In 2004-05, the top centre for the Binghamton Senators was Jason Spezza, and he took home league MVP honors. That team then went on to lose in the first round of the playoffs against the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins in a monumental upset. This season is the first one since then the team's made the playoffs, and Corey Locke has won the Les Cunningham award as the league's most valuable player. We're all hoping that history doesn't repeat itself.
In the first round of the 2011 Calder Cup playoffs, the Binghamton Senators will take on the Manchester Monarchs, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. While the Monarchs limped into the playoffs with only three wins in their final ten games, Binghamton has won eight of their last 12 and just got some much-needed reinforcements from the Ottawa Senators. Will it be enough to advance Binghamton into the second round for the
first second time in team history?
During the regular season, Binghamton and Manchester both scored 255 goals. However, Binghamton might have to play some time without Locke, who missed the final three games of the season. According to Joy Lindsay, Kurt Kleinendorst might use the following the lines:
With Butler, Condra, and Greening returning, Binghamton's offense returns to the powerhouse form it was earlier in the season. If Locke doesn't play, expect one of players on an amateur tryout contract (Francois Brisebois, Pat Cannone, or Derek Grant) to center the bottom line, with Potulny and Smith moving up. Adding to Binghamton's advantage is the NHL experience the forwards have, as David Dziurzynski is the only forward without any NHL experience.
Manchester's forward Bud Holloway led the Monarchs in scoring for the second straight season, with 61P (28G, 33A), and was followed by Justin Azevedo, who scored 53P (18G, 35A). Holloway also led the Monarchs in playoff scoring last season, with 14P (7G, 7A) in all 16 Monarch playoff games. Both players have played three seasons in Manchester, and have yet to play a single game in the NHL. Working against Manchester is their depleted roster, as both the Kings and their ECHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, are in the playoffs.
Binghamton's defense also has a big injury, with Eric Gryba expected to sit out the entire series (although he was walking without crutches on Saturday). While not having Gryba's presence will hurt, the return of veterans Andre Benoit, David Hale, and Derek Smith, as well as a 100% healthy Craig Schira, gives the team a defensive upgrade and 346 games of NHL experience (although Hale has 327 of those games). Manchester's defense looks to be their strong point, as the team only allowed 209 goals to Binghamton's 221. Of course, unlike Manchester, Binghamton has had to play without many defensemen for most of the season. The Monarchs defense is led by Viatcheslav Voynov, who leads the team with a +21 and all defensemen with 51P (15G, 36A). The only defensmen with NHL experience is Jake Muzzin, with 11 games with the Kings this season.
On goaltending, Binghamton goes into the series with Barry Brust as their number one guy. Brust played a career-high 52 games this season, and with games starting back-to-back, Robin Lehner may get a start. Brust had an AHL career high .925 save percentage and led the AHL in shutouts with seven. The Monarchs look to start either rookie Martin Jones or Jeff Zatkoff. Jones has the better numbers with a 23-12-1 record, 2.25 GAA and a .924 Sv% (as well as 4 shutouts), whil Zatkoff has played more games, but has worse numbers, with a 20-17-5 record, 2.68 GAA and a .911 Sv%. Both teams might very well use both goalies during the series.
In summary, both these teams have experience. Binghamton has the experience with about 150 NHL games played by roster itself this season alone, and Manchester still has the core from last year, which went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
My prediction: Binghamton in six games.
Game 1: Thursday, April 14 – Binghamton at Manchester, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, April 15 – Binghamton at Manchester, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, April 17 – Manchester at Binghamton, 5:05 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, April 19 – Manchester at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
*Game 5 – Wednesday, April 20 – Manchester at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.
*Game 6 – Friday, April 22 – Binghamton at Manchester, 7 p.m.
*Game 7 – Saturday, April 23 – Binghamton at Manchester, 7 p.m.