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FALCONS: Penalty kill wrestles momentum and frustrates Phantoms top players

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Falcons players stopped just shy of saying they came out flat this afternoon, but they were not happy with how the game started.

They were whistled for four minor penalties in the first period and gave the Adirondack Phantoms a grade-A chance to build an early lead. Michael Chaput took an interference penalty at 5:49 of the first period and Dalton Prout joined him in the box for slashing less than two minutes later, giving the visitors a two-man advantage with their best players on the ice.

Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo, Ben Holmstrom, Eric Wellwood...all very talented players that Phantoms head coach Terry Murray had at his disposal for the 5-on-3. Schenn played the left point and Couturier was good on the draw, but the Falcons penalty killers were intent on clogging the shooting lanes in front of Curtis McElhinney.

The game could have gotten out of hand before the crowd even got settled, but Springfield's special teams stepped to the fore and nullified most of what came its way.

"Joudrey, Bass, Craig...all the veteran guys led the way," Falcons center Ryan Johansen said. "It's just contagious throughout the lineup. They were doing a great job. Our penalty kill was huge tonight; I don't know how many power plays they had but it was up there. It's good to see and it really energizes the bench."

Much of the Falcons' success against Adirondack goes back to the first half of the opening period. The Phantoms were attacking on each shift and spending time in the Springfield zone, eventually leading to penalties and power play opportunities that seemingly came in bunches.

As the adage goes, your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender. McElhinney wanted to be back in the nets for the second game in a row, per Brad Larsen, and he felt more comfortable from the outset.

"They came out with a pretty good push in the first period and we knew they had some offensively talented players," McElhinney said. "It was a good way to weather the storm early on and then I thought we responded pretty well.

"With the players they have, we knew we wanted to limit their opportunities and the power plays they got. I thought the guys did a good job forcing pucks to the outside and creating bad angle shots."

The penalty trouble might have raised Larsen's blood pressure a little bit, but he was most pleased to see how his club answered the penalty kills.

Springfield's forwards were aggressive on the kill and didn't let many shots get through to the net, and when they did, the pucks hit McElhinney square in the logo.

"I actually thought we built off that," Larsen said. "Momentum carried over from the 5-on-3s and we played a pretty solid game. It wasn't our best game; we still have to plenty work on, but I liked our response to the adversity we faced early in the game."


Larsen entrusted Andrew Joudrey's line to check the Schenn/Couturier unit at even strength, and as it turned out, they also saw a lot of each other in special teams situations. On the back end, the shutdown duties have been assigned to Dalton Prout and John Moore and they done their part, as well.

The Falcons made sure to close down the middle of the ice and not allow any odd-man rushes going the other way, making it a quiet afternoon from Adirondack's young stars.

"The key for me is to just play in their zone," Larsen said. "If you can keep them out of your defensive zone, that's half the battle right there. (Schenn and Couturier) play with a lot of energy and are obviously very dangerous players, but I thought our response and line match up was very good.

"We've asked (Moore and Prout) to step up and take that responsibility of playing against top guys. We're very comfortable with all six of our defensemen right and being able to handle any assignment given. Mooresy and Prouter played a lot against them I thought they did a really good job, as well."

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