The lockout did not turn Sens fans away from hockey. Not here, at least. Instead of tuning out Bettman and Fehr to focus exclusively on an entertaining NFL season or take up new hobbies, such as basket-weaving, readers and commenters stayed at Silver Seven to engage with other aspects of the team and the game. There was a renewed interest in the Binghamton Senators and our prospects in junior, to an extent not seen since the run to the Calder Cup. We heaped laudatory opinions on Robin Lehner's terrific AHL campaign, bemoaned the state of Cody Ceci's team, fretted over the suspicious silence surrounding Mika Zibanejad's uncertain health status and celebrated Jakob Silfverberg for not letting us down. Then, the Sens came back. And suddenly, everyone looked away. Don't get me wrong: I'm very excited. I committed on Friday to let my nails grow back and by Saturday evening, they were down to the quick. Still, I can see some of you mentally shelving keen interest in the AHL and mid-season prospect news until the 2020 lockout.
Yeah. Don't do that.
Of course, the onus is on those of us who follow the team's prospects closely to offer interesting tidbits and details. On that note, here's some news and notes to keep you up-to-date from the goings-on in the past week or so.
Two days after I suggested in my Binghamton chat with Mark that the B-Sens might be flirting with collapse thanks to a depleted defensive corps and one day after I asserted Luke Richardson's greatest challenges lay ahead, the B-Sens convincingly trounced the Rochester Americans 5-1. Binghamton was led by outstanding performances from two players who will have to be important cogs down the stretch, if this team is to be successful: Corey Cowick and Stephane Da Costa. Cowick has quietly had a breakout season on Richardson's team, playing in all situation and putting up good offensive numbers (2 goals and an assist on Wednesday) in conjunction with his consistently strong defensive game and dependable physicality. The former 67s forward spent a chunk of time in Elmira of the ECHL last year and has done a good job of solidifying his spot on this roster moving forward. For his part, Da Costa was injured for a significant time to start the year, but has been the best player on the offensive side of the puck since returning to the team.
Of course, Bingo was outshot, albeit only slightly, 36-33. Nathan Lawson stopped 35 of those sent his way, looking strong in the stead of Bishop and Lehner. All things considered, Lawson made a return similar to Craig Anderson's, having only played one disastrous outing for Bingo and made one start for Elmira all season. Binghamton is going to be counting on their goalies if they want to have any success, so it was a promising sign to see Lawson be in top form after a few months of doing, um, I'm not exactly sure what.
Ottawa will play Toronto five times this season, one more than the B-Sens face-off against the Marlies. The B-Sens have been forced to compensate for the loss of their top-two defenders as well as top scorer. The Marlies are currently in the throes of losing Nazem Kadri and Mike Kostka (Leo Komarov left the Marlies back in November for CSKA Moscow). Dallas Eakins has plenty of respect in hockey circles and was a finalist for the Leafs' gig, so this team should be well adjusted the next time they face off against Bingo. Unfortunately for the Marlies, they looked worse for wear on Friday night, dropping a 4-2 decision to Binghamton and falling to 0-2 in the season series against the B-Sens. Stephane Da Costa was again an important piece for the B-Sens, putting up a goal and assist. Mike Hoffman had a terrific goal in his first game back in the lineup. And don't look yet, but Mika Zibanejad has goals in each of his last two games, including Saturday's loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Cole Schneider scored the other Binghamton goal against Bridgeport with Pat Cannone reappearing on the scoresheet with an assist. Stephane Da Costa kept his point streak alive, assisting again on a Zibanejad tally. Chemistry between these two would bode quite well for the rest of this team's season.
Some other Prospect News, Notes, Numbers:
- Nobody can say Matt Puempel lacks tenacity. After an extended forced hiatus thanks to a shoulder problem, Puempel was back in the lineup for Kitchener on Saturday night. Thirty points, thirty games. It's a shame Puempel missed as much action as he did- he was on track for a career season. He can still try and salvage a lot out of this year, though, playing as the most reliable scoring threat on a stacked Kitchener roster.
- It's too early in their careers for me not to jump to Noesen when thinking of Puempel. For his part, Noesen is nearly on a point-per-game track with Plymouth, having put up 26 in 28. This weekend's games were his first game action in a while, having just returned to Plymouth from a trip up to Ottawa for training camp. He also served a ten-game suspension knocked him out of the World Juniors. Noesen might feel like he has something to prove, having missed out on a medal. But then, he's a professional athlete, so he almost always has something to prove.
- Speaking of that first round, the return of Zibanejad to the lineup is promising. He didn't have an explosive start to the season and then was out with a curious carousel of injuries- from throat infection to wisdom teeth removal to flu to, finally, concussion symptoms. Good to see him back in the lineup. He had an up-and-down season last year. Hopefully this one mainlines and settles down from hereon out.