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Binghamton opened their season with a win Saturday night. Who was good? Who wasn't? Let's discuss.
All right, I missed about half of this game, but let's not pretend you actually care how Binghamton did. If you cared, you would have watched the game. But you didn't. You're just a prospects junkie! You just want to know how the guys who might be on the Ottawa Senators at some point in the future did. You disgust me.
Now, keeping in mind that I didn't get to see all of the game, here are my impressions:
Guys I loved
Andre Benoit - Worth every penny of his contract. All over the ice, commanded the flow of Binghamton's game, and was a stud in general. He was named captain of the team, and he clearly deserves it. He's going to make a great partner for Jared Cowen, and provides the kind of veteran leadership a young team like this is going to need.
Robin Lehner - Lehner faced 17 shots in the first period and stopped them all. He only gave up one goal, and a second goal was disallowed on an obvious interference call. Lehner hadn't impressed me this preseason, but this game was a major improvement. Many of the shots he faced early were not of the simple variety, but required focus and poise to stop. Honestly, he reminded me of Craig Anderson a little bit in that he kept his team in the game until they got their heads on straight. Very little was asked of him in the third period until the final two minutes, and the Penguins had to cheat to get one by him. What's interesting is that Nathan Lawson dressed as the backup for this one--presumably Ben Bishop's trip from St. Louis took longer than a drive from Ottawa would--so one wonders whether Lehner was "motivated" by competition or just up for a high-adrenaline game (the season opener in front of the home crowd, who he's had a contentious relationship with in the past). Either way, the team couldn't have won the game without him. It's no coincidence he was named the game's first star.
Mika Zibanejad - Did not record a point in the game, but I felt he was the best forward on either team. This kid plays at a high level. What I think I like the most about him is decisiveness--you can see him make a decision and then just turn on the jets in that direction. He fully commits to whatever play he's trying to make, and that intensity will serve him well at the NHL level, I believe.
Guys I liked
Jakob Silfverberg - Speaking of instincts, Ooh Ah scored Binghamton's first goal of the night not by flying down the ice or fancy dangles, but just by being in the right place at the right time. Watching Cowen load up for a bomb from the point, Silferberg just crept up the ice. The rebound came right to him and he put it into an open net. I liked this play a lot, because the razzle-dazzle chances will be far fewer in Ottawa, and it was nice to see him make a hockey play instead of just trying to make skill plays every shift. Zibanejad also made a concerted effort to feed him the puck, which I liked, even though nothing really came of it on this night.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau - I couldn't find a single thing to dislike about him tonight--even if he did get crushed on faceoffs in the first period. The rest of his game is smooth, smooth, smooth. There are always going to be questions about his size, but I was really encouraged by what I saw in this game. I'm a fan.
Hugh Jessiman - Scored the game-winning goal and had another great opportunity roll off his stick. He might be just a lifer in the AHL, but at least he's a high-end lifer. Like Benoit, you could see the effect his veteran presence had on his linemates, and that was good to see. He also threw his body around quite a bit, which is good, because big guys who play soft are useless.
Frederik Claesson - Threw a huge hit and then fought after it and dropped the guy. He's Swedish, so you know he's supposed to be all scared of contact or whatever, but there was none of that. He looks like a solid guy all around. Smart, simple hockey is clearly where his comfort zone is and that's never a bad kind of guy to have in your organization.
Mike Hoffman - Outside of Zibanejad, Binghamton's best offensive player. He's probably not ever going to be a fixture in the NHL, but he's a huge part of Luke Richardson's plan for this team, that much is obvious.
Guys I did not like
Jared Cowen - This is kind of off-base, because I liked Cowen a lot in the third period. But he was trying to do way, way too much in the first. Cowen may have a bit of Daniel Alfredsson in him where he tries to put the whole team on his back and actually hurts his chances because of it. Cowen made the team, he's on the first pairing, and it's the first game of the season. I'm not sure where the need to be the man came from, exactly. Again, once he settled down, he was integral to the win, but he was also part of a defensive corps that gave up 17 shots in the first period. That's not a good way to start a game if you want to win it. Oh, and the Cowen-Benoit power play? It's beautiful to look at. (The power play as a unit has a lot of work to do, however. I believe they went 0-for-6 on the night.)
Mark Stone - I'm going to be labeled a Stone hater here pretty soon, but the kid was invisible--and he's been invisble every time I've watched a Binghamton game. It's not his skating--let's put that criticism to bed--it's that he's not demonstrating the same ability to find his way to scoring areas now that the competition is better. That doesn't mean he never will, but if he can't do it at the AHL level, I don't know how we can expect him to do it at the NHL level. It's one game and it's a long season, so let's not start labeling him a bust or anything like that. It just looks like he's going to need some time to adjust his style of play to the next level.
Andre Petersson - Speaking of invisible, I didn't even realize he was in the game until late in the third. Yikes. With a ton of prospects breathing down his neck, performances like that are not what he needs.
All in all, it was a satisfying performance on many levels. The defensive group--supposedly a strength--looks like they need some more time to figure things out. The power play unit definitely needs more time to figure things out. Not really sure what to make of Luke Richardson's coaching style just yet, but he was clearly able to make adjustments through the intermission that slowly turned the tables on what began as a terribly one-sided affair. That's a promising start. Promising starts all around, as a matter of fact.