Senators Prospect Roundup: Tough Times on the Farm

Stephane Da Costa is kicking it in Binghamton, which must make him feel like home. The Paris of Broome County, as they say. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

One of the more patronizing proverbs in the English language is that "all good things must come to an end". It is also most certainly true, as much in hockey as anything else. For the Binghamton Senators of 2011-2012, just when something seems like it may be turning in their favor, it comes to a swift, crushing end. A five game winning streak in January gave way to a string of losses, seven in eight games, abated only by an anomalous 6-1 crushing of last season's second round foe Portland Pirates.

The most recent (brief) spell of good tidings came in the form of Ben Bishop's goaltending. While most in the nation's capital rejoiced over Lehnsanity, I thought of different plays on the name Ben Bishop. Something chess related? Something about a BB Gun? It was a stressful time. In the end, I determined that, in the interests of all that is good in the world, I should stop trying. Nonetheless, Bishop's play in Binghamton has been the best stretch of goaltending the farm has seen this year. Come Sunday, the St. John's IceCaps cashed in on three powerplay opportunities to dismantle Bishop's fun run with a 5-2 win (one was on the empty net). The system's new addition still escaped with a .900 save percentage, thanks to lots of shots against and porous defending.

While the fervor around Lehnsanity begins to fade and Ben Bishop actually gets scored on, I have decided to take a closer look in this week's prospect roundup at three-quarters of a season's worth of numbers in Binghamton to see how tough life can be as a tender on the AHL's worst squad.

Turns out, it's a bumpy ride. If you ever somehow come across a way to make prop bets on the Binghamton Senators and are inclined to wager some coin, bet the over on shots against the B-Sens. It is no secret that "allowing copious amounts of shots against per game" is not part of the traditional winning formula. That is likely why Binghamton does not win very often. I looked into the hard numbers, and they are indeed hard to look at:

  • Binghamton has been outshot the last twelve consecutive games, of which they have won three.
  • Of the previous five, all of which were wins, they only outshot their opponents once on their way to victory.
  • Over an eighteen game stretch, the team has allowed an average of 10.8 more shots than they have taken. The smallest difference was 4 and the largest gap was 27.
So, who is to blame? The goaltenders? Competition between Mike McKenna and Robin Lehner merits a fair amount of attention, but not in this article. Besides, those guys are hit like the wall around a dartboard (I'm not very good at darts) and still pull through for their team to win the odd game. Coaching? No. It is simply far too early to assume that Coach Kleinendorst's message has stopped resonating in the dressing room. With the amount of roster shuffling the team has endured, and the fact that they won a championship less than a year ago, the coach is protected from a decent share of shrapnel on this one. Besides, to point the finger in the coach's direction would be to dismiss what is a more pertinent concern: defense. If future Senators blueliners are biding their time in Binghamton, the overwhelming statistics against the team have to be a source for concern.

On taking shots:
  • It can't come as too much of a surprise that Francis Lessard has one of the worst shots-per-game numbers in the AHL- 17 attempts on goal in 41 games- because he plays a handful of shifts per night and typically reserves his fists for the more utilitarian function of reserving five minutes in the penalty box. Some other players can be let off the hook somewhat for their role as depth defenseman (Craig Schira) or both fighter and defender (Tim Conboy).
  • Coach Kurt Kleinendorst expressed bewilderment in the early goings of the season at why Patrick Wierioch was not shooting the puck ("I don't know what I have to do"). Since then, the young defender has picked up some of his numbers. Mark Borowiecki plays more of a phsyical, shut-down kind of role, but one can point at his having one more shot on target than Wiercioch, despite having played sixteen more games.
On shots against:
  • The bigger concern. The B-Sens have allowed under thirty shots against... twice in 2012. Having taken on the position of an imminent prospect (in the words of Tim Murray, it is a matter of "when, not if" he becomes an NHL player), Mark Borowiecki surely has a role in this season. The same must be said of Eric Gryba.
  • A lack of defensive support from forwards will damn any team. A failed season is as much a shared experience as a winning one. Clearing the puck and organizing a breakout has been a struggle for the B-Sens all year- as much a product of forwards not making themselves available for safe outlet passes as it is a sign of a team wanting for an experienced puck-moving presence.
  • The organization identified and tried to address this shortcoming in the offseason with the signing (and subsequent retirement) of Lee Sweatt. Josh Godfrey has played well in a two-way role, as has Bobby Raymond in his call-ups from Elmira of the ECHL, but it appears from a distance that Tim Murray will likely be looking for a means to add a top-pairing AHL defender in the off-season.
  • It is for the benefit of the Senators in the long run that these very noticeable wrinkles be smoothed out now rather than down the road, and it will be better if the B-Sens can pick up next season where last one's left off.
Other Prospect News:
  • An article from the Peterborough Examiner reveals that Matt Puempel "continues to skate on his own but has not been cleared to practice. He saw another specialist in Toronto this week."
  • Jakob Silfverberg has been on a roll this season, despite some slight injury setbacks. Halfway through the SEL season, he was a few points below a point-per-game clip, and is now four over (52 in 48).
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