March 30, 2012

Pirates facing a tricky road

Portland hasn't played well away from home, but must improve to make the playoffs.

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Portland Pirates will embark on a four-game trip today, needing help to stay in the race for one of the eight playoff spots in the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference,

click image to enlarge

Portland Coach Ray Edwards said his team must continue to play well defensively in the final eight games.

Gabe Souza/2011 Press Herald file

DOWN THE STRETCH

TODAY: Portland at Worcester, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY: Portland at Bridgeport, 7 p.m.

APRIL 3: Portland at St. John's, 6 p.m.

APRIL 4: Portland at St. John's, 6 p.m.

APRIL 7: Worcester at Portland, 7 p.m.

APRIL 11: Connecticut at Portland, 6:30 p.m.

APRIL 13: Hershey at Portland, 7 p.m.

APRIL 15: Portland at Providence, 4:05 p.m

The Pirates, who have eight games left, are three points behind Syracuse and Manchester for the last two playoff spots. The Pirates don't play either of those teams again.

Coach Ray Edwards said Portland can't look beyond tonight's game at Worcester.

"Obviously if we went on a roll and won eight games, we'd probably be OK, but it's a tough schedule and it is what it is," Edwards said. "I know it's a cliche, but you have to really take it game to game and see what each game brings."

Portland is 20-13-2-3 against the six teams left on its schedule.

"I think we have the players here to make the push for the playoffs," said Brett MacLean, who scored two goals to help the Pirates beat Manchester 4-1 at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Wednesday night. "We just have to play our game."

In recent games, Portland's strategy has been to keep it simple and control the tempo.

"When our team plays simple and everybody is patient, we're as good as anyone in the league," MacLean said. "It's only when we make those mental mistakes and try to run around and do too much is when we have problems."

The road hasn't been good for the Pirates. They are 11-15-2-5 and rank 25th among the league's 30 teams.

By comparison, Manchester, which plays five of its last seven games on the road, ranks 17th in the AHL with a 16-15-0-2 road record. Syracuse, which plays six of its last eight games away, ranks 18th with a 15-13-1-3 record.

Syracuse, which has gone 8-1-0-1 in its last 10 games, and the Monarchs, 6-4-0-0 during the same span, are in front of the Pirates, but four other teams -- the Adirondack Phantoms, Springfield Falcons, Worcester and the Providence Bruins -- also remain within striking distance of one of those two playoff berths.

Still, the Pirates have a shot, and Edwards likes the way his team has been playing in the past week.

"We have allowed one goal in three of our last four games, and that's a recipe for success," he said.

"We've just got to find a way to continue to defend like we have been."

 

NOTES: Veteran forward Ashton Rome has seven goals in the 10 games since he formed a line with rookie center Jordan Szwarz and veteran left wing Kenndal McArdle, who joined the team March 3 as part of a deal with the St. John's Ice Caps. "We work together well and I'm getting the puck in the right spot, and I'm just shooting it," Rome said.

The parent Phoenix Coyotes signed University of Michigan forward Chris Brown, who was selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, and St. Cloud State goalie Mike Lee, taken in the third round of the same draft, to three-year entry-level contracts. Brown has one class to complete before reporting to the Pirates, and Lee is unable to report this season because he also has course work to complete. ...

The Pirates, who have three remaining home games, have won six of the eight games played on a weeknight at the Civic Center this season. ... The team will fly Monday to play two games in Newfoundland against the Ice Caps, returning to Maine immediately after Wednesday night's game.

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH

 

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