AHL Game Night 12/29: Falcons at Pirates

Big game tonight as the Falcons try to move to 4 games over .500 at the expense of second place Portland. Bolt Prospects has activated the mobile unit (my laptop) and we will be liveblogging this game via the B2 Networks feed as a part of our continuing Midterm evaluation process. Justin Keller is still out of the lineup with a bum ankle and probably will be out another week according to the Springfield Republican. Sebastien Caron will be in net for the Pirates, so the birds have their work cut out for them tonight. Check the extended comments between periods for updates and observations throughout the game.

Falcons Starting Lineup:
Healey/Corso/Milley
Egener/Delmore
Ramo

SPR-2
POR-1 Final

Grand. Theft. Larceny.

First Period
NO SCORING

Second Period
1. POR- Bembridge, (unassisted)

Third Period
2. SPR- Milley, (Healey, Corso)(PP)
3. SPR- Healey, (Milley)

First Period Notes:
That was embarassing. The Falcons were outshot 13-1 in the period and Blair Jones didn't get the first puck through on net until about 18 and a half minutes into the game. Portland is forechecking Springfield into the dirt and Ramo is the only reason this isn't a 2 or 3-0 game right now. I count 5 really good scoring chances where Ramo has robbed Portland so far in this game. Ramo made a big stop on Ian Moran from right down Broadway in the slot 3 minutes in, stopped a couple of chances from the circles after quick change turnovers in the Falcons zone at about 8 and a half minutes in, stopped Wirtanen on a partial breakaway after he undressed Doug O'Brien roughly halfway through the period and stopped Miller walking out in front for a wraparound from behind the net about 14 minutes in. All the Falcons' defensemen are really struggling tonight to win one on one battles and move the puck out of the zone expeditiously. Doug O'Brien, in particular, was a hot mess in that period.

The Falcons generated two scoring chances late in the first period. Dan Cavanaugh set up Stan Lascek in the slot 17 minutes into the period but Lascek missed the net high. Also, at the buzzer, Andy Delmore danced into the zone and set up Daniel Corso in the right wing circle for a backhand chance that went wide of the net. Falcons must get more organized play from their backline and win some one on one battles, or this will be a slaughter.

Tonight's Lineup:
Healey/Corso/Milley
Boisclair/Jones/Kvapil
Lascek/Cavanaugh/Spina
Rowe/Fritz

Egener/Delmore
O'Brien/Smaby
Rosehill/Rogers

Ramo
Boutin

Second Period Notes:
This is a joke. Through two period the Falcons are being outshot 29-6 and the game isn't even that close. Karri Ramo has done everything humanly possible to give the Falcons a chance to steal a point or two here. The only goal he allowed came off an Andy Delmore turnover on a d to d pass in his own zone that was picked off. Bembridge got a clean look from the left wing circles point blank and beat Ramo. Beyond that, I counted 8 dangerous chances by Portland and Ramo ate them all up, including a partial breakaway and several deflections. In the first period the Falcons d couldn't move the puck out of their zone. In the second period, they did a little better job but the Falcons forwards are getting eaten up in the neutral zone. They're not passing the puck well and they're trying to make too many individual plays instead of taking and giving a pass to break down Portland.

Three momentary bright spots in this game: I thought Mike Egener came on in the second period. He set the tone early with a good hit and broke up a shorthanded 2-on-1. He was good defensively in that period. Marek Kvapil has been dangerous on a couple of occassions and drew a penalty early in the period by splitting Portland's defense and getting a shot away while being pulled down. Finally, David Spina had a couple of chances in that period. A scrum caused by some good work by the third line led to Spina being open at the top of Caron's crease and just chipping the puck over the net. He also made a strong individual play on the forecheck and won a puck and moved out of the corner and took a little spin shot that hit the outside of the post on Caron.

Beyond that, the bright spots are few and far between. This third period, hopefully, this team will show some pride and start to put the pressure on. Ramo has given them a chance.

Third Period Notes
Oh my God. Steal the points. I have never in my life seen a team so thoroughly outplayed as the Falcons were tonight and still manage to take away the two points. They played horrible tonight. Horrible. They were outshot 38-16 and had no business being in this game. Ramo should be first, second, third and fourth star of the game. He was strong, he was confident, he was tenacious. And, sweet Jesus, he's only 20 years old.

As far as the team in front of Ramo goes, the Falcons obviously played their best period in the third (not that that's saying much). After Konopka hit the outside of the post on Ramo early in the period, the old veteran line started to rise up with Daniel Corso coming in on the rush and getting away a backhand and a rebound chance that Caron stopped. Not too much later after that, the Falcons got a power play on a dumb Ryan Carter hooking penalty in the offensive zone. The Falcons finally got a good setup and the vets moved the puck crisply around the box Delmore, to Healey, down to Corso along the goal line and then Corso found Milley in the slot and after a slight bobble Milley buried the power play goal. That's been the formula this year for this team and it's the old 1995-1996 Lightning playoff formula: get great goaltending and good special teams and get an opportunistic goal here and there.

And the opportunistic goal came just a couple of minutes later as the old crafty dog Milley outhustled the Portland defense, stripped the puck away from a pair of Pirates and centered to Eric Healey all alone in front of Caron. Healey spinned, deked and finished. 2-1. Steal the points.

Springfield had the quintessential chance to bury the Pirates for good about two minutes later as Aaron Rome fell down at the point on a Portland power play surrendering a breakaway to David Spina. Spina came in clear and deked to his forehand and had Caron beaten but could not lift the puck high enough. The shot scuffed barely off Caron's arm and fluttered over the net. Then came the onslaught.

Ramo had to make three very big saves in the final 10 minutes to seal the game. He made a very strong play moving right to left in his crease staying square to the shooter to muffle a bid on the remaining power play time after Spina's breakaway. He then got a little lucky as Bembridge got a partial breakaway and had Ramo beaten on the deke but sent the shot wide of Ramo's cage. Things then calmed down until the final minute of the game when neither Milley nor Cavanaugh could find any way to beat Konopka in the faceoff circles and Ramo had to make several saves and freeze the puck continously. That final minute was like a heavyweight fight with Ramo making a critical save again going left to right to stop a one timer from Bjorn Melin and later making a great save squeezing the pads on a dangerous deflection to seal the win. And, I must say, it's the deflection stops that impressed me the most tonight. That, and I don't think he gave up more than one or two rebounds all night. It's going to be very hard to keep this young man out of the NHL if he keeps playing like this. He was first star of the game and Milley got third star for being the savvy old hound dog he is.

Beyond those two, I thought Marek Kvapil was very good at both ends of the ice and although he still needs to work on his breakout passes, I thought Egener was by far the team's best defenseman tonight. Also, respect has to be paid to David Spina, who could've and maybe should've had a couple of goals tonight and provided energy to a team that otherwise had next to none.

The win temporarily moves Springfield within 2 points of first place Manchester although the Monarchs have a 2 goal lead on Worcester in the third period as of this post. Either way, the Falcons are now 1 point behind Portland for second place and Lowell lost to Norfolk tonight so the Falcons are alone in 3rd place right now. Do they deserve it? Maybe not, but if Afanasenkov and Karlsson clear waivers they may give the Falcons a balanced second line overnight (depending on how the veteran rules dictate whether or not there will be scratches involved) and make this team just a little more potent and able to really compete for the division title. It's the stuff dreams are made of.