|With standouts such as goal-scoring leader Bobby Butler now with the big club in Ottawa, the Binghamton Senators have seen their edge in the American Hockey League playoff race slimmed to three points heading into a key weekend slate of games (Just Sports Photography). |
The Binghamton Senators know the cavalry is on the way.
Question is, can the reserves holding the fort right now hang in there long enough for the reinforcements to make a difference?
With their roster severely depleted by callups to the parent club in Ottawa, the B-Sens are clinging for dear life in their bid to land an American Hockey League playoff berth. While Binghamton trails the Norfolk Admirals by four points for the fourth post-season spot in the East Division, it still owns a three-point edge over the Worcester Sharks and are one up on the Connecticut Whale for an available crossover spot in the Atlantic Division.
All of which puts even more importance on the final two games of a draining road swing which has seen the B-Sens busing six hours back and forth between Norfolk, Va., where they'll face the Admirals tonight, and Charlotte, N.C. where the Checkers (third in the East) await on Saturday evening. Binghamton lost to both teams earlier this week and has dropped five of its last six outings after fashioning an eight-game winning streak to open up some space in the crossover race. That cushion, however, is pretty much gone now.
"It's nothing we can be comfortable with, that's for sure," Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst said of the slimming margin, which sat at seven points a week ago. "If the playoffs started today, we would qualify, but we still have 16 (games) to go."
But it's clear the absence of stalwarts such as forwards Colin Greening
, Erik Condra
, Bobby Butler
and blueliner Derek Smith is beginning to weigh on Kleinendorst's squad, which has needed to fortify itself with players from the ECHL's Elmira Jackals to keep the ship afloat.
"We're half on an East Coast Hockey League team right now," said Kleinendorst. "My bottom six guys are all guys that have spent time in the ECHL for most of the year. It's a challenge. That's probably the best word to use. It's definitely a challenge.
"The guys are giving it their all, I can tell you that. We're working hard. We're not changing things, we're trying to do everything that got us to this point. But it's a little bit of a stretch ... we're just a little shorthanded right now, that's all. That's probably the best way to put it."
"We're scratching and clawing. We are absolutely scratching and clawing. For me, it's just about trying to make sure we maintain an even keel. We've tried to do that all year. If I can continue to hang on to that and get the guys to hang on to that, we'll be okay." - Kurt Kleinendorst
While the B-Sens can look forward to all of their regulars returning for the post-season once the big club's season ends, they need to get there first. Or, as Kleinendorst puts it, "you've got to get to the prom before you can get on the dance floor."
"We're in a dogfight," he said. "Keeping our morale up, really, is going to be a challenge because we're real shorthanded. For the most part, we've been able to play four lines all year and right now, that's not even an option. So we play three lines for the most period and, late in periods, we're dropping to two.
"We're scratching and clawing. We are absolutely scratching and clawing. For me, it's just about trying to make sure we maintain an even keel. We've tried to do that all year. If I can continue to hang on to that and get the guys to hang on to that, we'll be okay."
The B-Sens are getting some reinforcements this weekend. In the past two days, Ottawa signed forward Derek Grant
out of Michigan State and defenceman Mark Borowiecki out of Clarkson, both of whom will be in Binghamton for the balance of the season.
There is also some comfort in knowing that, for the moment at least, the B-Sens still reside in a playoff spot. This weekend, Kleinendorst said, could go a long way toward solidifying that position. And yes, the scoreboard watching has also begun in earnest.
"We're in a position where we control our own destiny for sure because we're in (right now)," he said. "If the playoffs started today, we're in. But you're always looking for a little bit of help. We'd like to see Charlotte get beat, we'd like to see Norfolk get beat when we're not playing them. So yeah, it's that time of year when you're keeping an eye on what everybody is doing.
"But for us, this (week) was a real important segment. We've got five games in a row against either Norfolk or Charlotte. Right now, we're 1-2 in those five games and we've got two to go. I'm hoping we'll bounce back tonight and I'm hoping we'll bounce back again on Saturday. Then I'll feel like, for a five-game stretch, with four of them on the road ... we'll take that."