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Penalty killing, attention to detail ail Falcons during three-game skid

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Brad Larsen was pleased with several aspects of his team's game over the weekend, but there are still some glaring issues he wants to address.

The Falcons have been one of the most penalized teams in the American Hockey League this season, but it hasn't really backed them in a corner because of timely penalty-killing and rock-solid netminding from Curtis McElhinney. Good teams can make up for that collectively when things go wrong, and Larsen is eager to see Springfield get in the habit.

Portland tallied four power play goals against the Falcons on Friday night, and Larsen was forced to pull McElhinney for the first time all season. It's a trend that Springfield just hasn't been able to buck, and opponents are starting to take advantage of their opportunities on the man advantage.

And although they couldn't come out of Sunday's game with at least a point (thanks to Ryan Bourque's last-minute winner), Larsen was pleased with the "team" game the Falcons played and thinks they're moving in the right direction.

"With us and the staff, it's about the process," Larsen said. "I didn't really like our first (period) at all and the guys weren't happy with it, either. I thought after that, for two periods, we responded very well.

"We had our chances on the power play, especially in the third, and I just felt like we had really good energy. We just couldn't get one over the goal line there."

Is this current three-game losing streak the first true adversity the Falcons have faced all season? Tough to say, considering we're just 17 games into a 76-game schedule, but there's no doubt that Springfield's next set of games are very important.

This week is ideal for them to regroup, re-focus in practice and reinforce what has made them successful thus far.

"Resiliency is something we're going to have to find as a team," Larsen said. "We've got a long ways to go to mature as a team and you've got to face some adversity. I liked how we responded to it this weekend because we've had a lot thrown at us with our penalty kill.

"You give up four power play goals on the road (Friday) and get a point out of it, then you come back home (Saturday) and give up the first three goals on the power play...those are some things you can look back on and feel like we're never out of a game."


Some of the most successful penalty-killing teams in hockey have the same things in common: they're aggressive, quick to close down passing and shooting lanes, and are willing to block shots and help out their goaltender.

Those elements were prevalent at the start of the season and were a big reason why the Falcons soared near the top of the AHL in penalty killing efficiency, but they had their share of troubles last weekend. As mentioned before, Portland scored four power play goals on Friday, and Manchester scored its first three goals of Saturday's game with a Falcons player in the penalty box.

Larsen and the coaching staff have stressed the importance of detail and preparation -- especially while shorthanded -- and their veteran forwards (Ryan Craig, Andrew Joudrey, Cody Bass and Ryan Russell prior to injuries) have led the way.

In order for Springfield to get back to where it was a few weeks ago, the details have to be at top of mind.

"We got away from what we were doing for the first 14 games," Larsen said of the penalty kill. "That was about the aggression and taking away time and space and good sticks. It's just some detail stuff; when you're not on your details, good power plays are going to pick that apart and you lose confidence.

"We got very flat-footed there (on Friday and Saturday night). We came back (Sunday) against a very good power play and we didn't give them much at all."

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