Game Night 3/31: Wolf Pack at Falcons

I watched the game on B2. Bottom line: the goaltending was wretched tonight (4 soft goals between Boutin and Coleman) and several Falcons players look like they're thinking about tee times more than finishing the season strong. Plus you have 2 debuting defenseman and Tarnasky making up 1/2 of your blueline corps tonight thanks to injuries to Schultz and Rosehill. HFD-9 SPR-3 Hit read more to read my detailed thoughts on the game. Game sheet from [url=http://ahl.leaguestat.com/stats/game-summary.php?game_id=1002008]TheAHL.com.[/url] At this time last year the Springfield Falcons were in about the same place they are in today: out of the playoffs just looking to finish out the schedule. The difference between last year's team and this year's, however, is profound. Last year the final dozen or so games were an opportunity for some of this team's prospects to elevate their game and elevate their stock. The cream rose to the top last year at this time. Paul Ranger and Evgeny Artyukhin rose from obscurity to post impressive numbers in the last month of the season and gain the full attention of this organization. They stepped up and today they are in Tampa. No one stepped up tonight. NO ONE, and it is infuriating. The goaltending tonight was terrible. Jonathan Boutin allowed 3 soft goals before being pulled in the third for Gerald Coleman who promptly allowed a softie of his own. All of this at a time when the goaltending situation in Tampa may be in flux next year with John Grahame an unrestricted free agent and Sean Burke being so old he probably went to high school with Ben Franklin. The opportunity is there to seize and neither of these players, tonight, did anything to grab ahold of it. They do so at their own peril however, because Karri Ramo is coming to North America next season. Players like Jonathan Boutin who don't step up now may very well find themselves at the back of the line come next Fall. On defense, the Falcons were in a tough spot at the beginning of this game. They had only five healthy defensemen and two of them were rookies on ATOs straight out of college with zero professional experience. To round out the defensive corps, Nick Tarnasky once again had to move to the backline. I was impressed with PJ Atherton. He was forced to play well over 20 minutes paired up with Todd Rohloff in his AHL debut, and although he made mistakes, there is something of a player there. The young man finishes every check and plays hard. His skating is average for the AHL level and he overhandled the puck at times which you can do in the NCAA but not at this level. Hartford's shorthanded goal to end the game came on a turnover at the Wolf Pack blueline that came from just such an instance of Atherton overhandling the puck. Still, there's something about him that reminds you of Nolan Pratt: a hard working character defenseman who finishes his checks. He still has a lot to learn, but I would not be upset if he was extended a contract by the Lightning. His goal was scored on a weak Todd Rohloff backhand from the point that rebounded to PJ and allowed him to smoke a slapshot high stick side for his first professional goal. I was considerably less impressed with Jared Nightingale who is painfully immobile and thus has to play far too passive a game for my taste. I will reserve judgement on Kevin Croxton who didn't have a lot of ice time. His assist came from a head man pass to Dan Cavanaugh who was fortunate enough to get a very soft goal from Robert Gherson of the Wolf Pack on the rush. Mike Egener, sadly, looks defeated. In his body language he looks absolutely lost and defeated. He wasn't as bad as his -3 rating for the night indicates, but he is definitely suffering from a huge defficiency in confidence right now. It's hard to see how the Lightning can fix that situation at this late juncture of the season. I withdraw my support for a Gerard Dicaire callup. He was playing well after his callup from the ECHL and looked like the Gerard Dicaire that used to play for Kootenay in the WHL. Tonight? He made one good play jumping into a shooting hole on a first period power play and then faded into oblivion after missing the shot. He looked dispassionate (even more so than usual) and finished -3. Doug O'Brien may not be the answer in Tampa right now, but neither is Gerard Dicaire from what I saw tonight. The really annoying thing is that he is the one who should be stepping up the way Paul Ranger did this time last season. That was my expectation coming into this game. He didn't come within a million miles of meeting that expectation. This team has zero mental toughness. None. They folded like a cheap tent at the first sign of adversity tonight. They played a decent first 25 minutes or so and had a 2-1 lead before the referees gave a bogus 5 minute major to Darren Reid for high sticking. No blood. No intent to injure from what I saw. He went to hook a guys arm and missed and was subsequently thrown in the sin bin. A good team responds to adversity. This team responded by never even coming close to getting a clear for two minutes (or so it seemed) before Jonathan Boutin promptly delivered a short side five hole bad angle Dairy Queen special to tie the game. It was all downhill from there. The Falcons, forwards and defensemen alike, are all guilty of overhandling the puck once they gain possession of it in their zone. Time after time tonight a Falcon had clear possession of the puck in the high slot with a chance to move the play out of their zone and time and time again they looked like the Keystone Cops finding new and inventive ways to not clear it. Maybe the sole exception was Marek Kvapil. When he overhandles the puck he at least does so artfully. There were about three spots in the game where Kvapil managed to work himself into scoring areas with his speed and handling ability. He's useless in high traffic areas right now because he is so slight of build, but if he spends the offseason in the weight room watch out. Final thought: this team suffers greatly without the character of Andre Deveaux in the lineup. I never would've thought it possible, but it's not the same watching the Falcons without him. They could've desperately used his forechecking ability tonight to get some zone time and take pressure off their defense. Lines were: Blatny/Jaspers/Kvapil Spina/Vesce/Milley Hrdel/Cavanaugh/Reid Fritz/Croxton Rohloff/Atherton Egener/Nightingale Dicaire/Tarnasky Boutin Coleman