-Binghamton plays Wilkes-Barre (14-14-3) tonight; the Penguins are lead by Beau Bennett (21 points) and backstopped by Jeff Zatkoff (11-10-0 2.18 .915). In their last meeting the B-Sens beat Wilkes-Barre 4-3 in a game where they overcame a 3-0 deficit.
-Luke Richardson talked about how the team improved after a rocky start:
I think at the beginning of the year (it was) to really shore up the defensive side of the game. And part of working on the defence is just to get the puck back (up the ice) quicker so you can have it more when you’re fresh to create offence. I know that’s the philosophy they use in Ottawa – to play defense fast. And we just try to copy that and keep it in house in the organization so when players do (get called) up, they’re on the same wavelength; even if we don’t play exactly the same, it’s pretty close as a philosophy. I think as we went, we really worked on creating scoring chances off the rush and being in better spots in the offensive zone on any kind of a forecheck or a rotation. Definitely the power play – they have done a great job and we had to find some units that work better together and players that work better together. They’ve worked really hard at simplifying things, getting pucks to the net and having some courage to stand in front of the net in those tough areas when guys are blasting pucks away at 100 miles an hour. We’ve really created some opportunities for ourselves to score some goals and like you said, goaltending has been our… and our defensive core, especially on the penalty killing side of things have kept goals to a minimal and (scoring) chances to a minimal. Even some nights when shots seem to be a little bit high, they’re all from the outside or most of them are from non-scoring areas; so we’ve taken pride in that and that is everybody on the team. Everybody has done a good job of that, so we’re proud of that. I think the hard work comes in where we’ve really skated and I think we’ve really outskated teams, especially in the third periods, to create those offensive chances to get our goals and that’s where you see us coming back in the third periods from deficits. Or maybe in games that are 1-1 like the other night, and we kind of overtake a team that is tired on the road (St. Johns) and we kind of outskate them in the third and take over control of the game. I think we’ve really evolved into a complete team up to this point and we still want to push and get better. These guys are a really fun group to work with. They seem to really enjoy each other and I think the biggest part of coaching is trying to mesh guys together, enjoy being together and enjoy working hard together. And they’ve done that so that’s a great credit to them.
Nichols (who provides the text above) rightly points out that Richardson’s frequent praise of the team’s defensive work doesn’t jive with the amount of shots they give up (worst in the AHL). This isn’t to say the B-Sens haven’t improved defensively, but it does mean stellar goaltending is making up for a lot of mistakes. In fairness to the defense, their two most defensive blueliners have missed significant time (9 games for Eric Gryba and 8 games for Mark Borowiecki) and they were hurt at different times, so only 12 times this season has Binghamton enjoyed its true bulwark on the blueline (the team is 10-1-1 when both are in the lineup). About the goaltending Richardson said:
I think consistently when you look at it now and you think, ‘Oh, wow, you’ve got Lehner and (Ben Bishop)’ but Robin has been here from the start of training camp and that gives him that extra notch above (Bishop) and he’s been solid all year long. He’s a big guy that has come in good shape and a good frame of mind this year that wants to accomplish something. He looks like he really wants to follow it through all the way to the end of the season and that’s great to see. I’ve said it before, he’s not just a typical quiet goalie on game days. He’s vocal. He’s a leader in the room. He likes to have fun with the guys and talk with the guys whether he’s playing or not. You can’t say enough about him. He has set his mind to something this year and he’s following through. You’ve always got to give young guys credit for that. And then having Ben Bishop here has been great, he’s probably pushing Robin. He’s just a consummate pro. He’s there every day whether he plays or not and he’s a joy to have around. He really makes things calm for our defence when he’s in there because he can play that puck so well. I’m sure that’s a benefit for Robin to see and learn and work with too.
There’s nothing new here, but I’m reminded that no one in the organisation (player or coach) seems to refers to Ben Bishop by his first name; the seeming lack of familiarity has always struck me as odd, although maybe I just don’t remember seeing a quote where he’s just “Ben”. Richardson then talked about Stephane Da Costa‘s slow start:
Consistency is something that he is probably going to have to work on. He came back from his first stint with injuries at the beginning of the year and I think he was good and bad, and he knew it. He was frustrated and sometimes, as just as an offensive guy, you think you have to take chances and create things when they’re not there and you basically create more problems for yourself and everybody else on the ice by doing that; you end up chasing defensively more than when you have the puck offensively. We talked to him about that and he already knew. Good players already know when you come to talk to them about something that needs to be adjusted. I think his work ethic when he was injured really rose and he really knew. He said, ‘I’ve got to get stronger.’ He really worked hard and he continues to work hard and he is becoming more of a two-way player where he can track (the puck). And when he puts his mind to it, he can… I forget where we were… I think it was Albany, he did a great job on the road in the third period in a tight game using his body, checking in the defensive zone and getting pucks out when we had the lead at the end of the game instead of worrying about making a fancy play or a long neutral zone pass through the middle (of the ice). I think that’s the part of the game where he’s really understanding where and when he has to be that dynamic offensive player and when he just has to play hockey the rest of the time. He’s coming along. He is playing well. He’s playing with Mike Hoffman and Jakob Silfverberg right now and they’re doing a great job of leading us offensively and doing some great stuff on the power play. So we just look for him to consistently go and get better and be that man every night.
Needless to say, anyone who gets to play with Silfverberg looks like a better player (Pat Cannone hasn’t been the same since he was taken off his line). Finally, Richardson pointed to Derek Grant as someone who has surprised him this year:
If you look at his play and his numbers are probably impressive, especially the shorthanded goal department, but if you watched him play now and you watched him play last year… just taking charge as a big centerman, getting physical and being able to play against the top line on the other team every night and do a great job. And he’s got the dynamic part where he can check them so well that when they turn the puck over, he’s dangerous offensively. The other night again, it was a 2-1 game and him and David Dziurzynski in the neutral zone just intercepted pucks and disrupted their whole power play. (They) ended up creating a breakaway chance and put the game away for us with a nice shorthanded goal. I think it’s about his fourth or fifth goal shorthanded; he leads the league in that department. Just taking charge all over the ice, it’s great to see. He’s a NHL body and he’s got a NHL stride and now he’s starting to show the other intangibles that go along with it – where he’s a name that has really jumped up not just in the AHL but also in the depth chart of the Ottawa Senators.
Grant isn’t a completely off-the-radar player, but has lacked the hype other prospects have received. Before he was drafted a scout said:
He’s got so much potential ahead of him that he might be better than (Camrose center Joe) Colborne.
Whatever you think of Joe Colborne he was highly touted when drafted. TSN’s Shane Malloy chimmed in after Grant decided to turn pro:
Perhaps the best sleeper pick in the 2008 NHL draft was Derek Grant, who has played in relative obscurity with the Langley Chiefs in the BCHL. The 6-foot-3, 190 pound pivot has pretty decent overall hockey sense and dominated his peer group at that level. Over the past two seasons Grant posted 123 points in 92 games, scoring 49 goals and five game winners. His pucks skills are also good and he showed the ability to play in traffic while stickhandling or passing the puck. When it comes to skating, Grant gets off the mark pretty quickly and has the agility to maneuver around defenders. He could use some extra power in his stride and that will come once he adds strength to his core. His defensive game is slowly improving when it comes to protecting the puck along the wall and working well with his linemates. He still needs to make sure he keeps his feet moving while using his wingspan and stick to disrupt passing lanes. Grant is not a bang and crash style of player but he gets involved and will go to the dirty areas to score goals. Next season, Grant will attend Michigan State. Expect Ottawa to be patient with his development.
The Sens have to be pleased that Grant has been able to transition from scorer to defensive specialist. It will be interesting to watch his development continue.
-One of my readers has pointed to an Almtuna Tweet that indicates Mike Lundin was injured a few days ago; the injury requires surgery and the defensman is expected to miss a few weeks.
-Elmira plays Reading (23-7-2) tonight; the Royals are lead by former B-Sen Yannick Tifu (31 points) and backstopped by Philipp Grubauer (18-4-1 2.28 .912).
-Elliotte Friedman provides a sensible recap of the different bargaining positions between the NHL and NHLPA, but I’m curious why he thinks fans etc will “never forget” the lockout. Presumably he means that in a tangible way, but he provides no reasoning behind it–does he anticipate it will hurt the league long term? I have no idea and I wish he’d expand on the comment.
-Luke Fox wastes an enormous amount of energy complaining about a possible expansion of the playoff system in the NHL (from 16 teams to 20) without once referencing the fact that the current near 50-50 split is very recent. Fans care about the playoffs and adding a few more teams is only going to help (as it has with MLB). I grew up in the 21-team era and despite occasional absurdities it remains one of the most exciting eras in NHL history–there’s no shame it making a tiny nod back to that time.
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)