WEEKLY RELEASE #25
THE RACE IS ON … Looking at the AHL standings today and those from seven days ago, there aren’t a lot of differences. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t another wild week.
All six division leaders remained the same through the week, with Norfolk, St. John’s and Connecticut holding the top three spots in the Eastern Conference and Oklahoma City, Toronto and Chicago leading the way in the Western Conference. But while the Admirals, IceCaps and Barons have double-digit cushions over their nearest division foes, the Marlies’ lead in the North Division is eight points heading into Toronto’s two-game visit to second-place Rochester this weekend; the Wolves sit just four points clear of both Charlotte and Peoria in the Midwest Division; and the Whale’s lead over Bridgeport is down to two points in the Northeast heading into the week.
Every day since the morning of Feb. 19, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has occupied fourth place in the Eastern Conference and Hershey has been fifth, putting the in-state rivals on a collision course for a first-round playoff meeting. But the Penguins’ lead over the Bears has dwindled to just one point with home-ice advantage in that potential meeting up for grabs.
Bridgeport, currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, snapped an eight-game winless streak with a big 4-3 overtime victory over Connecticut on Sunday, and will finish the regular season playing eight of its final 10 games on home ice. Manchester sits seventh, and eighth-place Syracuse has gone 6-0-0-1 in its last seven games to snap out of an extended rut that had kept them 14th in the conference for more than five weeks.
Adirondack begins the new week in the ninth spot – their highest standing in more than two months – in a tie with Providence just two points out of eighth. Portland and Springfield are both three points out of eighth place, and Worcester and Albany are both four points back of that final playoff position.
A come-from-behind victory on Sunday vaulted Abbotsford from eighth place to fourth in the Western Conference, one point ahead of fifth-place Houston. Charlotte woke up on Sunday in ninth place in the Western Conference – out of the playoff picture for the first time since the morning of Oct. 22, five games into their season – but the Checkers moved back up to sixth with a shootout loss in Hershey that evening.
Charlotte occupies the sixth spot based on tiebreakers, but the Checkers are actually even with three other teams – Rochester, San Antonio and Peoria – at 75 points. Lake Erie is two points back in 10th place, Milwaukee and Rockford are both four points behind and Grand Rapids checks in five points off the pace with 10 games to play. That’s 11 Western Conference teams – third place through 13th – separated by just nine points.
STREAK’S ALIVE … The story around the AHL continues to be the Norfolk Admirals, who extended their record winning streak to 20 games with a pair of one-goal weekend victories over Albany.
Norfolk, which enters the new week with a magic number of 5 points to clinch its first division title since 2003, has been ahead or tied for 91 percent of the streak, trailing for less than 107 minutes over the 20 games. The Admirals have outscored their opponents, 82-33, and have gotten game-winning goals from 15 different players during the streak.
Tyler Johnson, up to 14-19-33 and a plus-21 rating in those 20 games, has extended his scoring streak to 12 contests (11-13-24) and has scored a goal in nine consecutive outings, the longest such streak by an AHL rookie since Brett Sterling scored in nine straight games for Chicago in 2006-07.
Norfolk puts history on the line again Wednesday and Friday when St. John’s comes to Scope in a battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
WE MEET AGAIN … Four years after an epic playoff showdown, Adirondack’s Michael Leighton and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Scott Munroe have renewed acquaintances as their teams drive on in the race to the 2012 postseason.
Leighton was with the Albany River Rats and Munroe a member of the Philadelphia Phantoms when their clubs faced off in the first round of the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs. The seven-game series, which featured four shutouts (two apiece), saw the two netminders combine for a .961 save percentage and is best remembered for the longest game in AHL history, Philadelphia’s 3-2 quintuple-overtime victory in Game 5 in which Munroe made 65 saves and Leighton stopped 98 of 101 shots in defeat.
After Munroe’s Game 7 shutout to send Philadelphia into the next round, he and Leighton did not face each other again until this month. On Mar. 4 in Glens Falls, Munroe made 27 saves to help Wilkes-Barre to a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Adirondack. And on Mar. 23, Leighton moved into a tie for fourth place all-time with his 36th career AHL shutout, making 24 saves in a 1-0 Phantoms victory.
Leighton (24-23-0, 2.62, .916), who has won eight of his last 11 decisions, currently ranks second in the league in minutes played and has faced more shots than any other AHL goaltender this season. Munroe (17-8-3, 2.69, .900) is eyeing his second career 20-win season, and recently posted his 100th AHL victory.
ON THE BUBBLE … The 2012 Labatt Blue AHL Bubble Hockey Tournament reaches its climax with the tournament finals set for Saturday night at Giant Center in Hershey. Team champions representing each of the 11 participating AHL clubs have reached the finals by winning local qualifying events, and the grand prize winner will win a Super Chexx Bubble Hockey game and a miniature Calder Cup trophy.
One of the 11 champions may have a decided home-ice advantage. Harrisburg resident and 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs MVP Frederic Cassivi qualified and won his team final on Mar. 24, earning the right to represent Hershey in the tournament finals.
700 FOR GIROUX … Springfield forward Alexandre Giroux collected his 700th career AHL point on Mar. 25, becoming just the 23rd player in league history to reach that plateau. The milestone point was also Giroux’s 364th AHL goal, moving him into a tie with AHL Hall of Famer Mitch Lamoureux for seventh place all-time.
Prior to the goal, Giroux had gone scoreless for four games after picking up number 699 on Mar. 16; it was his longest drought without a point since November 2008 (six games).
QUICK HITS … During its record 20-game winning streak, Norfolk has won 10 straight at home and 10 in a row on the road – both season highs in the AHL… Cedrick Desjardins has allowed a total of four goals on 127 shots in his last four starts for Lake Erie (0.97, .969) but is 0-2-2… Manchester forward Justin Azevedo, the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week, has put up 14-6-20 in his last 14 games… Krys Kolanos tied an AHL season high with five points (3-2-5) and Ben Walter added two goals and an assist as Abbotsford erased an early 3-0 deficit and defeated San Antonio, 6-5, on Sunday afternoon… Fresh off his senior season at Northern Michigan University, Justin Florek made his professional debut with Providence on Friday night and recorded two goals and two assists in a 5-2 win over Manchester… With Braden Holtby on NHL recall to Washington, Dany Sabourin has won six consecutive decisions for Hershey and has improved to 12-4-2 at Giant Center this season… Carter Hutton, recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, is 11-2-1 (1.38, .948) with two shutouts in his last 14 appearances for Rockford… Riley Holzapfel has 7-10-17 in 19 games since joining Syracuse in a trade from the Winnipeg organization on Feb. 13, including a goal and an assist in a 5-4 shootout win over his former St. John’s teammates on Friday night… Charlotte defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti has 2-8-10 during his current six-game scoring streak… Albany, 15-9-4-3 on home ice this season, will play seven of its final nine games at the Times Union Center… Texas and Toronto share the AHL lead with seven overtime wins apiece; both have two shootout victories also.