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AHL Weekly: Northern Exposure

WEEKLY RELEASE #7

AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League’s North Division – a division that has had five different regular-season champions in the last six years – is proving to be its most competitive from top to bottom through six weeks of the 2010-11 season, with all seven clubs separated by only seven points and six with winning records.

Hamilton’s 115 points allowed them to run away with the division crown in 2009-10, and the Bulldogs are back on top of the field again at 11-3-1-3 (26 points) through 18 games. David Desharnais (6-16-22) and former first-round draft pick Max Pacioretty (8-13-21) are pacing a Bulldogs offense which ranks sixth in the AHL, averaging 3.22 goals per game. Desharnais began the year on a 13-game scoring streak, and Paciotetty celebrated his 22nd birthday this past Saturday by notching his first career hat trick at Toronto. Defensively, Curtis Sanford (6-1-0) ranks second in the AHL in goals-against average (1.56) and fourth in save percentage (.937), and Hamilton boasts the league’s third-best penalty kill at 89.0 percent.

Abbotsford, which succumbed to Hamilton in last spring’s North Division finals, occupies second place in the division with an 11-8-0-2 mark (24 points). The Heat, who had earned a point in six straight games (5-0-0-1) before a pair of weekend losses in Peoria, have 10 rookies among their regulars, including top offensive producers Greg Nemisz (6-6-12), Carter Bancks (3-8-11), Gaelan Patterson (3-8-11) and defenseman T.J. Brodie (1-8-9). Abbotsford’s five shorthanded goals are tied for the league lead, and goaltender Leland Irving (10-5-0, 2.27, .910) is the AHL’s first 10-game winner of the season.

Manitoba (10-6-0-1), Lake Erie (9-8-1-2) and Toronto (9-8-0-3) enter the new week in a three-way deadlock for third place in the North with 21 points apiece. Under new head coach Claude Noel, the Moose have won five of six heading into this weekend’s trip to Abbotsford. Jordan Schroeder recorded his first two-goal game of the season on Friday vs. Rockford, and he joins fellow Moose rookies Cody Hodgson (8-5-13) and Bill Sweatt (4-6-10) among the team’s scoring leaders. Lake Erie, an impressive 6-1-0-1 against North Division foes, ranks second in the league on the penalty kill overall (89.2 percent) and has defused 49 of 52 shorthanded situations on home ice (94.2 percent). Monsters rookie Mark Olver has a point in 10 of his first 15 games this season (7-6-13), and newcomer Greg Mauldin had 12 points (5-7-12) in 14 games before earning an NHL recall to Colorado. In Toronto, which recently completed a 10-game road swing at 6-1-0-3, rookie goaltender Jussi Rynnas hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any of his eight November appearances to date (3-2-2, 1.28, .960), and Mike Zigomanis shows 11 points (3-8-11) in 12 games since being assigned from the Maple Leafs.

Grand Rapids, seeking a return to postseason play after missing out in 2010, started off 7-3-0-2 in its first 12 games but has fallen on hard times offensively, with just four goals scored in its last six games (1-4-0-1). Former first-round draft pick Brendan Smith of the Griffins continues to rank among the AHL’s rookie defensemen leaders with 12 points (5-7-12) in 18 games, and Ilari Filppula – brother of 2006 AHL All-Star and current Detroit Red Wing Valtteri Filppula – has a team-leading six goals (tied) and 15 points to begin his first North American pro campaign. Rochester, tied with the Griffins for sixth place but just seven points out of first, is an impressive 7-3-1-0 on the road this season and is hanging in despite the losses of leading scorers Michal Repik (4-18-22) and Bill Thomas (7-10-17) to NHL recall by Florida.

RIVERMEN RIGHT SHIP … Peoria, which won seven of its first eight games this season before stumbling to a 2-6-0-1 mark in its next nine, got back on course last weekend with three home-ice wins in as many nights. The Rivermen beat Abbotsford on both Friday and Saturday before eking out a 3-2 shootout decision over Rockford on Sunday, and Peoria now sits second in the West Division at 12-7-0-1 (25 points), four points behind first-place San Antonio.

Rookie goaltender Jake Allen went 2-0-0 on the weekend, stopping 76 of 78 shots (0.96, .974), and the 20-year-old notched his league-leading third shutout of the season with a 37-save performance in a 2-0 win over the Heat on Friday. The next night, veteran Graham Mink snapped a nine-game goal-scoring drought with a pair of tallies, and on Sunday, forward David Spina and defenseman Nathan Oystrick each found the back of the net for the first time since Oct. 15.

PIRATES ENJOY HOME COOKING … With a 2-1 shootout win over Worcester on Saturday, the Portland Pirates improved to 9-0-1-0 at home this season and matched a 17-year-old franchise record for longest points streak on home ice. The 1993-94 Pirates began the season with nine wins and a tie at the Cumberland County Civic Center and concluded that campaign by winning the Calder Cup title.

Portland, which also shows a respectable 4-4-0-0 road mark thus far, is 13-4-1-0 overall for 27 points and first place in the Atlantic Division, three points better than second-place Manchester. Rookie Luke Adam, recalled again by the parent Buffalo Sabres on Monday, ranks second among AHL rookies in goals (11) and points (19), and goaltender David Leggio has won eight of his first nine decisions for the Pirates this year (8-1-0, 2.48, .922).

The Pirates host Springfield on Friday as they look to extend their home points streak to 11.

ROAD WARRIORS … While Portland is enjoying life at home, many AHL teams are out to impressive starts on the road in 2010-11. Topping that list is the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who have won nine straight road tilts to begin the season, four shy of the AHL same-season record of 13 straight road wins held by three teams – including the 2005-06 Penguins.

Other teams with points percentages of .650 or better on the road include Oklahoma City (5-1-0-0), Providence (6-1-1-0), Albany (6-2-0-0), San Antonio (4-1-1-0), Toronto (7-2-0-3), Rochester (7-3-1-0), Norfolk (7-3-2-0), Grand Rapids (6-3-0-0) and Springfield (6-3-0-1). Through Monday’s action, AHL teams overall are better on the road (142-109-8-23, .559 points percentage) than at home (140-110-16-16, .553) this season.

ETC. … Milwaukee goaltender Mark Dekanich, who made a career-high 48 saves in Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss at San Antonio, saw his personal shutout streak end that night at 209:31, which spanned parts of four games… Binghamton’s Barry Brust (7-7-1) has a 4.60 GAA and .863 save percentage in seven regulation losses this season, and a 1.34 GAA and .962 save percentage in nine other appearances… Netminder Mike McKenna became the 12th member of the Albany Devils to also appear in a game with parent-club New Jersey this season when he made 24 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Blues in his home town of St. Louis on Saturday… Springfield’s 5-4 win in Syracuse on Saturday marked a homecoming for several Falcons players who had skated for the Crunch when Columbus’s affiliation was based there prior to this season; Trevor Frischmon scored the winning goal and Maksim Mayorov had three points for the Falcons… Rochester snapped out of an 0-for-22 slump on the power play by scoring three man-advantage goals in 52 seconds late in the third period for a 5-4 win over Syracuse on Sunday… Chicago did not score more than two goals in any game during a seven-game losing streak, then posted back-to-back 5-2 wins over Houston and Lake Erie over the weekend… After going 2-5-1-1 in October, Providence has a 6-1-1-0 mark in November; the Bruins have earned a point in each of their last six road games (5-0-1-0)… Hershey, which suffered only four regulation losses on home ice during the entire 2009-10 regular season (34-4-0-2), has already endured four this year (5-4-0-0)… Lake Erie has allowed a league-low seven first-period goals in 20 games this season… Portland has a winning record (3-2-0-0) when trailing after two periods… The Hartford Wolf Pack officially become the Connecticut Whale following their game in Bridgeport this Friday night.