The Portland Pirates will try to avoid becoming entangled with teams below them in the Atlantic Division during the final five weeks of the regular season.

The Pirates have managed in the last two months to obtain a degree of separation from their division rivals.

Portland, which trails first-place Manchester by four points, holds a double-digit lead over their closest pursuers — the Worcester Sharks, Connecticut Whale and Springfield Falcons — and wants to keep it that way.

“Those are good hockey teams, and all (of them) are scratching and clawing for what could be one playoff spot,” Coach Kevin Dineen said.

There’s a good chance the top five teams in the eight-team East Division could finish ahead of the bottom four teams in the Atlantic Division. If that happens, just three teams from the Atlantic Division will qualify for postseason play.

“We’re trying to stay away from the muck right now, and keep away from the clawing and scratching,” Dineen said. “You do that by winning your points.”

The Pirates appear in good position to accumulate points.

Tuesday night’s 6-2 victory against the Sharks marked the start of a very busy month.

In the next 27 days, Portland will play 14 games, but 10 of them will be at the Cumberland County Civic Center, where the Pirates are 19-4-4-1 this season to lead the league with a .768 winning percentage.

The Pirates, who have played four fewer games than Manchester, have three games left against the Monarchs.

“Hopefully we can have some real meaningful games against Manchester down the stretch,” Dineen said.

THE PIRATES could make some moves before Monday’s league deadline for submission of the clear-day rosters to the AHL.

Only those players listed on the roster submitted Monday are eligible to compete for the club for the remainder of the regular season and in the Calder Cup playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension.

Rosters are limited to 22 players.

Because of injuries to forwards Travis Turnbull (shoulder) and Matt Ellis (groin), and defensemen Drew Scheistel (knee), Alex Biega (knee) and Dennis Persson (groin), one or two more players may be needed to fill out the team’s roster for the stretch drive to the playoffs.

For Tuesday night’s game against Worcester, Portland suited up 20 players, with no healthy extras.

“I’m playing out all different kinds of scenarios,” Dineen said. “The reality is I’ve got Turnbull and Scheistel out long- term. We don’t have an update on Persson or Biega. Matt Ellis is one guy who we were cautiously optimistic on (to return). But that’s a lot of bodies out of our lineup.”

During the past week, Ellis, Turnbull and Biega have returned to the ice to skate on their own during practice.

NO PLAYER likes to get sent back down to the AHL after spending a few weeks playing in the NHL but in one way, center Paul Byron was glad to rejoin the Pirates last weekend.

“I wasn’t really prepared for that second call-up, so it was real nice to finally get my clothes back,” said Byron, who was called up twice by the parent Buffalo Sabres during the past six weeks. “I had three or four shirts and one pair of jeans, and no suit.”

Byron, a second-year pro, learned a lot from his first two stints in the NHL.

“Every team’s defense is so good and there’s a lot of backchecking,” he said.

“It’s a lot different from this level to the next level. I’m just going to keep working on my game to make it to the next level.”

ROCHESTER AMERICANS goaltender Tyler Plante was named the AHL Player of the Week after posting a 4-0-1 record and compiling a 1.71 goals-against average.

Portland goalie Jhonas Enroth, who made 44 saves to lead the Pirates to a 3-2 shootout win against Worcester last Friday night, also was nominated for the award.

The other nominees for the weekly award included former Portland goalies Michael Leighton of the Adirondack Phantoms and Dov Grumet-Morris of the Connecticut Whale.

AFTER RECORDING nine goals and nine assists in 12 games, Houston Aeros center Patrick O’Sullivan was named the AHL Player of the Month for February.

Portland defenseman T.J. Brennan, who scored five goals and had six assists in 10 games, also was nominated for the award.

THE FIRST 2,000 fans entering the Civic Center on Saturday night to watch the Pirates’ game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers will receive a team photo courtesy of Brown Fox Printing.

Fans donating a non-perishable food item to the Good Shepherd Food Bank will receive two tickets to a future Pirates game.

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

[email protected]

 


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