Being consistently inconsistent…
By the time the Pirates figured out how to win hockey games, it was too little, too late and as a result will miss the postseason for the first time in five seasons.
“We figured it out too late into the season,” said Pirates’ defenseman Nathan Oystrick. “We had the group to do it. We had the goaltending, the defense, the power to score goals and the veteran guys, but for some reason we couldn’t figure it out until about five weeks or so left in the season.”
What stings more about this season was it’s the first year of the Pirates’ affiliation with the Phoenix Coyotes.
“Anytime your schedule ends on April 15 and you’re doing exit interviews on April 16, it means the season didn’t go the way you wanted it to go,” said Coyotes’ Asst. GM Brad Treliving, who traveled overnight from Phoenix.
“We’re not in the playoffs and that’s hard,” said Pirates’ coach Ray Edwards. “I understand people will be disappointed with that, and no one is more disappointed than this group. We know there are high expectations in this city and we have to get to work to fix what went wrong.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way as Coyotes’ management went into the open market and signed several high-end AHL veterans over the summer. On paper, the Pirates were a dangerous looking hockey team, with the likes of Oystrick, Dean Arsene, Alexandre Bolduc and Marc-Antoine Pouliot on the roster, built around a core of Andy Miele, Brett MacLean and Michael Stone.
This was a team that was going to compete for the conference title and a Calder Cup; instead, they were eliminated on the final day of the regular season.
Several reasons factored both on and off the ice as to why the Pirates missed the postseason.
The Pirates finished 30th in team defense in the AHL, giving up an average of 3.34 goals per game (254 goals) and constantly were dealing with problems defending in their own end all season.
“We gave up too many goals,” said Edwards. “I’m not pinning it all on the goaltenders. (Strong defense) is an identity of this organization and we weren’t good enough.”
Special teams were another issue for the Pirates as they ranked 20th with the man advantage, giving up a league-leading 15 goals while on the power play, and 26th on the penalty kill.
Portland couldn’t develop the chemistry, and it showed in the Pirates getting outhustled in the early portions of games and never being able to recover.
In the months of December and January when teams are jockeying for position, the Pirates staggered to an 11-11-1-2 record.
“Why did this happen in the middle of the season,” asked Edwards. “That’s the biggest thing we need to figure out what happened and why we were so inconsistent. December and January were tough months because we couldn’t get the right mix, chemistry was off and we were inconsistent in our game. I’ll have to look at that in the offseason and see what I could have done that to remedy that quicker.”
The Pirates were also forced to deal with personnel issues, namely forward Patrick O’Sullivan, who made it known on more than one occasion publically that he had no desire to play in Portland and the bubble burst as management was left no choice, but to deal with what was the white elephant in the room.
O’Sullivan was dealt to the Peoria Rivermen for forward Brett Sterling, and in an instant it was almost as if a weight was lifted off the team’s shoulders in the final 20 games of the regular season.
The Pirates made other moves at the trade deadline as Brock Trotter was loaned to St. John’s for Kenndal McArdle and Peter Mannino, who along with Sterling provided the team with stability in the locker room and on the ice.
“We saw what happened when we made those moves,” said Edwards. “Our team changed. I’ll need to go back and look to see if I could have found a way to make that happen quicker.”
With those three players in the lineup, the Pirates went 10-6-1-2 to improve to four games over .500.
By then it was too late, but it was not a lost cause as the late season push has given the Pirates hope for the future.
“I always envisioned our team playing this way at the end,” said Edwards. “I knew the start might be a little slow, but I thought the middle portion of the season was going to be better. I envisioned us playing our best hockey at the end of the season.”
“It’s frustrating,” said Oystrick. “For whatever reason that’s when we came together as a team.”
NOTES: Forwards Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Alexandre Bolduc and goaltender Justin Pogge were recalled by the Coyotes and left Monday morning to meet the team in Chicago where Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinal between the Coyotes and Blackhawks will take place… The Coyotes will have another group of players including Ethan Werek, Brett MacLean, Brett Hextall, Jordan Szwarz, Andy Miele, David Rundblad, Mark Louis, Maxim Goncharov, Connor Murphy & Matt Watkins travel to Phoenix on Thursday to be a part of the Black Aces.