With 12 games left in the regular season, the Pirates can’t hold anything back if they want to continue playing into late April.
The Pirates (29-28-3-4) have 65 points, currently in 12th place, and sit three points behind the Syracuse Crunch for the eighth and final playoff spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
It’s not only Syracuse that the Pirates have to battle with over the final four weeks of the regular season for one of those final playoff berths, but as many as seven teams are in the hunt for eighth place.
The Crunch, who the Pirates won’t play during the regular season, have been the hottest of those seven teams, going 8-2-0 over their last 10 games, and currently is on a five-game winning streak.
Eastern Conference Playoff Race:
7. Manchester – 69pts (11GR)
8. Syracuse – 68pts (11GR)
9. Worcester – 67pts (12GR)
10. Albany – 67pts (11GR)
11. Springfield – 66pts (11GR)
12. PORTLAND – 65pts (12GR)
13. Adirondack – 63pts (12GR)
14. Providence – 63pts (11GR)
Manchester, Worcester, Springfield and Adirondack have been mostly around .500 over the last 10 games, meaning the Pirates still have control of its own fate. They have multiple games against Manchester, Worcester and Providence, in what are considered must-win games, but they’ll have to do most of the dirty work on the road as they’ll play seven of their next eight games away from the Cumberland County Civic Center, starting this weekend with three games-in-three days with stops in Connecticut, Manchester and Providence.
Despite having control of their own destiny, it’s a stretch of games that will likely decide the Pirates season as anything less than six points will put them further behind the eight ball in the playoff race.
Pirates’ coach Ray Edwards is not worried about that thought just yet. He’s taking each game one at a time, beginning with Friday night’s contest against Connecticut.
“We have to deal with Friday night and try to win,” said Edwards. After the game, we’ll look and say ‘where are we’ and that’s how we’re going to deal with it. We’ll repeat that on Saturday and again on Sunday… If we can find a way to string a few games together, we might be able to put some separation between us and the rest of the pack.”
Being able to string ‘some games’ together has been an issue for the Pirates for the entire season, and games are winding down to find a solution.
In 64 games, the Pirates have only one extended period during the season where they put a string of games together which was back in November when they earned 15 of a possible 20 points, going 7-2-1. The longest win streak for the Pirates was four games from Jan. 15 – Jan. 21.
Pirates win-loss record by month:
Oct. – 3-5-0-1
Nov. – 7-2-1-0
Dec. – 5-5-1-2
Jan. – 6-6-0-0
Feb. – 4-7-1-0
Mar. – 4-3-0-1*
*(five games remaining in March)
The main issue for the Pirates hasn’t been the lack of effort, but rather consistency.
“We need everyone to be a little bit better,” said Edwards. “Our urgency to play has to be better. I don’t have a fault with our work ethic, but we just need to execute the game plan a little bit better and find a way to get it done. That’s the one thing we haven’t been able to do all year, but this is the time of year to look past that and finally put it all together.”
The Pirates will have to face the possibility of being without several of their top scorers as Nathan Oystrick, Brett MacLean, and Ryan Duncan are all question marks for the weekend.
Oystrick, who leads all defensemen on the Pirates with 31 points, has missed the last five games with a lower-body injury, but Edwards indicated that he is considered hopeful for Friday. Edwards also indicated MacLean, who has 36 points (19g, 17a) in 51 games with the Pirates, is hopeful to return for Friday after skating in practice Wednesday and Thursday.
Duncan is still doubtful for a return on Friday after suffering a facial laceration in Sunday’s, 5-4, shootout loss to the Connecticut Whale. Duncan was taken to St. Francis Hospital where he needed 45 stitches to sew a gash from his right cheek under his nose to his left cheek. He could return at some point this weekend.
They are not only injures the Pirates are dealing with at the moment as Maxim Goncharov (upper body), Colin Long (concussion) and Ryan Hollweg (left knee) are out for the foreseeable future. Long is the only one of the three currently skating and he hasn’t been approved for contact by the medical staff.
It’s that time of year when teams begin signing college free agents and junior players, who seasons have been recently completed. The Pirates jumped into that fray when they signed defenseman Harrison Ruopp and forward Justin Maylan to amateur tryout contracts.
Ruopp is a Phoenix Coyotes draft pick, selected in the third round (#x overall) of the 2011 Entry Draft, and recently completed his season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. Ruopp, 6-2, 193-pounds, played 62 games for the Raiders, scoring two goals, seven assists for nine points with 127 penalty minutes.
Maylan, who was a teammate of Ruopp in Prince Albert, led the Raiders in scoring with 89 points (26g, 63a) in 72 games.
Edwards wasn’t sure when they would play, or if they would even make it into the lineup this season, but being in the locker would give them a valuable start to their pro career.