PORTLAND — Penalties are hurting the Portland Pirates, and the AHL team has got to address them to keep climbing in the Atlantic Division standings.

After their first 24 games, the Pirates lead the 30-team league with 176 minor penalties, an average of more than seven per game.

Since the season began, the Pirates have had to try to kill 136 power plays. While their penalty-kill rate of 83.8 percent ranks 11th in the AHL, they do spend more than 10 minutes of each 60-minute game playing a man down.

“When you take penalties like that you keep your skilled guys on the bench,” veteran center Alexandre Bolduc said. “You’re rolling your penalty killers, and you’ve got your skill guys who want to be playing big minutes on the bench. One of the biggest detriments to taking penalties is not giving your skill guys momentum and chances to score.”

The Pirates have won five of their last seven games to climb into third place in the five-team Atlantic Division, but they’ve had to go into extra time to pull out their last four victories.

If the Pirates could cut down on their minor penalties, wins could become easier to come by.

“Killing penalties is definitely the toughest part of my game, (with) stops and starts all over the ice and you’ve got pressure,” Bolduc said, who leads the Pirates with 13 goals but also is one of the team’s best penalty killers. “It takes a lot of energy out of you. When you’ve got a few penalties in a row, it takes a toll. It’s better to save your energy for when it’s five-on-five, or we’re a man-up.”

Penalties also interrupt the flow of the game, making it difficult for the Pirates to sustain momentum.

“When we’re in the (penalty) box a lot, it changes the momentum,” Portland defenseman Michael Stone said. “Guys end up sitting on the bench. They don’t penalty kill. They don’t get enough five-on-five shifts together … You can get momentum from a penalty kill, but the guys that sit on the bench watching the penalty kill get nothing from that, really.”

Portland head coach Ray Edwards said poor stick-work has resulted in a number of minor penalties called against his team.

“For the most part, our retaliatory penalties have been pretty good,” he said. “We haven’t put ourselves into a position to hurt our team that way, but I think we can get better with the details of our stick work. We’re taking too many over-the-stick slashing (penalties), and we’re taking too many hooking and tripping penalties.”

Edwards said it’s just a matter of fine-tuning skills and reducing the penalties by one or two per game.

“A lot of times we’re putting the stick in between the guy’s skates instead of moving our feet and putting the stick on the puck,” the coach said. “Part of it is being better disciplined and part of it is the details of how you check. We don’t check with two hands. We check with stick on puck and then engage (the body).”

None of the Pirates expect to get through a game without committing a penalty.

“Obviously, we don’t want to take minor penalties unless we have to, so we just need to get rid of the (penalties) that are not necessary,” Stone said. “If some guy is going on a breakaway and we need to haul him down, we haul him down, but penalties that we take in the offensive zone that are unnecessary we need to eliminate.”

“There’s always going to be two or three calls in a game that are not great calls, but everyone gets those,” Edwards added. “Those even out.”