PORTLAND – Their franchise record 11-game winning streak came to an end Sunday afternoon in upstate New York, but the Portland Pirates are still one of the American Hockey League’s hottest teams.
Despite a 3-2 loss to the Rochester Americans in a shootout Sunday, the Pirates are off to a good start in their most grueling stretch of the season — eight games in 10 days. Portland earned five of a possible six points from three road games over the weekend and climbed into second place in the Atlantic Division heading into tonight’s game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Only the Chicago Wolves, who have an eight-game winning streak, are hotter. An affiliate of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, the Wolves have earned at least one point in 14 consecutive games.
The Pirates were in sixth place in the Atlantic Division when the new year began, but they’ve lost only three times in regulation in 18 games since then. Now, they’re just two points behind the Worcester Sharks for the division lead.
”Our coaching staff has a done a great job,” said center Felix Schutz. ”Everybody has been working hard since the beginning of the season, and its starting to pay off.”
”We’ve got four solid lines, and we get contributions from every one up and down the lineup,” added forward Kyle Rank.
During their 11-game winning streak, which started Jan. 26 with a 3-2 victory against the Manchester Monarchs in a shootout at the Civic Center, 15 Pirates have had at least one goal.
”It’s just timely scoring from everyone in our lineup,” Rank said.
Meanwhile, Portland has allowed just 22 goals in its last 12 games.
”We realized we couldn’t get into a shooting match with a lot of the teams in the league,” Rank said, ”so we had to tighten up defensively, and we had to keep the puck out of our end.”
While riding a personal 10-game winning streak, Jhonas Enroth has compiled a 2.00 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. He ranks among the AHL’s top 10 goalies in goals-against average (2.48), shutouts (4), wins (25) and games played (40).
With 24 games left in the regular season, Portland appears to have a firm grip on a playoff spot, with a 12-point lead over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the ninth-place team in the Eastern Conference.
”All of the guys are having fun, right now,” Schutz said. ”Everything seems easier. It’s true, every time we go to the rink, we feel we can win.”
The Pirates, though, are trying not to get ahead of themselves when thinking about the playoffs, especially knowing that they have five games over the next six days.
”Everyone always thinks the playoffs are the fun time of the year, but we realize we’re in a tough stretch, with a lot of games coming up, and right now, we’re sort of taking it day by day,” Rank said.
”The veterans on our team tell us to take it game by game, period by period, and see what happens.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: