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B-Sens earning 'A' grade in battle for playoffs

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
First-year Binghamton Senators coach Kurt Kleinendorst has kept the team on track for an American Hockey League playoff berth despite a number of top scorers now in Ottawa (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
The holes carved into their roster are anything but minor league.

But somehow, the Binghamton Senators keep chugging along in their bid to secure an American Hockey League playoff berth.

While some of their top players continue to toil with the parent club in Ottawa, the B-Sens have compiled a 7-2-0-1 record in their last 10 games. Included in that stretch was a six-game winning streak that has allowed Binghamton to solidify its hopes for a post-season berth.

After last night's 3-2 loss to the Albany Devils at Broome County Veterans' Memorial Arena in Binghamton, the B-Sens (33-22-3-4) sit in a tie for fourth place in the East Division with the Norfolk Admirals.

But there's also a crossover rule in the AHL in which the fifth-place team in a division also secures a playoff spot if its record is better than the fourth-place finisher in the the conference's other division. In that regard, Binghamton holds a seven-point edge over the Connecticut Whale, who stand fourth in the Atlantic Division.

What's most impressive is that the B-Sens haven't let a steady stream of callups to Ottawa dent their playoff charge. Just a week ago, the Senators iced a roster with eight Binghamton callups, all of them needed because of a series of trades for draft picks, combined with a rash of injuries. Top Binghamton scorers Bobby Butler, Erik Condra and Colin Greening still remain with the big club, while blueliner Derek Smith — the AHL's top scorer among defencemen with 43 points — took his first ride on the Bingo train yesterday.

In the meantime, the B-Sens have plugged holes with players from the Elmira Jackals, the Senators' ECHL affiliate, and kept persevering. Head coach Kurt Kleinendorst wouldn't have it any other way. It is, after all, the way of life in hockey's biggest minor pro league.

"We play hard for 60 minutes and whoever is in the lineup will be the guys who help us win," he said. "And those guys that aren't around, we wish them the very best and we hope we never see them again. That's what it's all about."

Goaltender Robin Lehner, who was returned to the B-Sens earlier this week, gives plenty of credit to Kleinendorst for keep the B-Sens from going off the rails despite the talent exodus.

"Kurt is a good coach. He always finds ways," said Lehner. "He always talks about (overcoming) adversity and stuff. I think it's good and we're going to get to the playoffs."

No matter who's in the lineup, Kleinendorst stresses the importance of sticking to the formula that's made them successful so far.

"What’s important is that everybody shows up every day and every night to do their best," he said. "The only thing that should really change with where we are right now would be that certain guys are going to have to take on more minutes. But I’m not changing their responsibilities.

"I’m not going to change the way we play, I’m not going to change the way we approach our games. We’re going to keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing and the only difference will be that all of our players will have to take on a few more minutes. That’s it."

Down on the farm

Ryan Keller notched his first hat trick as a Binghamton Senator in last Friday's 7-4 win over the Syracuse Crunch. Keller recorded six points in four games to earn the B-Sens' nomination for the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week award ... Ottawa native Corey Cowick recorded a pair of AHL firsts last week — his first career point (Wednesday vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and goal (Saturday against Rochester) ... Derek Smith picked up his 100th career AHL assist in the win over Syracuse ... In a crucial late-season stretch, the B-Sens hook up with the Admirals three times next week — Sunday in Binghamton, then Wednesday and Friday at the Scope in Norfolk, Va.

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