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AHL Weekly: Pirates climbing back near top


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… The Portland Pirates finished with 101 points – fifth-most in the AHL – in 2009-10 before being swept out of the playoffs in the first round by Manchester. This year’s Pirates have hit their stride since the calendar turned to 2011 and are surging back toward the top of the league’s standings with five weeks left to play.

Portland outscored opponents 20-6 en route to three consecutive divisional wins at the Cumberland County Civic Center last week, and the Pirates’ 37-17-5-2 record (81 points) is good for the second-best points percentage (.664) in the AHL. The Pirates, who trail first-place Manchester by two points with four games in hand entering the new week, own the best home record in the AHL (21-4-4-1) and its top-ranked offense (3.61 goals per game) as they bid for the franchise’s second division title (2006).

A solid combination of young prospects and experienced hands has keyed the offense for head coach Kevin Dineen. Portland, which was home to consecutive AHL rookies of the year in 2009 (Nathan Gerbe) and 2010 (Tyler Ennis), has gotten 21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points and a plus-20 rating in just 40 games from first-year pro Luke Adam, who has also appeared in 18 NHL games for Buffalo on the season. While Adam sits second among AHL rookies in scoring, Pirates forward Mark Mancari is second overall in goals (a career-high 32) and third in points (64) and fourth-year pro Marc-Andre Gragnani is tops among AHL defensemen in assists (37) and points (46) as well as fourth in plus/minus (+19).

Derek Whitmore has averaged nearly a point per game since Jan. 1 and is enjoying a breakout campaign with career-best totals in goals (23) and points (37) through 61 contests. Paul Byron (17-20-37) has topped his rookie-year output in all offensive categories while nabbing his first two career NHL points (1-1-2) in eight tilts with Buffalo. Colin Stuart, a 2008 Calder Cup champion in Chicago, joined the Pirates this year and has already matched the career-high 36 points he recorded with Abbotsford in 2009-10. And 720-game NHL veteran Mark Parrish (11-24-35) was recalled by Buffalo after authoring back-to-back four-point games over the weekend.

Portland is also receiving ample secondary scoring from its forward corps. Rookie Corey Tropp, a third-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2007, has put 8-23-31 and a 5-for-7 showing in shootouts through 59 games. Matt Ellis boasts 9-21-30 in 45 outings, while Dennis McCauley (9-21-30) has more than doubled the 14 points he totaled as a rookie for Worcester in 2009-10 and Maxime Legault places second among Pirates rookies with 12 goals (12-9-21).

Of the Pirates’ regular defensemen this season, six are under the age of 24, including 22-year-old Alex Biega, who leads all AHL rookies with a plus-18 rating on the season. T.J. Brennan, a second-round choice by the Sabres in 2007, is one off the AHL lead among defensemen with 12 goals this season, including a league-best five game-winners from the blue line. Rookie Nick Crawford (7-17-24) enters the week riding a four-game scoring streak, and former second-round choice Drew Schiestel (5-18-23) and ex-first-rounder Dennis Persson (4-8-12) have both topped their offensive production from 2009-10 while combining for a plus-20 rating.

Goaltender Jhonas Enroth, a second-round pick by Buffalo in 2006, has reached 20 wins (20-17-2, 2.78, .912) for the third time in as many seasons while also appearing in a career-high seven NHL contests for the Sabres. And in his first full AHL campaign, David Leggio produced a 17-4-0 record (2.57, .918) and a pair of shutouts.

Portland, which has outscored its opponents 54-20 in its last 11 home games (9-1-1-0), begins a busy week by hosting Hershey on Tuesday in the first match-up of 2010-11 between the Eastern Conference powers. The Pirates then visit Springfield on Friday before hosting Providence on Saturday and Atlantic-leading Manchester on Sunday.

THE EXPERIENCE IS CLEAR … The Clear Day lists submitted this week feature 50 players who have won a Calder Cup championship in their careers, including 20 members of last year’s Hershey Bears title team:

Quintin Laing, ABB (2009)
Dan Jancevski, ADK (2007)
Matt Anderson, ALB (2008)
Andre Benoit, BNG (2007)
Corey Locke, BNG (2007)
Mark Wotton, BRI (2006)
Oskar Osala, CHA (2009)
Andre Deveaux, CHI (2008)
Darren Haydar, CHI (’04, ’08)
Jason Krog, CHI (2008)
Arturs Kulda, CHI (2008)
Francis Lemieux, CT (2007)
Greg Amadio, GR (’09, ’10)
Keith Aucoin, HER (’09, ’10)
Francois Bouchard, HER (’09, ’10)
Sean Collins, HER (’09, ’10)
Brian Fahey, HER (2008)
Andrew Gordon, HER (’09, ’10)
Braden Holtby, HER (2010)
Andrew Joudrey, HER (’09, ’10)
Boyd Kane, HER (’05, ’06, ’10)
Patrick McNeill, HER (’09, ’10)
Zach Miskovic, HER (2010)
Mathieu Perreault, HER (’09, ’10)
Steve Pinizzotto, HER (’09, ’10)
Ashton Rome, HER (2010)
Patrick Wellar, HER (2010)
Jason Bacashihua, LE (2010)
John Grahame, LE (1999)
Guillaume Desbiens, MTB (2008)
Steve Begin, MIL (2001)
Grant Lewis, MIL (’08, ’10)
Alexandre Giroux, OKC (’09, ’10)
Bryan Helmer, OKC (’95, ’09, ’10)
Zack Stortini, OKC (2007)
Dean Arsene, PEO (’06, ’09)
Stefan Della Rovere, PEO (2010)
Graham Mink, PEO (’06, ’09)
Nathan Oystrick, PEO (2008)
Colin Stuart, POR (2008)
Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman, PRO (’08)
Boris Valabik, PRO (2008)
Mark Cullen, RCH (2003)
Garnet Exelby, RFD (2002)
Randy Robitaille, SA (1999)
Kyle Wilson, SPR (’09, ’10)
Joe DiPenta, SYR (2002)
Brandon Segal, TEX (2004)
Andrew Hutchinson, WBS (2004)
Brett Sterling, WBS (2008)

Additionally, 10 AHL head coaches – Abbotsford’s Jim Playfair, Chicago’s Don Lever, Connecticut’s Ken Gernander, Hamilton’s Randy Cunneyworth, Hershey’s Mark French, Manitoba’s Claude Noel, Milwaukee’s Lane Lambert, Oklahoma City’s Todd Nelson, Toronto’s Dallas Eakins and Worcester’s Roy Sommer – have won Calder Cups as players, head coaches and/or assistant coaches.

There are also eight AHL players on Clear Day lists who have won Stanley Cups in their careers: Toronto’s Mike Zigomanis (2009), Grand Rapids’ Derek Meech (2008), Syracuse’s Joe DiPenta (2007), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Andrew Hutchinson (2006), Oklahoma City’s Martin Gerber (2006), Rockford’s Jassen Cullimore (2004), Texas’s Brad Lukowich (2004) and Lake Erie’s John Grahame (2004).

DISALVATORE GETS HIS 20 … Houston forward Jon DiSalvatore continued an impressive run of consistency in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Abbotsford when he scored twice for his team-leading 19th and 20th goals of the season. The Aeros’ second-year team captain, DiSalvatore has reached the 20-goal plateau in eight consecutive AHL seasons to begin his professional career.

DiSalvatore, whose previous AHL goal totals have read 22, 22, 22, 21, 22, 20 and 21, leads the Aeros with 48 points while playing all 67 games, and needs just three more goals over the final 13 contests to establish a new career high.

CUNNEYWORTH MOVING ON UP … Hamilton head coach Randy Cunneyworth earned his 340th win as an AHL bench boss on Sunday afternoon when his Bulldogs captured a 2-1 overtime victory at Toronto, a game which was nationally televised on CBC in Canada. That moves Cunneyworth into a tie with American Hockey League Hall of Famer and former Calder Cup champion Bruce Boudreau for seventh place on the AHL’s all-time list.

Cunneyworth, who is in his first season with the Bulldogs after spending eight years (2000-08) as head coach in Rochester and two (2008-10) as an assistant with the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, won the 1983 Calder Cup title as a player with Rochester and went on to play 866 games in the National Hockey League.

ETC. … Houston’s Patrick O’Sullivan is riding a 10-game scoring streak (5-12-17) entering the week, and has recorded a point in 19 of 23 games (13-18-31) since joining the Aeros from the parent Minnesota Wild… Abbotsford’s Ales Kotalik put up eight points (4-4-8) in five road games last week and shows 18 points (4-14-18) and a plus-9 rating in 16 contests since he was assigned by the parent Calgary Flames… Hamilton’s Alex Henry hadn’t scored a regular-season goal since Jan. 16, 2009, before nabbing the overtime winner in a 5-4 victory over Milwaukee on Mar. 2… Newcomer John Mitchell’s goal with 7.7 seconds left in regulation sent Connecticut to a 3-2 win over Springfield on Mar. 2, and then the Whale took Saturday’s rematch in Springfield when Blake Parlett scored his first career AHL goal with 27.5 seconds remaining in overtime… Rookie defenseman Colten Teubert, acquired by Edmonton at the NHL trade deadline, scored in each of his first two games with Oklahoma City last weekend after totaling two goals (2-8-10) in 39 games with Manchester to begin the season… Adirondack’s Denis Hamel scored his 19th and 20th goals of the year (20-17-37) on Sunday vs. Albany, reaching the 20-goal mark for the ninth time in his AHL career… Portland’s five power-play goals on Saturday vs. Bridgeport matched a franchise record, most recently attained on Nov. 20, 2005, vs. Hartford… Ten of Albany’s last 12 games have been decided by a one-goal margin (4-5-1-0)… Entering last weekend, Providence ranked 30th on the power play and 29th on the penalty kill; in two games, the Bruins’ power play then went 5-for-12 and their penalty kill was a perfect 15-for-15… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is now 6-1-0-0 against Hershey this season after posting a 2-9-0-1 mark in last year’s season series.