1. Falcons flying
The Springfield Falcons are looking to prove that last season was no fluke.
The Falcons, which ended an AHL-record nine-year postseason drought by winning the Northeast Division in 2012-13, have the league’s best mark at 13-3-0-1 (.794) heading into the final week of November.
Winners of six in a row, Springfield has the top-ranked defense in the AHL, leading the league with 2.18 goals against per game and a 90.3 percent penalty-killing efficiency. The Falcons have surrendered just seven power-play goals in 72 attempts this season, and have nearly all but made up for it by scoring five shorthanded goals.
The Falcons’ top two scorers are both defensemen: Tim Erixon has totaled 3-10-13 in 10 games with Springfield, while Frederic St. Denis has added 3-9-13 in 17 contests. Fourteen of the Falcons’ 48 non-shootout goals this season have been scored by blueliners (29.2 percent).
The Falcons lost 2013 Second Team AHL All-Star goaltender Curtis McElhinney to the parent Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but their new tandem of Jeremy Smith and Mike McKenna have more than picked up the slack. Smith (8-1-1, 2.37, .915) has won all five of his starts in November, and McKenna (5-2-0, 1/66, .935) leads the league in goals-against average while ranking third in save percentage.
Springfield visits Manchester on Friday night in a battle of division leaders.
2. The Heat is on
The best of the West so far in 2013-14 is the Abbotsford Heat, winners of 13 of their last 14 games and owners of a 17-5-0-1 record for a league-leading 35 points.
Abbotsford was a .500 team (4-4-0-1) on Oct. 30 when it rallied from an early 3-1 deficit for a 5-4 overtime win in Utica, the beginning of this 14-game stretch. Joni Ortio made his first appearance of the season for the Heat in that game and earned the win in relief; Ortio has run his record to 9-0-0 (2.34, .927) after going 1-4-0 in his first 10 career AHL matches during his first stint with the Heat back in 2011 and 2012.
Veteran Joey MacDonald is 4-1-0 (2.17, .933) between the pipes since joining the Heat on Nov. 3. MacDonald has won 143 AHL games over his 13 pro seasons.
Since Oct. 30, Blair Jones leads all Heat scorers with 18 points (8g, 10a) and Ben Street has scored a team-best 10 goals (10g, 7a), the top totals in the entire league during that span. Defenseman Chad Billins has 2-13-15 in 10 games over the last month, and rookies Markus Granlund (8-5-13), Michael Ferland (4-7-11), Corban Knight (4-7-11), Ben Hanowski (3-6-9) have all helped the Heat climb from 19th in the AHL in scoring (2.67 goals per game) all the way to sixth (3.39).
3. Swede emotion
The American Hockey League announced last week that Färjestad BK will visit the Toronto Marlies in an international exhibition at Ricoh Coliseum on Feb. 15. The contest comes on the heels of Farjestad’s participation in the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic in St. John’s, Feb. 11-12.
Färjestad BK will be the first Swedish Hockey League club ever to compete in North America. Founded in 1932, Färjestad BK is one of the most successful franchises in all of European hockey, playing in 19 league finals and winning nine Swedish league championships — including four since 2002.
“To come and play the Marlies in Toronto will be great,” said Hakan Loob, the former NHL star and now CEO of Färjestad BK. “Toronto has been the ‘hockey town’ of the world for most Swedes since Börje Salming’s days in the early 70’s. We are very excited to represent the SHL in the All-Star Classic and then against one of the AHL’s top teams.”
4. Tic tock [VIDEO]
Dustin Tokarski was named CCM/AHL Player of the Week on Monday after stopping 98 of 100 shots in his three starts for Hamilton last week, helping the Bulldogs move into a tie atop the North Division.
Tokarski made 30 saves last Tuesday as the ‘Dogs downed Texas, 5-1, at Copps Coliseum. On Friday, he was named the first star of the game as Hamilton defeated Syracuse, 4-1, in a game played at the Bell Centre in Montreal. And on Saturday, he shut down his former Crunch teammates again with 43 saves in a 3-0 victory in Syracuse, his 18th career AHL shutout.
Tokarski, 8-3-1 in 14 appearances this season, ranks second in the league in both goals-against average (1.91) and save percentage (.935).
5. Home cooking
The Charlotte Checkers and Utica Comets finally gave their home fans something to cheer about last weekend. The only two teams in the AHL without a home victory entering Saturday, the Checkers and Comets both found the win column.
Charlotte scored three times in the third period to get past Rockford, 5-2, ending a six-game home losing streak. Going back to last year’s first-round playoff loss to Oklahoma City, the Checkers had lost eight consecutive home games by a combined score of 41-12.
Utica was 0-6-1-1 on home ice to begin its inaugural season before Saturday’s 2-0 win over Rochester, completing a home-and-home sweep of the Americans. Joacim Eriksson made 33 saves for the first shutout in Comets history.
6. Taking it outside
Rink construction is underway at Frontier Field, with less than three weeks to go before the Rochester Americans host the Lake Erie Monsters in the first of two outdoor games in the AHL this season.
The Amerks and Monsters will brave the conditions and drop the puck on Friday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. ET. It will be the sixth outdoor game in AHL history, and the first for both of these franchises.
Petr Mrazek apparently doesn’t believe in sophomore slumps.
After a rookie season that included an AHL All-Star Classic appearance, his National Hockey League debut and a Calder Cup championship, Mrazek is off to a flying start in 2013-14.
In his first 10 appearances, Mrazek is 7-2-1 with a 2.11 GAA and a .925 save percentage. He has allowed eight goals total during his current personal six-game winning streak.
Morin, the CCM/AHL Player of the Month for October, has nine points in seven games during November and leads the AHL with 28 points (11g, 17a) in 16 games played, finding the scoresheet in every game this season but one.
Sceviour, who is the Texas franchise’s all-time leader in goals and games played, leads the league with 14 goals this season and is tied for fourth with 22 points in 20 games. He is already well on his way to a career high in goals; Sceviour scored 21 for the Stars in both 2011-12 and 2012-13.
9. 600 for Segal
Two-time Calder Cup champion Brandon Segal of the Hershey Bears skated in his 600th career AHL game on Sunday, becoming the fifth active AHL player to have reached that milestone.
Segal, a Cup winner with Milwaukee in 2004 and with Norfolk in 2012, has two goals and four assists in 11 contests for Hershey this season. He is a three-time 20-goal scorer in the AHL (2006-07, 2008-09, 2012-13), and has also appeared in 103 games in the NHL with Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Dallas and the New York Rangers.
10. Alumni watch
Congratulations to AHL call-ups Brian Gibbons, Antti Raanta, Dmitry Korobov, Kevan Miller and Nikita Kucherov, who all made their National Hockey League debuts in the last week. The 2013-14 total now stands at 53.
Gibbons had a goal and an assist and was named the game’s first star in his debut for Pittsburgh on Nov. 18, helping the Penguins to a 3-1 win over Anaheim.
Kucherov scored a goal on his first shift in the NHL, and it stood up as the game-winner in Tampa Bay’s 5-0 win over the New York Rangers on Monday night.