Portland Pirates miss playoffs after tough year

By Sandor Roberts

With a number of exciting young prospects on their roster, expectations were high for the AHL Portland Pirates coming into this season. Instead, a squad that was hit hard by injuries combined with a low-octane offense scoring only 2.18 goals per game spelled doom for the Pirates playoff aspirations. The team finished with a record of 34 wins, 34 losses, six overtime losses, and six shootout losses, good for 80 points and a sixth place finish in the Atlantic Division.

Where did things fall apart for the Pirates?

A case can be made that the offense could have utilized a player like Alexander Semin, who had 22 points in 52 games with the Capitals last season, to awaken from its slumber. Instead, the Pirates leading scorer was veteran Trent Whitfield with 54 points and their leading goal scorer was Brian Willsie with 24. The Washington Capitals have subscribed to the philosophy that they want all of their prospects developing together in the AHL. Following this philosophy, Semin should have been playing in North America this season, instead of in Russia, for which he was suspended for failure to report.

There were new goaltender rules instituted this season in an effort to boost scoring. Even though a verdict hasn’t been reached on what, if any, impact these rules had on more goals being scored, one player who struggled adapting to the changes was fourth-year pro Maxime Ouellet. Ouellet, who played a lot before suffering a high ankle sprain injury which cut his season short, posted pedestrian numbers this season (15-20-3, 2.89 goals against, .911 save percentage). All of the Pirates goalies had to essentially play flawlessly between the pipes due to an anemic offense, and that placed an enormous amount of pressure on them on a nightly basis.

For the Pirates forwards, their youth was exposed this season. Jakub Klepis, Tomas Fleischmann and Jonas Johansson all learned that they need to develop two-way games. In fact, Johansson was sent down to the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays a few times during the season. Second-year pros Boyd Gordon and Owen Fussey were consistent with their effort, and both players had an all-around solid season, with 39 and 26 points respectively.

One statistic which certainly should be a cause for concern is the plus/minus of prospects on the team. Only two players finished with a positive number (Fussey and Chris Hajt both with a +6) and Klepis had the lowest figure, with a ghastly -27.

Not your typical season

If this were a normal year, players such as Ouellet, Semin, Eminger and Shaone Morrisonn would have been solidifying their spots in training camp on the Capitals opening night roster. The Portland-to-Washington shuttle would have resulted in many players playing for both teams as the Capitals would have iced a very young team. Instead, with a relatively stable roster, and a few journeyman veterans in the mix, the only place for one to go this year was down — to the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. The Stingrays did qualify for the ECHL playoffs, and goalie Kirk Daubenspeck rejoined the Stingrays for their playoff run, which was ended in the first round at the hands of the Florida Everblades, an affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes.

One player who appeared to capitalize on his opportunity with the Pirates was goaltender Maxime Daigneault. Called up from the Stingrays in February, the 21-year-old demonstrated poise and made some big saves down the stretch. Daigneault appeared in 11 games, with a 2.91 goals against and a .906 save percentage.

A late move made by the Portland Pirates was the signing of 2004 draftee Chris Bourque to an ATO on April 7th. Bourque, who had recently finished his freshman season at Boston University, decided to get an early start on his pro hockey career. He appeared in six games, registering one goal and one assist.

An expected new affiliate

Since the AHL regular season has reached its conclusion, and still no new CBA is in place, what becomes of these Portland Pirates? By all accounts, the Capitals will have a new AHL affiliate next season, most likely the Hershey Bears, located in nearby Pennsylvania, and that the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim will move into Portland.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.