The Portland Pirates — or the rest of the American Hockey League, for that matter — likely haven't seen the best of the Binghamton Senators.
But to hear the B-Sens tell it, they weren't exactly tested by the best shot the Pirates have to offer during the opener of their American Hockey League Atlantic Division final. Binghamton prevailed 3-2 in Game 1 on Wednesday, with the teams set to square off again tonight at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine (7 p.m., Team 1200, ahllive.com).
B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst expects much more this evening out of the Pirates, the division's regular-season champs, who likely don't want to fall into a 2-0 hole with the next three games of the series scheduled to be played at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, N.Y.
"We’ll see a different team tonight," Kleinendorst said earlier today. "I don’t think that was their best hockey. They are an emotional team, Kevin (Dineen, the former NHLer who coaches the Pirates) is an emotional coach. We’re going to have to weather the storm early and once we’ve done that, the playing field levels off and from there we can try to establish our game and try to get out of here with another win tonight."
Binghamton forward Ryan Potulny mirrored that assessment, saying "we're not going to take anything for granted" in the wake of Wednesday's win.
"You want to go (on the road) and try to get at least one out of two games, and even two if you can," said Potulny, who leads all AHL playoff scorers with eight goals and 16 points. "There are swings and momentum changes throughout a series and this is a good team. They have a lot of skill over there up front, their defence are good and so are their goaltenders.
"We'll see a better game out of them tonight and we just have to step up our game as well."
Kleinendorst can see the B-Sens doing that with each passing game, as the players returned to the farm at the end of the parent Ottawa Senators' season settle back into the mix in Binghamton.
"I always felt like as we rolled along, we should get better and I felt like we would get better because it’s going to take some time for those guys to come back and (make) the transition," he said. "Even for those guys individually, that’s not the easiest thing to do. I think they’ve all made that adjustment now and they’re all settled back in.
"We’re starting to come up with some good line combinations, the power play is starting to look better and our penalty killing was good last night. All in all, I just think that as this rolls along, we should just continue to get better."
If Game 1 is any indication, Kleinendorst might have found himself a potent combination by adding gritty winger Zack Smith
alongside Potulny and captain Ryan Keller. Smith produced the winning goal in the third period and Potulny added a pair of assists.
"I’ve never seen Zack play better," said Kleinendorst. "That’s the best 60-minute effort we’ve seen out of Zack and that line was a little bit like men against boys. They controlled the play, I think they enjoy playing together and they have some real good chemistry. I don’t want to get carried away — it was just one game — but it did look like there’s some potential there to have a strong three-man unit."
Their defence is still ravaged by injuries, but Bobby Raymond — just signed to a professional tryout agreement — and David Sloane proved to be more than capable fill-ins.
"I’ve never seen anything like it when it comes to where we are right now on the blue line," said Kleinendorst. "They’re falling like leaves in the fall. It’s unbelievable how many (defencemen) we have out of the lineup. That says a lot about what we have in the locker room. Guys aren’t getting discouraged and we’re not worrying about the guys that are not in our lineup. We’re worrying about the guys that are in our lineup and that’s the way we need to approach it.
"Bobby Raymond stepped in and ... I’d never really seen him play a 60-minute game before, but I thought he did a great job, as did David Sloane. We didn’t use David much in the third period but up to that point, I thought he gave us some very, very good minutes."Around the boards
The Pirates were hopeful they might get Marc-Andre Gragnani, the AHL's most outstanding defenceman, back in the fold when the Buffalo Sabres were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs earlier this week. But Gragnani, who led all AHL blueliners with 60 points this season (12-48) in 63 games, has decided to suit up for Team Canada at the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championship, which begins Friday in Slovakia ... Goaltender Jhonas Enroth, who was returned to Portland by the Sabres, is expected to get the start for Portland tonight. Robin Lehner
will make his fifth straight playoff start for the B-Sens ... Forward Pat Cannone has rejoined the B-Sens on an amateur tryout offer.