phoenix a month later, has been solid, scoring 28 points (16g, 12a, +8) in 33 games.
However, forwards Marc-Antoine Pouliot (four goals, 12 assists), and off-season signees Tyler Eckford (four goals, 11 assists, -8) and Dean Arsene (two goals, seven assists, -10) have been disappointments when it comes to adding a measurable amount of offense.
Defenseman Nathan Oystrick has been his traditional offensive self, providing the offense with the timely scoring, posting nine goals, 16 assists for 25 points, but there are times when his exuberance has gotten him into trouble, which you wouldn’t have expected from the veteran, and one who has a Calder Cup ring.
Patrick O’Sullivan has proven in the past that he can be a dominant player in the American Hockey League. He’s done it, and he can’t hide from it because Pirates fans have seen it and still remember him cutting up the ice with the Manchester Monarchs. With that, he clearly has his mind elsewhere and he’s had little trouble in letting it be known he’d rather be elsewhere. Still, he proves why he’s a talented player; recording 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in only 14 games. Gee, imagine if he only applied himself on a nightly basis?
Alexandre Bolduc, another summer addition, gets a pass due to off-season surgery to repair a torn labarum in his left shoulder. Bolduc missed nearly the entire first half of the season, just recently making his season debut where he has two points in his first five games of the season. His addition to the lineup should help in a several areas where the Pirates have been lacking which is include taking key face-offs, playing the penalty kill and giving the Pirates a presence down the middle. Something they’ve haven’t had most of the season.
Those additions to a group of first year players such as Hobey Baker winners, Andy Miele and Ryan Duncan along with prospects Jordan Szwarz, Ethan Werek – who is tied for fourth worst plus/minus in the league (-15) – and Brett Hextall should have made the Pirates a threat every night for top spot in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire AHL, but it hasn’t turned out that way.
The Pirates have only 121 goals (2.75 goals per game) on the season, which ranks them 20th in the AHL in offense. Likewise, they have allowed 137 goals (3.11 per game) for the 26th worst defense in the AHL.
Edwards referred to the team’s offense as average, which shouldn’t be the case and he acknowledges that.
“We’ve been just average,” Edwards said in referring to his team’s offensive production. “It’s been inconsistent. We’ve really relied on certain players and haven’t had enough offensive depth. We really needed to get some offense from our bottom six that we haven’t had, yet. We had hoped to get some more offense from the blueline. We got goals from (Oystrick), Stone has a couple, Eckford has a couple, but we really need to find more balance in our lineup on a more consistent basis.”
This doesn’t even factor in the power play, ranked 25th (15.5 percent), or penalty kill, which is 23rd in the AHL at 79.8 percent.
The Pirates are currently on a 0-for-21 run, dating back to Jan. 18, and are 3-for-52 (5.8 percent) in their last 10 games.
“The (power play) has been awful,” said Edwards. I don’t think we’ll blow it up. We have our foundation, but I’m going to look at it. I think the personnel on the power play needs to change. Even when we were winning, the power play wasn’t very good.”
“By our next game, we’ll have a plan in place.”
For all the doom-and-gloom, the Pirates season is hardly over. The ’95-96 Pirates were the worst team in the American Hockey League. They resolved their first half issues, made the playoffs and went on an amazing Calder Cup run that came up just one game short of winning their second Calder Cup in three years.
It has happened and it can happen again. The team has the talent. They have the coaching staff, and they support staff in Phoenix to make it happen.
“We’ve got 32 games left,” said Pirates’ forward Matt Watkins. “We still have some time to make some hay and get ourselves into the position to make the playoffs, but we need to get moving.”
“Hopefully, our leaders can grab a hold of this thing,” said Edwards. “They know what the deal is. We’ve got to come together as a team. We had a nice little run. We probably deserved a better fate (last Friday), but (Saturday) against a good team, we got taught a lesson.”
“For us to improve in the standings, we’ve got to become a better team.”
“We’ve got 32 games left so it’s time.”