The Portland Pirates, the Coyotes’ affiliate in the American Hockey League, are fighting for one of the final two spots in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Only six points separate 7th place through 14th place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with four weeks left in the regular season. The top eight teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs.
The Pirates (29-28-3-4) are in 12th place in the conference with 65 points, only three points behind Syracuse for the final playoff.
|Ray Edwards |
“In no way are we out of this thing,” Pirates Head Coach Ray Edwards said. “We just need to be better on a few of the little things, get some solid goaltending and get some timely scoring and we’ll be fine.”
While the Pirates are on the outside looking in, they still control their own fate with 12 games left in the season. The Pirates have a pair of games left against Manchester, which sits in 7th place with 69 points, and have a game in hand as well as multiple games against Worcester, Providence, Connecticut and St. John’s.
“If we can find a way to string a few wins together we might be able to put some separation between us and the rest of the pack,” Edwards said. “We’re trying to manage the group right now with all the injuries and prepare for another three-in-three weekend.”
The Pirates are banged up right now with several regulars - Colin Long
(upper-body), Ryan Hollweg (lower-body), Brett MacLean
(lower-body), Ryan Duncan (facial laceration), Nathan Oystrick
(lower-body) and Maxim Goncharov (upper-body) - out of the lineup.
Duncan’s injury is the most serious; he needed 45 stitches to close roughly an eight-inch gash from his right cheek across his face, under his nose.
The downside for the Pirates is they’ll have to make that playoff push away from the Cumberland County Civic Center as they play eight of the next nine games on the road, starting Friday with stops in Connecticut, Manchester and Providence.
The Pirates will return home on March 28 for their only home game until April 7.
Edwards isn’t focused on the schedule, points needed or the overall picture at this point, but instead he’s worrying about earning two points Friday in Connecticut.
“We have to deal with Friday night and try to win,” Edwards said. “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.”
The Pirates are getting contributions from some unlikely sources.
|Ethan Werek. Photo by Rosina Vacchiano/Maine Hockey Journal |
, Ashton Rome and Mathieu Brodeur
have stepped up their games over the last couple of weeks, keeping the Pirates in the playoff race.
Rome, who began the year in Portland on a PTO before signing an AHL contract, has five goals, one assist in his last six games. Brodeur, who is Phoenix’s third-round draft pick in 2008, has steadily moved up the depth chart and is now a top defensive defenseman for the Pirates, sporting a plus-6 rating in his last five games.
“Because of numbers we couldn’t play him for the first 30 games of the season,” Edwards said about Brodeur’s progress. “Now, he’s playing. He’s playing a lot of minutes and he’s a plus-10. If you look at him a year ago, he was playing in the ECHL and now he’s proven that he can play in the American Hockey League.”
Werek has seven points and a plus-5 rating in his last five games and has improved his game consistently after a rather slow start at the beginning of the season.
“I was hoping that I’d progress a little faster than I have,” Werek said. “But I’ve come a long way from where I started the season. I’ve learned a lot about the game, managing its highs and the lows, and just try to balance it out over the course of the season.”
He added, “The biggest thing has been learning about the defensive aspect of the game and staying within our team system.”