Game Night 10/8: Pirates at Falcons
Tonight marks the opening game of the second season for the Springfield Falcons under a full affiliation with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Much is on the line as the Lightning try and establish the Falcons as a credible AHL club while at the same time developing desperately needed young talent which will be in the NHL sooner rather than later with the new CBA. I will be covering the game live using the B2 Networks' cybercast, so for those who aren't watching the Panthers/Lightning game, buckle up.
Update: I just wanted to add because I bagged on the internet connection I got to the B2 Network the last game that their service was nearly flawless all night long. Excellent job B2.
Tonight's lineup and lines:
1. Portland- Shannon, (Konopka, Glenncross)
2. Portland- Shannon, (Rome, Konopka)
3. Springfield- Campbell, (Milley, Ranger) (PP2)
It's interesting that Tiley and Deveaux didn't dress for this game. Don't know if they're injured or healthy scratches. Also it's interesting that Coleman again gets the backup nod over Cey. Perhaps Morgan is the odd man out here once Johnstown gets cranking. Also, Springfield is going with 11 forwards and 6 defensemen with Fritz/Tarnasky as the odd line combination.
Springfield is struggling defensively to get to loose pucks and they're also struggling to get the puck through the neutral zone into Portland ice. When they do, they've been able to create on the forecheck, specifically the line of Jaspers/Craig/Artyukhin which had an excellent shift the second shift of the game. Later, Craig hit the post on a wraparound attempt. Craig is wearing the "C" for Springfield tonight so I assume he has been named the team's captain. Portland's first goal looked like a harmless play that squirted from the corner to the side of the net where he stuffed the goal home. The second goal was another harmless looking long point shot by Aaron Rome that was tipped in past Eklund.
The Falcons were fortunate to get on the power play late in the period which helped to get their legs under them. Particularly when early in the initial minor Igor Pohanka took a 5 minute major for boarding Todd Rohloff. Rohloff went into the boards feet first and left the ice favoring his left leg. Hopefully it is nothing serious. On the two man advantage the Falcons struck quickly moving the puck around from Ranger at the point, behind the net to Milley and then to the right wing circle near the slot to Campbell for the easy finish on the wrister stick side. Ranger is getting a ton of ice time early from Coach Graham. The Falcons will start the 2nd period on the PP as Pohanka's major continues.
Update: GM Bruce Landon at intermission said that Tiley is out with a pulled groin from practice. Brad Bombardir was also hurt in the first period so the Falcons are down to four defensemen right now.
Update: Rohloff just came out for the second shift of the second period, so the Falcons have five defensemen now.
The power play to start the period, to quote a Torts-ism, was the dog's breakfast. Springfield looked a lot better at even strength in the period and with the exception of the power play at the start of the period looked pretty good on the power play. There were a couple of close chances for the Falcons in the period as they tried to tie it up. Shorthanded, Nick Tarnasky made an excellent play in the neutral zone to win a loose puck and fight off two defenders to get a shot on net that rolled up the goaltender's arm and skidded off the top of the goal post. Later, at even strength, Norm Milley hit the left post on a play off the faceoff. The goal light came on but the replay showed the puck hit the post and skidded across the crease and never crossed the goal line. Paul Ranger has played a ton in all game situations as has Harlan Pratt who is picking up a lot of Todd Rohloff's minutes. Brian Eklund had a key moment in the last 5 minutes of the period as O'Brien misplayed a power play point feed which led to a Portland breakaway which Eklund stopped. Moments later the Falcons drew a penalty which gave them their second 5-on-3 of the game. Ryan Vesce had the best chance on the two man advantage firing a one timer off the goaltender's shoulder. The Falcons have moved ahead of the Pirates in shots now and will be pouring it on in the third to try and get the game tying goal.
4. Springfield- Artyukhin, (Jaspers, H.Pratt)
5. Springfield- Ranger, (Craig, Jaspers)
6. Springfield- Craig, (Artyukhin, Ranger)
Evgeny Artyukhin: Best. Period. Ever. My goodness. With the exception of a couple of good forechecking shifts in the first couple of periods he wasn't really a factor in the first two periods. He was dominant in the third. He started by drawing a penalty busting down right wing 13 seconds into the period. Then after a few minutes he took a Jason Jaspers breakout pass and motored through the neutral zone down the right wing, beat Kent Huskins like a dog around the corner and made a strong power move to the net to slide the goal in on the forehand. Then he got under Bruno St. Jacques skin and drew another penalty. As the ensuing power play is expiring Artyukhin takes the puck at the right wing circles and fires a huge slapper at the net which Mike Wall could not handle. Both Craig and Jaspers got cracks at the rebound before the puck squirted through a maze of legs to Paul Ranger in the slot where he slid a weak backhand into the net. Artyukhin could've easily been credited with an assist on the play. And then, the icing on top, Artyukhin hits a beautiful two line pass to Ryan Craig who snuck in behind the defense and beat Wall on the breakaway, and it was happy birthday Rambo. Drive home safely everybody.
What a period.
Reid and Tarnasky formed a very nice penalty killing combination all night long holding Portland to 0-for-6 on the power play. In the third Tarnasky sprung Reid for a shorthanded breakaway but Darren was stopped as he deked to his backhand. Not much hard work for Eklund on the game but he made an excellent stop on a goal mouth scrum with 5.3 seconds left with the Pirates on a 6-on-4 man advantage with the extra attacker and Doug O'Brien in the penalty box (on a terrible interference call).
Three stars of the game:
3. H. Pratt
Ranger was everywhere all night and logged a ton of ice time. He still needs to sharpen his defensive zone game but his offensive instincts have looked incredibly impressive the past two games. He was used in all phases: power play, shorthanded and even strength and earned his first star billing. Ryan Craig probably deserved the third star with a 2 point night, 7 shots on goal and a +3 rating but they chose to give the nod to Harlan Pratt who also played big minutes making up for the absence of Bombardir and Rohloff for much of the game.
The Falcons now have close to a week off before their next game which will hopefully afford those two defensemen the time to heal. For the Pirates, impressive games by the rookie Wall in defeat as well as for defenseman Aaron Rome.