SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Lowell Devils have failed to reach the Calder Cup Playoffs in each of their first three years of existence. But this season, buoyed by a resurgent offensive attack, the Devils are clicking on all cylinders and have steadily climbed toward the top of the Atlantic Division.
Over the summer, the New Jersey Devils organization installed John MacLean – New Jersey’s all-time leading goal-scorer and an assistant coach with the NHL club for the past six seasons – behind the Lowell bench, and the rookie head coach has his Devils at 10-5-3-0, good for 23 points and second place in the Atlantic, one point shy of Manchester for the top spot. Lowell has won a franchise-record-tying five consecutive games and has picked up a point in six straight contests (5-0-1-0) entering the new week.
The Devils, who have never finished higher than 22nd in the AHL in goals per game, currently lead the league in that department with 3.67 per contest thus far. Second-year defenseman Tyler Eckford (5-12-17) and fellow second-year pro Vladimir Zharkov (5-12-17) are pacing the offense with 17 points and a plus-9 rating apiece in 18 games. Eckford has racked up nine points (2-7-9) in his last three outings, and Zharkov, a third-round draft pick by New Jersey in 2006, is already halfway to the 34 points he registered in 69 games as an AHL rookie last year. Newcomer Ben Walter, coming off three consecutive 20-goal seasons, shows 14 points (6-8-14) through 18 games and is on a three-game goal-scoring streak, and Tim Sestito racked up seven goals and 10 points in his first 12 games in a Lowell uniform before earning a recall to New Jersey on Nov. 7.
Rookie Nathan Perkovich (6-6-12) has recorded 5-3-8 in six November games after posting 1-3-4 in eight games during October, and fourth-year pro Stephen Gionta, who scored two goals all of last season, has netted six (6-2-8) through 18 games this year. Lowell has also received contributions up front from Patrick Davis (3-8-11), rookie Nick Palmieri (3-6-9), former second-round draft pick Alexander Vasyunov (2-7-9), second-year pro Michael Swift (3-5-8), and rookie Brad Snetsinger (3-4-7).
Lowell’s defense is anchored by Eckford and Matt Taormina, who leads all AHL rookie rearguards with 14 points (6-8-14) in 18 contests. Currently on NHL recall, former first-round draft pick Matthew Corrente has recorded 11 points (3-8-11) in 15 games; veteran Rob Davison shows nine points (1-8-9) to go along with a plus-9 rating; and Olivier Magnan has chipped in four points (1-3-4) thus far.
Former second-round draft choice Jeff Frazee, an AHL All-Star as a rookie in 2008-09, has rebounded from an 0-3-0 start to win his last three starts between the pipes, stopping 78 of 82 shots (1.33, .951) and posting one shutout over that span. Mike McKenna, who played 15 NHL games with Tampa Bay last season, began his campaign with two shutouts in three games and is 6-3-0 (2.41, .921) overall.
The Devils play three games this week, beginning on Wednesday with their third visit of the year to Springfield. Lowell then returns to host Norfolk at Tsongas Arena on Friday before welcoming Manchester to town for a matinee tilt on Saturday.
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THE WRATH OF KRAHN … Finally healthy and settled in, Brent Krahn has left opposing shooters baffled over the first six weeks of the season and is keeping the Texas Stars near the top of the AHL standings.
Krahn, a first-round draft choice by Calgary (ninth overall) in 2000, has not played more than 28 games in a season since 2005-06, and Austin is the sixth stop on an AHL resume that has included stops in Lowell, San Antonio, Omaha, Quad City and Chicago. The 27-year-old Winnipeg native has rebounded from an opening-night loss to reel off eight consecutive victories, allowing a total of eight goals in those wins. More impressively, Krahn has stopped 172 of 174 shots and posted three shutouts over his last five starts, good for a minuscule 0.40 goals-against average and a remarkable .989 save percentage in that span.
Krahn, who is now 85-66-14 with 16 shutouts in 177 career AHL appearances, leads the AHL with his 1.23 GAA and .964 save percentage, allowing 11 goals on 302 shots for the season.
RISE OF THE WOLVES … Chicago swept through its weekend trip to San Antonio, Austin and Houston, putting together its first three-game winning streak of the season and moving to within two points of second place in the tight West Division.
The Wolves are 7-2-0-1 since the Oct. 19 coaching change that put Don Lever and Ron Wilson behind the bench. Jason Krog has led the way with 12 points (3-9) while playing in eight of those 10 games, second-year pro Spencer Machacek has 4-7-11 in that time and defenseman Arturs Kulda has two goals, three assists and a plus-16 rating in 10 contests under Lever and Wilson.
The hot streak also coincides with the arrival of defenseman Chris Chelios to the Wolves lineup. The three-time Norris Trophy winner has one goal, eight assists and a plus-10 rating in nine games for Chicago.
ETC. … Including Sunday’s winner vs. Portland, Bridgeport defenseman Mark Wotton has scored six goals since the start of the 2008-09 season, and three of them have come in overtime… Six of Bridgeport’s nine wins this season have now been earned beyond regulation (five OT, one shootout)… Brett Sterling’s game-winner for Chicago on Saturday night was his eighth career AHL overtime goal… A 33-goal scorer a year ago, Hamilton’s Mike Glumac ended a 13-game drought to begin this season with three goals in two games last week… Rochester’s Jamie Johnson has racked up seven goals and 12 points in his last eight games… The Amerks’ 6-3 loss to Portland at HSBC Arena in Buffalo on Thursday – which snapped Rochester’s franchise-record-tying winning streak at 11 games – marked those teams’ first clash since Mar. 22, 2001, while Providence battled Syracuse on Friday for the first time since Mar. 18, 2001… Portland’s Tyler Ennis, who is tied for the AHL lead among rookie scorers with 14 points, scored a goal in his NHL debut for Buffalo on Saturday night in Philadelphia… Hartford rookie Chad Johnson recorded back-to-back shutouts of Manchester and Worcester over the weekend, and now has eight goals against and three shutouts while making seven consecutive starts for the Wolf Pack (6-1-0)… Grand Rapids’ Kris Newbury saw his AHL season-high seven-game assist streak (1-8-9) end – along with his team’s nine-game winning streak and eight-game home skein – on Saturday in a 3-1 setback to Rochester… Hamilton’s David Desharnais returned from a foot injury and posted three points (1-2-3) in two games last weekend… After being shut out by Texas on Friday, Rockford scored three goals in the first 185 seconds on Saturday en route to a 6-3 win over Abbotsford… Rochester (8-0-1-0) and Springfield (5-0-2-1) are the only AHL teams without a regulation loss at home this season.