GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – It took Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn a period to get comfortable playing together.
O.K., maybe a period-and-a-half.
No matter, because for the final 30 minutes of the opening game of the season for the Adirondack Phantoms, there were no better players on the ice.
The Phantoms overcame three separate one-goal deficits and used special teams to take over the game – scoring twice on the power play and once shorthanded – to defeat the Portland Pirates 6-3 at Glens Falls Civic Center.
As for Couturier and Schenn, they combined for three goals and two assists for five points.
Not a bad debut, eh?
Couturier scored a power play goal in the second period to tie the game 3-3 and Schenn scored twice in the third period – once on a nifty shorthanded chance and once into an empty net to propel the Phantoms to victory.
“We didn’t generate a whole lot in the first half of the game,” Schenn said. “But once we got those 5-on-3 chances [the Phantoms had three of them in the game] it seemed like our confidence went up and we got into a groove.”
Whatever the impetus, the duo took over.
“They stepped up their game to another level in the third period,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. “They showed the NHL experience that they have.”
Couturier scored his first AHL goal on a two-man advantage in the second period when he flipped the rebound of a Danny Syvret shot past Pirates goalie Chad Johnson to tie the score 3-3.
The goal was originally waived off by referee Chris Brown, but was counted after Brown reviewed the video replay. It was the second time Brown had to go to the replay in the period, spending several minutes trying to determine if a shot by Zac Rinaldo went into the net.
At first glance, the puck seemed to go into the net, hit the back piping and kick back out, but the limited camera angles available to Brown were inconclusive, so he couldn’t allow the goal to count.
“He told me that it looked like the puck was going in but then the video cut out and he could never see it go into the net, so he couldn’t count the goal,” Rinaldo said. “He tried to look at it for a long time, but he just couldn’t see it go in.”
That would have tied the game for the Phantoms after Andy Meile gave Portland a lead 1:14 into the second period, and Couturier’s tally would have put the Phantoms ahead, but the Phantoms were a victim of a lack of technology in their 33-year-old home rink.
They didn’t need technological assistance in the third though.
Tye McGinn picked up the game-winner, scoring a power play goal after being the recipient of a nice pass from Ben Holmstrom at the side of the net.
“I was just standing in front of the net and Holmstrom made a nice pass to me,” McGinn said. “I saw the goalie was bending his knee a little bit so there was a little spot there so I shot it and hoped for the best.”
The Phantoms were protecting the one goal lead well from there, shutting the door defensively, however Matt Ford took a slash penalty with six minutes remaining, giving the Pirates one last chance.
That’s when Schenn took over.
Couturier forced a turnover by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Schenn rushed the puck up ice one-on-one with David Rundblad.
Rundblad tried to wipe Schenn out of the play, but the Phantoms forward was too slick to get rubbed out and instead made a touch pass to himself, stepping around the check, and then snapping a shot off of Johnson’s skate and into the net for a shortie and the needed insurance goal.
Schenn later added an empty-netter, finishing off his three-point night.
“You have to be good on special teams to be a team that is going to win,” Murray said. “The power play came through at the right time, but we got a huge shorthanded goal to secure it for us. It was a great play by Couturier to go straight at the body [of Larsson] to create a loose puck and Schenn did the right thing taking it to the net.
“It was two young guys that really understood the importance of the situation.”
Not to be overshadowed, Scott Munroe finished with 24 saves to earn the win, and after allowing a cheapie in the first period to Larsson, really settled down and kept the Phantoms in the game with some big stops, especially early in the second period.
“I think he really knuckled down after allowing that one goal,” Murray said. “He showed a real professionalism and made some big stops that allowed us to settle into our game and gain composure.”
After Ethan Werek gave the Pirates an early lead, Harry Zolnierczyk scored the first goal of the season for the Phantoms, in typical Harry Z style – crashing the net at top speed.
However, Zolnierczyk wasn’t trying to poke a puck past the goalie or beat him with a nasty wrister, instead he was simply trying to make a pass.
His attempt to find Eric Wellwood on the doorstep instead banked off of Portland defenseman Chris Summers’ skate and bee-lined past Johnson to tie the score 1-1.
The play was made by Rob Bordson, a surprise starter in the Phantoms lineup, as he dipsy-dooed through the Portland defense before dropping a pass to the speedy Zolnierczyk.
A wild final minute of play in the first period saw two goals in 33 seconds.
Ekman-Larsson, the gifted defenseman for Portland who had 14 goals as a rookie for the Phoenix Coyotes last season, beat Munroe with a shot from the point off a faceoff win by Meile at 19:09 to give Portland a 2-1 lead.
But the Phantoms answered quickly when Ben Holmstrom’s shot rebounded out to Garrett Roe who faked a backhander before doing a 360-degree turn and slipping a forehander past the surprised Johnson.
Known more for his vision and playmaking ability than his scoring touch, Roe made a sensational play to score the goal and tie the score with a mere 18 ticks left on the clock.
“The shot came off the goalie’s pads and it was in my feet and I saw the defenseman’s stick coming in there, so I kind of used my foot to protect it, gave up on the backhand and just turned around and fired it,” Roe said. “I had no idea it was going to go in. I think the goalie thought I was going to go backhand too and was a little off his angle, but I’ll take whatever I can get.
And so will the Phantoms, who will take the win and head to Springfield Sunday to begin a four-game road trip against their division rivals.
“We had turnovers and got pretty sloppy in the defensive zone early, not playing with a lot of poise on the puck,” Roe said. “But we turned it around in the second and into the third and simplified things. We started shutting things down. I think it was just a first game thing where we needed to get back in the swing of things. Overall we’re happy, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”