Views From The Press Box, Week Seven

I just came back from interviewing Coach Ireland for our latest edition of “Crashing the Net”, and I must tell you that I really admire the way that he is handling this recent stretch of tough hockey for the Rampage. Losing just one game can keep up a coach up all night, so I don’t even want to know what it’s like when you lose nine in a row. Having said that, Greg has been nothing short of positive when it comes to talking about his club, and you’ll hear that a lot in our conversation. He likes the way the team has come out ready to play right from the drop of the opening face-off in these last few games (save for the one outing at Houston, which in fairness was the club’s third game in four nights with a travel day in between), and he likes how they’ve become more disciplined in the system, are taking fewer penalties, and are drawing more penalties through hard work. He told me off camera that if the club plays like they did Friday and Sunday, he’ll live with what happens in the end. I mean let’s be honest, when you out-shoot two teams by a combined count of 77-43, out-chance them by a three-to-one margin, and limit their quality scoring chances to below five then you’re going to win your fair share of games by the end of the season. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened for the Rampage lately and thanks to the schedule makers, they must endure another week of thinking about what could have been before getting another chance to justify their efforts Friday when Peoria comes to town…

…For really the first time this year (with the exception of David Spina’s pre-season injury), the Rampage are a bit banged up. Joel Perrault suffered a lower-body injury Friday against Chicago after being clipped with a high-stick and then hauled into the boards. Perrault took warm-ups Sunday but decided not to give it a go. Then in that game center Brett MacLean left with an undisclosed injury in the first period and didn’t return, and Jonas Ahnelov suffered an upper-body injury after crashing into the boards in the third period and also retreated back to the locker room for the remainder of the night. The flurry of recent injuries has prompted the first wave of call-ups from the ECHL with forwards Justin Bernhardt and Matt Watkins recalled from Las Vegas and defensemen Robbie Bina and Kenny MacAulay signed to professional try-out offers (PTO’s) from Las Vegas and Stockton respectively. Bernhardt made the Rampage roster out of training camp, but only appeared in three games and mainly played on the checking line. Just 21- years-old, Bernhardt certainly has a nose for the net after scoring 35 goals and racking up 92 points a season ago in juniors finishing fifth overall in the Western Hockey League, one point ahead of fellow teammate Colin Long. Watkins was the surprise of camp earning an invite from the Coyotes after spending four years at the University of North Dakota, and then receiving an entry-level contract upon the camp’s conclusion. He was one of the final cuts, but took the demotion to Las Vegas well and currently leads all Wranglers’ forwards with 11 points in 14 games. Bina is a former Edmonton Oilers prospect, who like Watkins, is also a product of the University of North Dakota. The Grand Forks native played a bulk of last season with Springfield collecting eight points in 37 games with the Falcons. Bina is an offensive defenseman who tallied 47 points in his last two years with the Fighting Sioux and can certainly help fill the void left by Shaun Heshka and David Schlemko. MacAulay has been one of my favorite players in the ECHL the last two seasons. Having watched him extensively in the Western Conference while broadcasting for the Phoenix RoadRunners, he’s not only a gifted player, but a leader on and off the ice. Portland though highly enough of him to give him 35 games in which MacAulay collected nine points and then appeared in five Calder Cup Playoff games with the Pirates. I’ve always wondered whether his frame (5-10, 190 pounds) is what is keeping MacAulay off an AHL roster consistently, but maybe now he gets that opportunity to prove that he belongs…

…Speaking of injuries, they’re apparently everywhere. Kevin Allen of USA Today posted on his twitter page a couple of weeks ago that 110 NHL regulars were either injured or ill, accounting for nearly 18 percent of the league. It gets worse when you consider the names of the guys that are sidelined like Boston’s Marc Savard, Detroit’s Johan Franzen, Carolina’s Eric Staal, Chicago’s Marian Hossa, and the previously injured including Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin. Now this could simply be a fluke, or it could be a sign that the game is changing in terms of speed or physical play. I’ll be curious to see how the injury-bug plays itself out over the next five months…

…Congrats to David Schlemko who bagged his first NHL goal Saturday against the Dallas Stars. Schlemko beat goalie Marty Turco with a wrist shot from just inside the left-wing circle at the close of the second period to give the Coyotes a 2-1 advantage and a lead they would not relinquish. Through just five games, Schlemko has a goal and an assist and already leads all Coyotes skaters with a plus-five rating. Congratulations are also in order to Shaun Heshka who earned his first NHL point with an assist Thursday against Montreal…

…Including his shutout Sunday against the Rampage, Texas goalie Brent Krahn has won eight straight starts and allowed just eight goals combined in those outings. Krahn has stopped 172 of the last 174 shots he faced, which translates to a ridiculous 0.40 goals against average and a .989% save percentage. That’s a far cry from the Krahn I saw last season playing for ECHL Las Vegas who nearly gave up eight goals in one game alone against the RoadRunners. Let’s just say I’ve never been able to figure out goaltenders…

…Did you know that Rochester (8-0-1-0) and Springfield (5-0-2-1) are the only AHL teams without a regulation loss at home this season?

…Upset of the Week: Of all teams, it was Atlantic cellar-dweller Portland (6-10-1) that put an end to Rochester’s franchise record-tying 11-game winning streak following a 6-3 victory over the Amerks Thursday. The game was played at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., but ironically it was a road game for the Amerks because Portland is Buffalo’s AHL affiliate.

…Bring on those questions! Send your questions and comments to dweiss@attcenter.com. Be sure to follow “Views from the Press Box” on Twitter all season at “SARAMPAGE”.

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