As Ottawa fans marveled at their team's 4-2 victory in Game One last Thursday, the Binghamton Senators season ended quietly, overlooked by the fanfare surrounding the big league team's success. As Ottawa triumphed, Binghamton fell. Under different circumstances, the season-ending loss would have generated more discussion in the city. But with the NHL playoffs underway, Binghamton discussion was limited to which players would be given the honour of riding with the big club as black aces. However, even though their season ended unceremoniously last Thursday, swept 3-0 in their first round best-of-five series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Binghamton and the Senators prospects are not quite done for the season.
Sunday's hat-trick performance by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, alerting much of the hockey world to his existence, was a potent reminder of how the Senators rely upon their prospect depth and development within the system for success. For many teams, the farm system is akin to a research laboratory at a technology firm.
They're given money and assets to work with and then shut away and ignored for the most part (I mean, this is what imagine. I don't know how it works. But stick with me). Everyone else goes about their business marketing and managing the assets they already have. Then, almost out of nowhere, the lab geeks come out with a new product that promises to rejuvenate and change the way they do business. Unlike many teams, Ottawa doesn't have the privilege of giving its development program any privacy.
With the rebuilding Senators, the prospects are not so much reinforcements in case of injury, but a vital element of the team's success. To be successful, this team needs some surprises. This season, they've gotten quite a few. Pageau's was just the most newsworthy.
WBS Penguins 3, Binghamton Senators 2
It was a disappointing end after a promising start to the game. Matt Puempel had the first goal of the game, his second of the series and third of his professional career. In nine games last year with the B-Sens, Puempel had scored one goal. This year, he returned after the Kitchener Rangers lost in the playoffs and had two goals in three playoff games, though was held scoreless in Binghamton's final two regulation games of the year.
Binghamton carried the lead into the intermission, outshooting the Penguins on the way, 9-4. In the second, the B-Sens found themselves leaning on Nathan Lawson. Lawson held strong in the second, fighting through a barrage of 14 shots, more than half of his game's total. Binghamton, needing three straight victories, were alive through two periods of play.
It fell off the rails in the third. Wilkes-Barre scored back-to-back-to-back goals in the third period, the final twenty minutes of the Binghamton season. Mark Borowiecki had a goal with under five seconds to go, but an empty netter a minute earlier had made the comeback task a difficult one. Binghamton were losers in the special teams game, allowing a shorthanded goal against and a relatively rare goal while killing off a penalty.
There were three goals in the final two minutes. Riley Hozapfel, who had an excellent series against the B-Sens, threw into doubt an overtime frame that had once looked likely. The empty netter sealed the deal for the Penguins and effectively eliminated the B-Sens with just under a minute to go. Borowiecki's goal in the dying seconds was the only Binghamton goal of the series in which Mark Stone was neither on the ice nor had a point.
A more complete recap of Binghamton's season will be posted in the coming weeks, but needless to say, this was a successful season for Binghamton. They lost their league-leading goaltending tandem, three of their top four defenders and a myriad of scoring and depth forwards. Luke Richardson made the most of a difficult hand, turning around a team that had sat in the league's basement to finish one point out of the division lead.
Nathan Lawson was an important part of the puzzle for Binghamton staying afloat. Without quality goaltending, Luke Richardson's difficult job would have been made into a near impossibility. It was a strange season for Lawson, who was inactive throughout the NHL lockout with Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner on the roster, but turned around and was as crutch for the team in the home stretch.
Big performances from rookies and second-year players were huge. Luke Richardson and his coaching staff deserve plenty of credit for bringing some players into the fold, communicating what he wanted to see from them and eventually being rewarded with success. Shane Prince finished the season with 18 goals. Had he played all 73, he likely would have hit the twenty-goal mark. Chris Wideman, who struggled in the early goings of the year, was a useful player by the end of the season. Jean-Gabriel Pageau looked strong from the outset and was used in special teams situations by the coach, but took off offensively in the second half of the year, readying himself for a promotion. Then, there was a player like Corey Cowick, who seemed all but written off as a prospect coming into the year. The Ottawa product had jumped back and forth last year between Binghamton and Elmira. He never seemed to find an offensive or scoring touch in either league. This year, spending the entire season with Binghamton, he had 16 goals and 35 points, averaging just a shade less than a point-per-game.
Luke Richardson made good use of more veteran AHL players, eventually naming blueliner Mark Borowiecki as team captain in the final month of the campaign. Derek Grant emerged far more noticeably this year, scoring 19 and serving as a ridiculously potent scoring threat on the, uh, powerplay.
There was much more, too. Binghamton's season ended on a flat note on Thursday, but some of the players who benefited from the positive development therein may still have more to offer this year.