After a busy first month of the season, the schedule for the Portland Pirates has eased up a bit. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t keeping busy.
During the first 30 days of the season, the Pirates played 14 games, including one stretch during which they played six games in nine days.
The Pirates are proceeding through the next stretch of their schedule at a more leisurely pace. Over the next 16 days, they will play only five games.
“Obviously, we’ve been pretty busy, and guys have been pretty tired and banged up,” said defenseman Tim Conboy. “To get a few days off without playing games is giving us some much-needed rest. You just try to make sure you stay on top of it and work hard so we don’t lose what we’re building.”
The Pirates have won 12 of their first 16 games to lead the AHL’s Atlantic Division with a league-high 25 points.
Coach Kevin Dineen is trying to make the most of the lull in the schedule.
“We’re going to take advantage of it,” he said. “We’re going to spend some time with each other. We’re going to work on some things, very specific things, to really get our point across, which a lot of times you don’t get to during the course of a busy season.”
“This is not only a good time to get some rest, both mentally and physically,” said left wing Colin Stuart, in his seventh pro season, “but it’s also a good time to look at what we’ve done well and where we can improve to get ready for the next big push. That’s kind of what we’re focusing on now.”
What are the Pirates working on?
“Just structure in our systems,” Dineen said. “From faceoffs to defensive zone coverage to neutral-zone play, both when we have the puck and when we don’t, and special teams. We want to stay engaged in all of those areas.”
While the Pirates are averaging a league-best 4.06 goals per game, their special-teams play has been mediocre.
With its 15.5 percent success rate, the Portland power play ranks 22nd among 30 teams. The Worcester Sharks, Portland’s next opponent, are tops with a 23.5 conversion rate.
The Pirates’ penalty kill, which is successful 82.5 percent of the time, ranks 16th. The Oklahoma Barons lead the league with a penalty kill rate of 90.9 percent.
On Tuesday, the Pirates spent more than two hours at practice, the longest on-ice session to date.
“It’s important we set the week up properly so when we get to our game on Saturday, we’re refreshed,” Dineen said. “You know, the coaches’ job is to not just go and throw pucks out there and let them go through drills to keep them sharp during the course of the week. It can’t be all work. It can’t be all fun. It’s got to be a good mix of both.”
AFTER MISSING the past two games because of a knee injury, defenseman Dennis Persson is back practicing full time for the first time in more than a week. His return leaves Dineen in a bit of a quandary for this weekend’s games.
“There’s some internal competition for playing time with seven (defensemen) here,” he said.
Typically, Portland dresses six defensemen for games, so one has sit out each game.
“That makes for one grumpy player every game,” Dineen added, “but that’s a healthy thing, in my eyes.”
NOTES: Center Luke Adam, who has scored a team-high 11 goals and has eight assists, continues to lead all AHL rookies with his 19 points. …
With his team-high 12 assists, veteran right wing Mark Mancari ranks among the AHL’s top 10. …
While playing in 15 of 16 games, Drew Schiestel, a second-year defenseman for the Pirates, has an AHL-best plus-14 rating
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: