The Bears, one week removed from their 5-1 win over the Springfield Falcons, get back at it tonight in the first of two against the Portland Pirates.
Portland is another team that enters this week with only one game under its belt… a 6-4 setback against the Providence Bruins on Sunday. It has to be tough to score four and lose, but the Pirates ran into the league’s first CCM/AHL Player of the Week in the process. UMass-Amherst star Frank Vatrano scored four goals on the night, and Alex Khokhlachev also produced a four-point game – with four assists. Goalie Mike McKenna’s return to the Pirates’ lineup did not go very well, with the netminder stopping 18 of 24 shots.
The Pirates have a few things going for them this year. First things first – a new affiliation. The Florida Panthers have a wealth of talent to develop, and Rocco Grimaldi and Kyle Rau are two of them.
Grimaldi, the 33rd overall pick in 2011, was assigned by the Panthers on Sunday but did not appear in the game. He is coming off of a 14-goal, 42-point rookie season in San Antonio and his NHL debut season in which he dressed in seven games with the big club. He should make his debut tonight.
Which brings me to another advantage for the Pirates – tonight is their home opener. The Pirates fans are faithful and loud and have stuck with their team no matter the affiliation. Having Grimaldi in the lineup tonight will be a big boost.
Rau, college teammates with Capitals/former Bears blueliner Nate Schmidt and current Bears centerman Travis Boyd at the Univesity of Minnesota, is also no slouch either and got off to a great start. Rau was one of five Portland players to post a goal and an assist on Sunday, and will be a threat for more coming into the pros with 67 goals on his collegiate resume.
Pirates head coach Tom Rowe did not run much of an organized morning skate, so we don’t have a good look at line combinations. Mike McKenna should get the start in net for the home club’s opener.
For the Bears, Justin Peters is expected to get the start in goal. With this weekend being a back-to-back – and with tomorrow’s game slated for 3:00 PM – it’s Peters’ time. No Capitals followers will be surprised at this, but it should be said for all of Bears Nation that Peters has been the consummate professional that he has been all along. He chatted with the media last week (and I’ll have some of that in tonight’s pre-game show) about the assignment to Hershey, where his focus is, and about the team of which he is now a big part. So let’s quell any comments and rumors now about having two veteran NHL-proven netminders and “what their attitude might be”.
I wouldn’t expect much more of a change to the lineup, either, except for the obvious swapping of Chandler Stephenson and Sean Collins. Stephenson made his NHL debut against Chicago a few nights back, and Collins will make his debut for the Bears in the spot vacated by Stephenson. Carter Camper will move up and play with Paul Carey and Chris Bourque.
Christian Djoos and Caleb Herbert are both on the trip, so we’ll see what coach Troy Mann decides after today’s skate.
Click this link for tonight’s game notes and to watch edition two of “Roaring on the Road” presented by TC Apparel and Promotions. Just click the multimedia triangle at the very bottom of the game notes page to watch.
More to come after a lobster roll lunch.