During last weekend's split in games with a 5-1 win over the visiting Toronto Marlies followed by a 4-1 loss to the Albany Devils, Binghamton scored one goal on the power play on nine opportunities while allowing four on the penalty kill in 13 chances. The result? The club ranks 20th in the AHL on the PP at a paltry 12.5% due to an anemic 3 for 24 in 6 games. They begin their season with a .500 record after six games with a ton of hockey left but there are a few things I think we need to address, beginning with the play of the special teams.
The first unit consisted of Matt Puempel and Patrick Mullen on the back-end, with Nick Paul, Cole Schneider and Colin Greening up front. The second unit had Zack Stortini, Tobias Lindberg and Eric O'Dell with Michael Kostka and Ryan Dzingel on the blue line.
The good times of Mike Hoffman, Chris Wideman and Andre Benoit are long but over. There is no one that can fill the role of feathering a shot through traffic or setting up the front men like those three could at the blue line and at any given time. To replace them, assistant coach Steve Stirling was sending Puempel and Dzingel out as the fourth forward at the point.
Not that there's a panic feeling swirling around the confines of the clubhouse now that Puempel is gone with his recent call-up, right?
However, putting Stortini on the second unit parked in front hasn't exactly clicked so far. It has in the past when he saddled up last season with Lehigh Valley, recording a career high 13 goals and 12 assists with many on the man advantage, but on this team there must be some better options.
Stortini is a big dude. I mean really big, at 6' 4" and a lean 215lbs, and it can play out on either side of the coin. Big guy in front that can pounce on some loose change while at the same time creating a screen for the opposing goaltenders. Flip side, he's a liability with less than average skills putting the puck into the back of the net while taking a spot on the ice on the man advantage.
Getting Storts off the PP completely is an option. Greening centering the first unit has to end as I'm not sure this will work, ever. I would move O'Dell to the point replacing Dzingel. My initial thought before he got called up was to move Puempel up front as this limits his natural scoring ability being too far out on the blue line. He's a goal scorer not a playmaker.
But with the turn of events with Stortini handed a two game suspension now on late Tuesday, it's time to experiment. (Storts laid a check into Paul Thompson of Albany this past Sunday and caused a shoulder injury that refs decided was intentional and ruled it a match penalty, which is reviewable in the AHL that can result in a suspension. (A lot had to due with Zack's reputation if you ask me in receiving his punishment.)
So now Binghamton will refer to plan B moving forward and my guess is as good as yours who fills his role and what the actual plan is. Patience is a virtue I suppose, and as a reminder, it's only six games in.
Now some positives as it's been fairly decent so far with the exception of Sunday's loss to Albany. Four power play goals allowed in one game sent the club tumbling down the ladder to its current ranking of 78.6% for 22nd place, going 6 for their last 28.
On several occasions there were plenty of player substitutes but noted Travis Ewanyk, Mullen and Mark Fraser were on the ice in certain situations five on three on Sunday. Otherwise being only one man short Ewanyk, Kostka, Fredrik Claesson and David Dziurzynski served the roles.
We all know what Claesson brings and Kostka is beginning to show signs he will be valuable on both sides of the special teams while boasting a team high +8. On an odd note, there doesn't appear to be any shorthanded goal specialists so far with this squad, as we have been accustomed to in the past. (I heard Derek Grant is skating pretty well recently for Calgary).
After Sunday's blip on the radar I'm not overly concerned with the PK as long as Claesson is around. Besides with Buddy Robinson due back in a week (hopefully), it'll only get better.
Luke Richardson has chosen to play the every other game role in helping him evaluate his future #1 netminder after six games. His decision is coming very soon, possibly after this weekend. You can't continue to rotate your goalies all season long and at some point the every day starter will emerge. But who?
As the AHL is heavily scheduled for weekend games, it's not uncommon for a hot goalie to play back to back games. Only when you have three in three days is when the back up is brought in at some point, either in the middle or the tail end.
Let's look at the numbers, as it paints two completely different pictures.
Chris Driedger 3-0-0 1.99 GAA 0.932 SV%
Looks really strong early on, taking off where he left off from winning his last six straight at the end of last season. Looks fundamentally strong, tracking the puck really well while controlling his rebounds. Solid start.
Matt O'Connor 0-3-0 3.04 Gaa 0.893 SV%
Been a victim of poor play as all three games have been on the road. Obviously wins the height battle but needs to work identifying that to his advantage. Potential is there and is ahead of where Driedger was a year ago.
Ride Driedger as long as he's hot. I know there's pressure on O'C to perform but it's still early. Until he gets comfortable playing in the pros, go with your hot goaltender and get some W's. Driedger is only 21 years old and is playing in his first full season in the AHL and he needs the work just as much as O'Connor requires.
This Week's Notables
D-Man Michael Kostka
Like I mentioned Kostka leads the team with a +8 (2nd in the league) and showed his toughness while he took a shot off his leg in Sunday's game and labored around the ice in pain before play was called. Didn't miss a shift. Also caught a rut in his season debut at home falling flat on his face busting his lip, only to return the next period.
The Sens visit their rivals south of I81 the Penguins (5-1-0) tonight in a non-divisional game for the first time. The Pens have gotten off to a good start with goaltender Matt Murphy (4-1-0-1, 1.99 GAA, 0.940 SV%).
Then on Friday the team returns home to face last season's Calder Cup finalist's Utica Comets (2-3-0) for the first of eight scheduled this season.
*Cover Pic & Insert Courtesy of Alicia Strauch.