Goaltender Corey Hirsch was in net on Sunday for the first time in nearly two months and walked away with the shutout as the Pirates crushed the Manchester Monarchs, 5-0. Last night, he had 30 saves on 32 shots. Prior to his injury, Hirsch had been having a somewhat disappointing start to the season and these back-to-back wins could mark a turnaround for him.
Veteran defenseman Patrick Boileau continues to have the best season he has ever had to date with the Pirates. He brings a lot to the team and among his most important contributions is his work on the power play. The Pirates are notoriously bad when they have the man advantage, but Boileau is among the few exceptions.
I have received an incredible amount of e-mails regarding the development of Jakub Cutta this season. Whilst he still has a long way to go, he truly has made consistent improvement all season long. He is much more mature he is on the ice. He was thrown out of a game very early on this season after a stupid and unnecessary spearing incident and know that now he would be a lot smarter about it. With plenty of structure, playing time and another year or two of experience, Cutta could be a great defenseman. Portland may not be the best place for him to be at this stage – some time with the Pirates’ ECHL affiliate the Richmond Renegades might do him a world of good.
Rob Skrlac recently joined the Pirates on loan from the Albany River Rats. He was sent here to fill the injured Mel Angelstad’s place and will be with the team through the end of the regular season.
Rookie centers Graham Mink and Jason Ulmer are both doing an excellent job. Ulmer is one of my personal favorites this season and is second to none when it comes to hard work. Provided the team makes the cut, he could be spectacular in the playoffs. Mink has not been with the team as long and took more time to really find his niche, but of late is playing well.
Trent Whitfield only recently returned to the Capitals’ organization as he was reclaimed of waivers from the New York Rangers last week. With another game or two he should be completely readjusted.
Winger Patrick Leahy also joined the Pirates last week, and in three games has a goal and an assist. Leahy and fellow winger Mark Murphy grew up in the same town and look to be a good match-up on the ice.
Kyle Clark has shown a fair amount of improvement in the past couple games including scoring his first goal of the season.
Defenseman Nick Naumenko will be the Pirates’ lone representative at the 2002 AHL All-Star Classic and truly deserves to be there. He is third on the team for total points and has more power play points than anyone else. He is a great all-around offensive defenseman.