By Danielle Catalano
Tomorrow night’s conference game between the Portland Pirates and Binghamton Senators will be the ninth time the two will have met since 2002, but the first time for Portland as the Buffalo Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate. The B-Sens host the Pirates at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena at 7:05 p.m. in their only regular-season home contest against Portland.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them, so you just treat them like a new team,” center Josh Hennessy says. “And really, they are a new team because they’re a different team. They’re not Anaheim anymore.”
While Binghamton and Portland are somewhat unfamiliar foes, their statistical match-ups suggests otherwise, beginning with the teams’ overall record against one another: 4-4-0-0, with each winning on home ice. Head coach Cory Clouston is quick to caution against reading too much into the clubs’ history together. “We’re two different clubs,” Clouston says. “We worry about our guys; they worry about their guys. Come game day, our guys will play what they’ve been practicing, not what the stats say.”
Still, there are some noteworthy similarities with this year’s teams that will make Friday night’s contest a strong match-up for both sides.
Portland sits atop the Atlantic Division in first place with 33 points, while Binghamton’s 27 points place them in fifth in the East Division. The Pirates have won four of their last 10 games, grabbing 10 points during that time. The B-Sens have kept pace, earning nine points in their last 10 games. Both clubs have recent shootout experiences, with Portland wining 4-3 on Tuesday against Manchester; Binghamton losing 6-5 last Friday against Bridgeport on a controversial no-goal call.
While each team has undergone a series of call-ups over the last month, their points leaders have return to the lineups. (B-Sens’ Ilya Zubov with 25 points; Pirates’ Mark Mancari with 27 points.) Though, both are missing core players, such as Binghamton defenseman Matt Carkner (a game-day decision with a lower-body injury), and Portland center Nathan Gerbe, who has spent the week playing for Buffalo. Each side has benefited from their offensive-minded defensemen, who have garnered 41 points for their respective teams. Adding to this frenzy are rookie standouts Tim Kennedy, Mike Kostka and Derek Whitmore (Portland) and Zack Smith, Mattias Karlsson and Brian Lee (Binghamton), who continue to feed scoring opportunities in their offensive zones, resulting in a collective 58 assists.
With all these similarities on the periphery of Friday night’s contest, where do the differences lie? Not in the score sheets says Hennessy.
“I’m sure the coaching staff has looked at all the scoring notes and stuff, but it really comes down to our play making the difference,” he says. “Making good cuts into our zone and working good together deep in the zone, getting to the net…That’s what counts.”