Brandishing a record of 17-7-1-2, the Binghamton Senators currently reside in second place in the AHL’s East Division. Given the abundance of youth on the roster, a collective group that the organization likes to refer to as one of the youngest teams in the league, their place in the standings through the first third of the season may be somewhat surprising.
Not that it has anything to do with the fact that the B-Sens owned the league’s worst record in the previous season. The reason for the disbelief stems from the fact that the organization has been killed in the possession game.
Despite being outshot in 17 of their 27 games by a shot differential of -118 and owning the league’s worst shots allowed per game (36.4) mark in the league, somehow the Senators have managed to outscore the opposition 90-70. They are three shots per game worse than 29th ranked Norfolk (33.4). The team they are in spitting distance of for the division and conference lead, Syracause, is giving up only 24.8...or 11.6 shots per game fewer than the B-Sens!
But even in light of these numbers, Luke Richardson isn’t offering any unique analysis when he says that his goaltending tandem is primarily responsible for the team’s success.
“I’m coming to a point where it’s going to be hard to keep them both happy because there are only so many games. But that will be the good part in the second half, there are more games. Both of them have been basically the backbone of our team; especially early in the season when Robin was there right from the start and played the bulk of the games. We weren’t scoring a lot. I thought we were playing well. We were creating chances but the power play wasn’t really going yet. We just had some guys new to the league; new to the country; new to the arena and ice size. They weren’t quite going yet, like Silfverberg and Zibanejad and even Stone out of junior. It’s a big step. Now that we’re starting to find the net, it was a luxury to win 2-1 games, 3-2 games at the beginning when pucks weren’t going in. And that’s what it takes to win; especially at the end, so knowing that early in the season gives a team a lot of confidence to just go out and play their game. If something happens and you get down a goal or two early, we know we can still keep kicking because the goalies will hold that to a two-goal or a three-goal lead by the other team and they won’t let them get that crushing goal that will finish you off. They give you a chance to come back into the game and win. And when and if something happens to get you into penalty trouble at the end of a game, which we’ve done at times this year, (the goaltending) just hold the fort for us back there. I can’t say enough about the goaltending. They’re usually our best penalty killer and our penalty killing is ranked first or second in the league right now and they’ve done a great job as a unit, but it always comes back to your goaltending.”
Richardson’s right - some credit for the team’s penalty killing is warranted. Operating at an 87.7% success rate, Bingo has the second best penalty killing unit in the league and it leads the AHL with 8 shorthanded goals for. Nonetheless, the fact that the team is so heavily reliant on the Silfverberg line to score goals and on Robin Lehner (11-4-1-1, 1.93 GAA, .943 SV%) and Ben Bishop (6-3-1-0, 2.89 GAA, .926 SV%) to bail them out has to disconcerting.
It's an old maxim for a reason -- 'show me a good coach and I'll show you a good goalie'.
A team's minor league affiliate is designed to blend individual player development with a winning atmosphere and to their credit, the B-Sens are winning games - even if it flies in the face of the underlying numbers that suggest their record is not a true measure of how the team has performed to this point. And even though they're generating a healthy number of shots for per game (32.0), if they continue to get bombed in shots against one wouldn't be surprised if their winning pace slowed in the second half of the season.
Mark Stone's Assignment
Averaging 1.24 shots per game, only fellow linemate David Dziurzynski (1.12), averages fewer shots per game amongst Binghamton’s regular forwards and defencemen Mark Borowiecki (1.00) and Fredrik Claesson (0.56) aren’t too far behind.
There are some readily available explanations as to why Mark Stone’s shot totals are low this season.
Some have described him as trying to be more of a playmaker in his first professional season. Moreover, having listened to Richardson’s recurring appearances on the Team 1200, he has habitually made mention of the fact that the Stone, Dziurzynski and Derek Grant trio has been heavily relied upon as the ‘checking’ line used to shut down the opposition’s best offensive line. With more offensively inclined lines inevitably getting the bulk of the offensive zone starts and the easier matchups, Stone is already at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to his assignments and his defensively inclined linemates. One may be quick to point out that Derek Grant’s 8 goals are the second most by a Binghamton forward, but with 3 of those coming shorthanded, it’s not like he’s killing it at even strength.
As encouraging as it has been to hear Richardson praise Stone’s defensive aptitude and ability to disrupt the opposition in the neutral zone with his superb hand-eye coordination, something prior to this season that I admittedly had not heard much about, at some point in the future, I would like to see him given more opportunity with offensively skilled players; they don't even have to be on Spezza's level.
Richardson on Silfverberg
I’m late on posting anything stemming from Richardson’s interview on the Team 1200’s The Drive from this past Monday, but with it being the holidays, I figured I would post his latest comments on Silfverberg’s recent offensive production after his slow start:
“I don’t know if they have any goals of his on Youtube or that… this guy can shoot a puck. I don’t understand how someone can get this much on their (shot)… It’s a heavy, heavy shot and the release is scary. He loves (going) glove and I can say it because it doesn’t matter. He scored two goals the other night in Rochester – one on a half-breakaway and the other one was in a shootout which is really a breakaway. The goaltender, I don’t care, he can know that he’s going over his glove or he can put his glove there and (Silfverberg) still beats him. (His shot) is that hard and that fast. It’s wicked. He’s finding it for sure in probably the last month. I talked to him the other day a little bit after practice, I knew he was finding it and he is finding it a lot more comfortable out there and even the physicality, this guy is a competitor. He is not afraid of anything. Not to compare him to Daniel Alfredsson, but he reminds me of him; very shy off the ice but when he gets revved up on the bench, he’ll come off just like anybody else - yelling and screaming and mad when things don’t work out. And if someone takes a run at him, he’ll go back out there and he’ll get right in that guy’s space and give him a little bit of a shot. He’s a big guy and strong but he can really take over a game. He’s smart. Defensively, he’s a real key to our penalty killing unit. We’ve got him now playing with Mike Hoffman and (Stephane) Da Costa, so it’s a pretty potent offensive line… He’s going to be a guy that when the lockout ends, unfortunately he won’t be in the (AHL) long for me, but to his credit, he’s a world class player and he deserves to be in the best league when it gets going.”
Silf has really begun to dominate through December, the numbers don't lie. He has 9 goals and 14 points in his last 10 games while averaging over 3 shots per game. Bingo has two games before the new year, but Jakob should have a decent chance of snagging rookie of the month honours.
Really, really wish the Alfie-Silf comparisons would stop. One is a future HOFer with a very late prime, excellent two-way guy that helped Sweden to a gold and captained an NHL team for the longest time. The other is...a prospect.
Just let him be who he is, the knives will come out quickly enough if he doesn't perform and the praise will likely be effusive if he has an average career. Alfie's going to retire soon, then so will Phillips and Neil and we'll have a clean slate, free of the past (excepting Spezza) to build a NEW future with NEW players...and that's when I'll be excited for this team. At the moment we have enough experience and vet leadership to make 7-11 in the standings but we don't have enough skilled youth to challenge for the Cup. Hopefully someday a GM will come in that will make us younger...because as James Duthie said, being one of the "Others" is no place to cherish.
Happy New Year.