SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … News and notes from the week ending Mar. 17:
A repeat of their 2012 Atlantic Division title isn’t in the cards, but the St. John’s IceCaps continue to give their fans something to cheer about. A two-game visit by the Hamilton Bulldogs last weekend marked the 69th and 70th consecutive regular-season sellouts for the IceCaps since they first hit the ice at Mile One Centre in the fall of 2011.
Second-year pro Eric O’Dell notched five points in the two games on his way to being named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week. O’Dell, who has 12-9-21 in 18 games since the All-Star break, notched a goal and an assist in support of Mark Dekanich (23 saves) during Friday’s 5-0 shutout of the Bulldogs, and he scored twice in the third period before assisting on the winning goal in the final minute of regulation as the IceCaps stormed back for a 4-3 win in Saturday’s rematch.
St. John’s was able to exact some revenge on Bulldogs goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who allowed six goals on 62 shots in the two games (3.24, .903). In his previous visit to Mile One last May, Tokarski shut out the IceCaps in Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference championship series, sending the Norfolk Admirals to a berth in the Calder Cup Finals.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton entered last week with the top-ranked penalty kill in the AHL, but the Penguins were no match for the Worcester Sharks on Wednesday night as the Sharks scored on four consecutive power-play opportunities en route to a 5-1 win at the DCU Center.
The Penguins’ penalty killers bounced back and snuffed out their opponents’ final eight chances of the weekend, and now sit third in the league (86.69 percent), just behind Charlotte (86.78) and Rochester (86.72).
1,500 AND COUNTING
After joining the AHL together in 1994, the Syracuse Crunch and Springfield Falcons will reach a milestone this weekend as they both play their 1,500th regular-season game.
The Crunch play game number 1,500 on Friday night when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs, while the Falcons’ 1,500th game comes Saturday when they visit the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Syracuse and Springfield will become the 12th and 13th AHL teams ever to reach 1,500 regular-season games. They are fifth in active seniority behind the Hershey Bears (5,509 games), the Rochester Americans (4,385), the Providence Bruins (1,658) and the Portland Pirates (1,577).
PRIMED FOR THE POSTSEASON
Updated every morning until the end of the regular season on theahl.com, the AHL Playoff Primer offers a snapshot of the current race to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
To check out the Playoff Primer, visit theahl.com and click on “Playoff Primer 2013” under the Standings link.
FIVE TO WATCH
Match-ups to look forward to in the week ahead:
Rochester at Oklahoma City, Tuesday (8 ET) – Rochester begins a four-game road trip with a crucial contest in Oklahoma City, leading the ninth-place Barons by just two points in the Western Conference. It’s the first meeting of the season between the clubs after the road team won all four contests in 2011-12. Rochester’s leading scorer Mark Mancari had an eight-game scoring streak (4-8-12) snapped on Saturday, and remains one goal shy of hitting the 20-goal mark for a seventh consecutive season.
Charlotte at Houston, Thursday (8 ET) – South Division rivals Charlotte and Houston meet for the third time in 13 days – and the eighth and final time this regular season – as the Checkers visit Toyota Center. Charlotte (5-1-1-0) leads the Aeros (2-2-1-2) in the season series, with Houston’s only regulation win coming in a 5-2 decision on Mar. 10. The Checkers enter the week four points behind front-running Texas in the division, and seven points clear of the fifth-place Aeros in the conference.
Toronto at Chicago, Friday (8:30 ET) – Toronto and Chicago meet for the second and final time this regular season in what could be a first-round playoff preview. The Marlies enter the week holding the third seed in the Western Conference with a six-point lead atop the North Division, while the Wolves are tied for seventh but control their fate with games in hand on the rest of the field. Toronto head coach Dallas Eakins won a Calder Cup as a defenseman with Chicago in 2002.
Bridgeport at Providence, Friday (7 ET) – While Bridgeport sits six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with five teams to pass, Providence has opened up an eight-point lead at the top of the Atlantic Division and begins the week one point behind Syracuse for first place in the conference. The Bruins are on an 18-3-0-2 roll since Jan. 25 and have won four straight from the Sound Tigers. These teams have combined to score 45 non-shootout goals in six meetings this season.
Hershey at Connecticut, Friday (7 ET) – It’s the start of a big three-in-three weekend for both Hershey and Connecticut, who are tied for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Bears play 11 of their final 14 games on the road, with visits to Manchester (three points back entering the week) and Worcester (five back) also on tap this weekend. The Whale also host Adirondack and Binghamton this weekend, then play seven of their last 10 on the road.
There have been 41 hat tricks and 134 shutouts recorded in the American Hockey League through Mar. 18, and 66 AHL players have made their National Hockey League debuts this season:
Last week’s hat tricks (1)
Ryan Hamilton, TOR — Mar. 16 vs. Rochester
Last week’s shutouts (6)
Magnus Hellberg, MIL — Mar. 13 vs. Peoria
Mark Dekanich, STJ — Mar. 15 vs. Hamilton
Jason Missiaen, CT — Mar. 16 vs. Manchester
Philipp Grubauer, HER — Mar. 16 vs. Bridgeport
Mike McKenna, PEO — Mar. 16 at Rockford
Rick DiPietro, BRI — Mar. 17 vs. Albany
Last week’s NHL debuts (8)
Radko Gudas, SYR — Mar. 12, Tampa Bay
Cameron Schilling, HER — Mar. 12, Washington
Tyler Johnson, SYR — Mar. 14, Tampa Bay
Steve Pinizzotto, CHI — Mar. 14, Vancouver
Harri Pesonen, ALB — Mar. 16, New Jersey
Jarred Tinordi, HAM — Mar. 16, Montreal
Tyler Toffoli, MCH — Mar. 16, Los Angeles
Mark Pysyk, RCH — Mar, 17, Buffalo
Tyler Johnson, who continues to lead the AHL with 32 goals this season, made his NHL debut with Tampa Bay on Mar. 14 and notched a goal and an assist in his second game two nights later… Johnson was one of six members of the 2012 Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals in the Lightning lineup vs. Philadelphia on Monday night (along with Keith Aulie, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas and Cory Conacher)… Chris Terry scored the decisive goal in Charlotte’s 3-2 overtime win over Texas on Sunday, his league-leading eighth game-winning goal and third OT marker of the season… Jeff Taffe had a big weekend for Hershey, assisting on the game-winner in Saturday’s 1-0 overtime victory over Bridgeport and recording his third four-point game of the season with two goals and two assists in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Adirondack… Aaron Gagnon, who returned to the St. John’s lineup on Feb. 10 after missing the previous six weeks due to injury, has 6-7-13 in 13 games since then and carries a seven-game scoring streak into the new week… With a 4-3 victory over Chicago on Friday, Rockford won its ninth game this season when trailing after two periods (9-21-1-0)… Norfolk is 11-4-2-0 in its last 17 games, with rookie defenseman Sami Vatanen leading all Admirals scorers with 2-12-14 in that span… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 13-3-0-2 in one-goal games on the road this season… Despite its current six-game winless streak, Springfield (34-18-5-4) is guaranteed to finish above .500 for the second straight season… Worcester and Chicago will be the AHL’s busiest teams down the stretch, both playing 17 games in the regular season’s final 31 days… By contrast, Abbotsford is playing just 11 games over the season’s final 35 days.