April 5, 2013

Pirates count on superior depth to avoid sinking

Portland loses two key forwards to the Coyotes with nine games left before the playoffs.

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said his team should be able to take up the slack after forwards Chris Brown and Chris Conner were called up to Phoenix, replacing three forwards who were traded by the Coyotes.

THIS WEEKEND

FRIDAY: Pirates at Manchester Monarchs, 7 p.m.

SUNDAY: Springfield Falcons at Pirates, 4 p.m.

"We've got enough guys where we can put someone else in those roles, and they're going to get the job done," Edwards said. "You go through it all year. You have guys out or guys (going) up, and that doesn't change now. We feel confident with the group we have. If someone is out, someone steps up and does that job."

Wednesday, the Coyotes sent Raffi Torres to the San Jose Sharks for a third-round pick in the 2014 NHL draft; Matthew Lombardi to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Brandon McMillan; and Steve Sullivan to the New Jersey Devils for a seventh-round pick in June.

In 63 games with the Pirates, Brown, a rookie from Flower Mound, Texas, had a team-high 25 goals and 15 assists. Conner, who has appeared in 147 NHL games, had 13 goals and 27 assists in 60 games.

In the past few weeks, both have played exceptionally well.

"Chris Conner in our last five or six games has been a dominant player," Edwards said. "(That) is what we hoped for (him), and now he's going to get his opportunity and that's great for him."

In his last eight games with the Pirates, Conner, who previously played in the NHL for the Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, has a goal and eight assists.

"(Brown) over the course of the year has been very consistent," Edwards said. "He's a top scorer and playing physical. With Torres going, they need to have someone up there to provide physical play, and obviously he can do that."

Last month, Brown was scoreless when he played one game for the Coyotes in his NHL debut. After his return from that call-up, he had seven goals and four assists in 12 games.

"It's tough to replace those players, but we're a team that has tons of depth," forward Ethan Werek said. "I think someone can jump in and play those roles."

"Obviously, those guys account for a lot of offense for us, but it gives guys like me more opportunity," said rookie forward Brendan Shinnimin.

With nine games left, the Pirates have a one-point lead over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the race for the fifth playoff slot out of the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference.

Eight teams from each of the two AHL conferences qualify for postseason play.

"We just continue to build and improve and go into the playoffs on a high note," Werek said.

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

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH

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