SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … With points at a premium and just four weeks left in the regular season, the Binghamton Senators are making a determined push towards joining the 2006 Calder Cup Playoff picture.
Coming off a storybook season headlined by 11 players who are currently in the National Hockey League, Binghamton began 2005-06 with six straight losses and has been climbing back to the .500 mark ever since. The defending division champions woke up on the morning of Feb. 26 a daunting 16 points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the East. But by earning points in 10 of their last 12 games (7-2-1-2), the Senators now trail fourth-place Bridgeport by eight points with 12 games remaining, including head-to-head battles with the Sound Tigers on Apr. 2 and Apr. 7.
Captain Denis Hamel has never scored more goals in his accomplished nine-year career than the 46 he has netted so far in 2005-06, and his 77 points, good for sixth in the AHL, are one off the personal high he set last season. Hamel has also scored 22 power-play goals this season, tops in the league.
Steve Martins is second on the Senators with 67 points – a career high for the 11-year veteran – and has hit the 20-goal plateau for the first time since 1997-98. Jeff Heerema has scored 20 himself for the first time since 2001-02, Charlie Stephens’ 19 goals and 54 points are personal bests, and All-Star defenseman Filip Novak has registered 51 points in 62 games after totaling 40 points in 128 games over his first two AHL seasons.
Grant Potulny struggled offensively as a rookie last year with four goals in 50 games, but has rebounded to record 18 goals and 19 assists along with team-best plus-13 rating this season. Potulny ended a 14-game drought with four goals in three games last weekend. Danny Bois, who scored two goals as a rookie in 2004-05, has found the net 15 times this season.
Kelly Guard has emerged as the Senators’ top goaltender, winning nine of 13 decisions since the All-Star break. Guard, MVP of the 2004 Memorial Cup tournament for champion Kelowna, ranks third among AHL rookies in victories (20) and save percentage (.910).
The B-Sens’ quest for a fourth straight Calder Cup Playoff berth continues with a relatively quiet week, featuring two games against in-state rivals. Binghamton hosts Albany on Wednesday before visiting Syracuse on Friday.
THE EXPERIENCE IS CLEAR … The Clear Day lists submitted last week feature 55 players who have won a Calder Cup championship in their careers, including 14 members of last year’s Philadelphia title team who are preparing for another Calder Cup run:
Additionally, nine AHL head coaches – Robbie Ftorek, John Anderson, Roy Sommer, Don Lever, Bruce Boudreau, Alain Vigneault, Claude Noel, John Stevens and Randy Cunneyworth – have won Calder Cups as players and/or coaches.
POWERED BY HOWARD … Rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard and the Grand Rapids Griffins are showing no signs of cruising into the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs. Howard is 17-2-1 in his last 20 decisions and the Griffins have won seven straight to take a commanding nine-point lead over Houston and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton atop the overall league standings.
Grand Rapids played five games in seven nights from Mar. 12-18 and won them all in come-from-behind fashion. The Griffins are closing in on their third AHL division title in five seasons, and need eight wins in their final 10 games to match the league record of 57 victories set by the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers.
David LeNeveu turned aside all 53 shots he faced in San Antonio’s 3-0 win over Houston on Saturday night.