Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On Kessel and the power play 2/5

More on Danny Syvret's role on the Adirondack Phantoms' emerging power play in a moment, but first a personnel note. Defenseman Blake Kessel will be sent to the ECHL's Trenton Titans, Phantoms coach Terry Murray said Tuesday, a move primarily geared toward getting Kessel more playing time.

The Phantoms called up Kessel Jan. 3, a time when the flu bug was circulating through Adirondack's locker room and a couple of the team's defensemen were banged up. Kessel got into three games and went scoreless. But Erik Gustafsson and Matt Konan are now healthy, giving the Phantoms seven defensemen and forward/defenseman Zack FitzGerald, so Kessel is no higher than eighth on the depth chart. He has been a healthy scrach nine times since his call-up, and hasn't played since Jan. 19.

"He just needs to play," Murray said, adding no player was expected to be called up from Trenton once Kessel was sent down. The transaction has yet to be formally announced by the Flyers, Phantoms or Titans, and it was not included in the ECHL's daily transaction log for Tuesday.

Now, onto the day's news. Had a chance to speak with Danny Syvret about his role in Adirondack's recent power play resurgence. The team is 11-for-39 with the man advantage in its past eight games, a 28.2 percent success rate. Syvret has scored or assisted eight of those 11 power-play goals. To put that in perspective, Syvret had eight power play points through Adirondack's first 35 games. He said he himself has not done anything differently, but his shots are helping generate some scoring chances.

Why now, though? Why not through the team's first 35 games? What has prompted the production?

Well, remember this goal?

That's Jason Akeson 's shin redirecting a puck past Albany goalie Keith Kinkaid on Jan. 18. It was one of the ugliest goals the Phantoms have scored this season, and was the epitome of what could happen when the Phantoms just put the puck on net. In this case, Harry Zolnierczyk's weak bid from the left-wing circle hopped over Kinkaid's pad, hit Akeson below his knee and bounced in the net.

That was the first of the 11 power play goals. Syvret got the other assist.

“A lot of times we maybe get sucked into watching too much NHL or playing too many video games,” Syvret said. “You can’t make the perfect play all the time. A lot of times power play goals are ugly. We’ve been fortunate to get a couple ugly ones.”

Before this recent uptick in production, the power play had been operating at a dismal 14.2 percent. Syvret said they've by and large eliminated the tic-tac-toe passing plays -- the ones that you would normally see on the highlight reels -- and are instead focusing on putting bodies in front of the net.

“We haven’t really been getting very many pure goals, as far as sniping or anything like that,” Syvret said. “A lot of our chances and goals have come from just shots with a bunch of traffic, a screen or a loose puck that we’ve jammed in.”

He has scored two of those himself. Akeson had another one at home, the game-winner Friday night.

But that's only a part of the reason for the recent success. It starts even before that, Syvret said, back when the Phantoms are first getting the puck into the zone. The face-off placement guarantees that they will start the power play in the attacking end, but teams used to just be able to win the battle and shoot the puck down the ice. Do that repeatedly and it eats up a lot of time. Keep it in the zone, though, and you start pinning defenders and goalies. That's where a lot of the good stuff comes from.

“We’ve been doing a pretty good job of getting the puck into the zone on our first attempt and sort of keeping it in there until we get chances and then a shot and a goal or a whistle,” Syvret said.

Another important aspect? This power play has lost Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Tye McGinn in the past month That's three out of the four forwards from its top power play unit. But it's gained some rookies like Matt Mangene, who had not seen much professional power play time at all, and a lot of blood that's new to the team. Veterans Jon Sim and David Laliberte, to name two.

"Guys are trying to take advantage of that and are working really hard," Zolnierczyk said. "You get an opportunity, you want to make good on it. That's definitely a bit of the case as well."

Syvret said his personal numbers are a little bit better as of late not because of he's done differently, but rather the unit as a whole coming together. When you think about it, the way the Phantoms have drawn the power-play up -- work the puck low, then get it back high to the point and let those guys quarterback the system -- he and Akeson are going to get a lot of assists if the power play is clicking.

"I've been shooting the puck a lot throughout the whole year and just haven't really been getting many scoring chances from it or guys cashing in on it," Syvret said. "I've been fortunate enough that we've been able to finish a couple point shots or plays that I've generated."

Again, a bit of perspective. For much of Syvret's career, his shooting percentage has hovered anywhere between 5 and 11 percent. Right up until the Connecticut game Jan. 23, Syvret was 1-for-93 on his shots. Since, he's 2-for-20. Murray said he's noticed something different.

“I think when you look at his early part of the year, he probably wasn’t real pleased with how he had been playing,” Murray said. “He made a decision that ‘You have to get going’ and he has been skating much better. I see a lot more energy and jump in his skate and that’s exactly the kind of player that we need.”

Right now, they also need the power play. It's one of the main -- if not the main -- reasons they have been competitive since the lockout ended. They have a grand total of four five-on-five goals in their past eight games, and that's been problematic for them pretty much the entire season.

"That's something we're working on right now," Zolnierczyk said. "We're working on our cycling, but ultimately I think spending less time in our own zone, which is a big focus right now, our d-zone and making sure we're executing there will ultimately give us more time in the offensive zone."

The lines at today's practice were the mostly unchanged from yesterday, but Erik Gustafsson's return from his scheduled day off bumped Jeff Dimmen down to the seventh defenseman spot. Zack FitzGerald, who spent yesterday's practice there, returned to forward and skated with the energy line.



Alumni watch: Former Phantoms winger Tom Sestito scored his first Philadelphia Flyers goal tonight, then added his second as the Flyers beat Tampa Bay 2-1. It was the first two-goal game of Sestito's NHL career. Ilya Bryzgalov, take it away. Also, Zac Rinaldo scored a decisive win in a fight.

More before the Binghamton game tomorrow.

Until next time,


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