November 30, 2012

Healthy scratch at the blue line

An excess of Pirates defensemen means someone is going to sit, but not for long.

By Paul Betit
Staff Writer

The NHL lockout enters its 76th day Friday with no end in sight, but Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards has to run the hockey team as if the labor dispute could end tomorrow.

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WHO: Worcester Sharks (9-7-1-1, 3rd in AHL’s Atlantic Division) at Portland Pirates (8-8-1-1, 4th in AHL’s Atlantic Division)

WHEN: 7 p.m.

WHERE: Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland

RADIO: WPEI 95.5 FM & 95.9 FM WPEI; WOXO 92.7 & 100.7 FM

SHARKS NOTES: The Sharks have won three of their first four games this season against the Pirates. In his last three games, Tim Kennedy has a goal and five assists. Matt Pelech has been suspended for three games because of an illegal check to the head during a game Tuesday night against the Syracuse Crunch.

PIRATES NOTES: Swedish defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad have scored a goal during each of the last two games. Veteran center Alexandre Bolduc ranks third in the AHL with a team-high 11 goals. Bolduc and rookie forward Chris Brown each have scored two game-winning goals.

– Paul Betit

During the past month, Edwards has used a rotation among the AHL team's eight defensemen in an effort to make sure all of them get enough playing time.

"We're a developmental league and this is a development situation," he said. "We don't want any one player missing two, three, four, five games in a row. When you start to sit out that many games, you get rusty. You're not feeling good. You're not getting into any rhythm, so we just want to keep everybody going."

As a consequence, each of the Pirates' defensemen has already played at least 10 games this season.

"Normally, you might have eight defensemen here, but you might have more of a hierarchy," Edwards explained. "The seventh and eighth guys maybe only are playing limited time, and maybe one of them is down in the ECHL, but all of these guys can play in the league so you don't want to ever have one guy sitting out more than one game in a row."

Representatives from the NHL team owners and the National Hockey League Player Association met for the second consecutive day Thursday with federal mediators.

So far, the lockout, which began after the players refused to accept the owners' proposal to decrease their share of revenues and make changes in their contractual rights, has resulted in the cancellation of 422 regular-season games.

Because of injuries, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who spent the past 11/2 seasons playing in the NHL for the parent Phoenix Coyotes, and Maxim Goncharov, in his third AHL season, missed some time during the first month of the season, so the defensive rotation really didn't go into effect until the past three weeks.

Since then, every Portland defensemen has had to sit out one or two games as healthy scratches.

The Portland defensemen seem to accept the system for meting out playing time.

"We have eight good (defensemen) here and everybody can play, and we're doing great, right now," Ekman-Larsson said. "I think the rotation is good. It comes down to the development of players down here and that's what we try to do."

"Everybody needs to get ready to play, no matter where you are," said Michael Stone, who was a healthy scratch for the second time in seven games Sunday for a road game against the Manchester Monarchs. "We don't want to get into any situations where guys are healthy and not playing enough and they get out of game shape."

"I think they're doing a good job, right now, in trying to keep us staying in the games to be ready," said Mathieu Brodeur, in his third AHL season. "It's not a situation we like but we have to deal with it."

"When you're sitting out, it's not a negative by any means," said Mark Louis, who was signed to an AHL contract after a 23-game tryout with the Pirates last season following the end of his playing career at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. "Obviously, you want to play, but it also offers an opportunity to improve and get better. Just to be around really, really good players is really good."

Since the Pirates can dress as many as 12 forwards for each game, Edwards said it's little bit easier to divvy up playing time for them. Five of the team's 15 forwards have suited up for all 18 games -- veterans Alexandre Bolduc and Rob Klinkhammer, second-year pro Andy Miele and rookies Chris Brown and Brendan Shinnimin.

If the lockout were to end this weekend, as many as three of the team's defensemen could move up to the Coyotes.

"Right now, they're all competing for that opportunity," Edwards said. "We know Oliver (Ekman-Larsson) will be go when the lockout ends, so right now it's really a competition for two or three other spots. Everyone gets evaluated."

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH


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