AHL Weekly Release: New-look Pirates still sailing along


por_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … They have a new affiliation and almost an entirely new roster of players, but the Portland Pirates are again making their presence felt in the Atlantic Division through the first month of the 2008-09 season.

The Pirates are the new AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres after three years of partnering with the Anaheim Ducks. Head coach Kevin Dineen, who led the Pirates to the Eastern Conference Finals in both 2006 and 2008 under the Ducks affiliation, was retained by Buffalo after the switch and has the Pirates at 6-1-1-0 (13 points) through its first eight games, good for a share of first place in the division.

The Pirates have been a quick-starting team thus far, scoring the first goal in seven of their eight games. Portland’s offense ranks fourth in the league overall with 3.75 goals per game overall, despite sitting 19th in the 29-team circuit with just 28.25 shots per contest.

Two high-flying rookies and top prospects have keyed a large part of the Pirates’ early fortunes. Nathan Gerbe, a Hobey Baker Award finalist who led the nation in scoring for NCAA champion Boston College last year, shows a team-high seven goals (7-2-9), five of which have come on the power play. Gerbe, who was a 2005 draft pick by Buffalo, racked up a four-game goal-scoring run from Oct. 24 to Oct. 31 and already has a pair of multiple-goal efforts to his credit. Tim Kennedy, who paced Michigan State in scoring during the 2007-08 campaign and who won a national title himself with the Spartans in 2007, has a point in each of his first eight pro games to assume the AHL rookie lead in both assists (9) and points (12). The 22-year-old Kennedy, a Buffalo native looking to reach the NHL for his hometown Sabres, has recorded two three-point games in the early going.

Mark Mancari was an AHL All-Star with Rochester last season, and is setting the overall scoring pace for the Pirates with 14 points (5-9-14) in eight games. The fourth-year pro tallied a hat trick and five points on opening night and has followed that up with a pair of three-point showings since. Marc-Andre Gragnani, who finished third in scoring among AHL rookies a season ago, has six points (1-5-6) to begin this year. Team captain Tyler Bouck, the lone holdover from last year’s Pirates squad, shows three goals and five points in five games, and Mathieu Darche brings a Calder Cup championship and AHL All-Star appearance to Portland’s roster.

Rookie goaltender Jhonas Enroth, a second-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2006, is 3-1-1 (2.51, .925) to begin his North American pro career and made 29 saves for his first shutout on Friday at Norfolk. Counterpart Adam Dennis is out to a 3-1-0 start (2.72, .903) in his third professional campaign.

The Pirates, 4-0-1-0 in their last five games, travel to Worcester on Wednesday in the finale of a four-game road swing before returning home to the Cumberland County Civic Center this weekend to host Springfield and Philadelphia.

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NHL FIRSTS … Several AHL graduates tallied their first career NHL goals during last week’s action. On Thursday, Jamie McGinn had a goal and an assist to lead San Jose over Detroit, 4-2. Saturday, John Mitchell, who led the AHL’s Toronto Marlies with 20 goals last season, scored twice during a five-goal third period as the Maple Leafs rallied to a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers. That same day, Nicklas Bergfors netted his first NHL goal in New Jersey’s 6-1 win over Atlanta. And Dwight Helminen’s first NHL marker tied the game for Carolina on Sunday before he assisted on the game-winner in the Hurricanes’ 6-4 victory over Toronto.

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, recalled from the Chicago Wolves by parent-club Atlanta on Saturday, picked up his first NHL victory of the 2008-09 season on Sunday, making 18 saves in the Thrashers’ 5-3 win over Florida. After backstopping Chicago to the Calder Cup title last year, Pavelec was out to a 5-3-1 start (1.54, .947) for the Wolves this season prior to being summoned to Atlanta.

WOLVES CLAW WAY TO FIRST PLACE … Despite losing Pavelec to NHL recall, Chicago still won two of three games last weekend and now sits atop the West Division at 7-2-1-1 (16 points). Goaltenders Dan Turple and Robert Gherson combined to stop 39 of 41 shots (.951) as the Wolves took victories over Iowa and Syracuse on Saturday and Sunday. Chicago is now 7-1-0-1 in its last nine games overall.

The Wolves continue to rank first in team defense (1.55 goals per game) and have allowed more than two goals in a game just once (not including shootouts).

PHANTOMS SWEEP BATTLE OF PENNSYLVANIA … Veteran forward Boyd Kane knows both sides of the vaunted Philadelphia-Hershey rivalry. This time around, his strong weekend helped the surging Phantoms to a home-and-home sweep of the arch-rival Bears.

Kane, who captained both Philadelphia (2005) and Hershey (2006) to Calder Cup championships, netted a hat trick on Saturday in Chocolatetown as the Phantoms rallied from a 2-1 deficit to post a 5-2 victory. And he scored again in Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win at home, his team-leading fifth goal of the season for Philadelphia.

Philadelphia ended the week on a four-game winning streak and has climbed back to the .500 mark at 5-5-0-0 overall.

ETC. … Manitoba, on an eight-game winning streak entering the week, has outscored opponents 28-10 during that stretch… Michael Ryan, who spent all of 2007-08 in the NHL with Buffalo, was signed by Carolina on Friday and tallied a goal and two assists on Sunday to help Albany rally for a 4-3 win at Bridgeport… Third-year forward Cal O’Reilly had four points in Milwaukee’s home-and-home sweep of Grand Rapids over the weekend and now sports a point in seven straight games overall (4-7-11)… Krys Kolanos has registered seven goals and eight points in seven games for Houston and was summoned by parent-club Minnesota on Monday afternoon, his second NHL recall of the season… The Aeros are 5-0-0-0 against West Division opponents and 1-4-0-0 against the rest of the league… Worcester’s Tom Cavanagh racked up five points (3-2-5) in two games last weekend as the Sharks took divisional victories over Hartford and Manchester… Five of Toronto’s six goals over its last three games have come on the power play… Houston and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton combined for three goals in 41 seconds during the third period of Sunday’s 4-3 Penguins win… Chris Minard had a hat trick in that one for Wilkes-Barre, moving into the AHL lead with 10 goals on the year… Peoria’s Steve Regier tallied his third two-goal game of the season on Friday in the Rivermen’s 4-2 win over Quad City… The Flames have scored the game’s first goal a league-high eight times this season (out of 11 contests), but they are only 3-4-1-0 in games where they do so… Philadelphia’s Danny Syvret recorded exactly 20 points in each of his first three AHL seasons; he is already more than halfway to that mark with 11 points in 10 games this season… Iowa has been outscored 27-14 over the first two periods thus far but holds a 14-4 edge in the third period and overtime… Goaltenders have stopped eight of nine penalty shots in the AHL this season.