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AHL Weekly: Charging Sens eye playoff return

WEEKLY RELEASE #19

AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Fans of the Binghamton Senators have not tasted the Calder Cup Playoffs since the spring of 2005, when future NHL’ers including Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly and Ray Emery helped the club to the East Division title. But this year’s Senators are intent on ending that postseason drought as they continue to march up the Eastern Conference standings.

Binghamton defeated Rochester, Hershey and Adirondack over the weekend, sweeping a three-in-three on the road for the first time in team history and running its points streak to six games (5-0-1-0). The Senators have matched a season high with four straight victories overall and are an impressive 13-5-1-1 since the calendar turned to 2011. In his first season with Binghamton, head coach Kurt Kleinendorst has his club at 28-20-3-3 (62 points) on the year, four points ahead of Worcester for the Eastern Conference’s crossover playoff spot and just four points behind third-place Charlotte in the East Division race.

Binghamton’s eighth-ranked offense (3.20 goals per game) and third-ranked power play (22.1 percent) are sparked by a trio of league leaders. Five-time AHL All-Star Corey Locke is tops in the AHL with 51 assists and 68 points, and is positioned to lead his fourth different team in scoring in as many years. Locke has recorded a point in 40 of his 48 games played this season with Binghamton, and he notched his first career NHL point with an assist for Ottawa on Jan. 13. Bobby Butler (22-11-33) leads AHL rookies with 22 goals and shares the overall league lead with six game-winning scores. The 2011 AHL All-Star Game MVP scored his first NHL goal in Ottawa’s 5-3 win at Edmonton on Saturday. Colin Greening, out of nearby Cornell University, is one of five skaters tied for the AHL scoring lead among rookies with 36 points (13-23-36), and his plus-12 rating is tied for second among AHL rookie forwards.

Locke, Butler and Greening are also among the eight Binghamton players to skate for the parent Ottawa Senators this year, a list that could grow after Erik Condra earned his first career recall today. Condra, who has played in 134 consecutive AHL games to begin his pro career, has 17-29-46 and a team-best plus-19 mark through 54 games this year. With 13-22-35 in 49 games, 2007 first-round draft pick Jim O’Brien has more than doubled his rookie-year total of 17 points. Kaspars Daugavins, a third-round draft pick by Ottawa in 2006, checks in with 11 goals and 32 points in 49 contests as he looks to build on a 46-point effort a season ago. Ryan Keller places second on the Senators with 18 goals (18-11-29) in 45 games one year after his 34 tallies were good for a share of sixth in the AHL, and first-year North American pro Roman Wick (11-13-24) has picked up the pace in the second half with 7-3-10 – including four game-winning goals – in his last 13 games.

Two of the AHL’s top-scoring defensemen call Binghamton home, with Andre Benoit (6-31-37) and Derek Smith (9-27-36) both near the top of the list. The Sens’ blue-line crew also features second-year pros Geoff Kinrade (4-13-17, +10) and Craig Schira (2-9-11, +10); rookies Patrick Wiercioch (second-round draft pick in 2008) and Eric Gryba (third round, 2006); and David Hale, a veteran of more than 300 NHL games.

Injuries and recalls have kept Binghamton’s crease revolving all season, but Barry Brust (19-12-1, 2.54) has provided a reliable foundation, ranking seventh in the AHL with a .926 save percentage and first with six shutouts. Rookie Robin Lehner (7-6-2, 2.67, .912) has been recalled five times by Ottawa and also represented Sweden at the 2011 World Junior Championships, while Mike Brodeur has as many NHL recalls as AHL appearances (seven) this season.

Coming off a 4-0-1-0 road swing, Binghamton hosts East Division rivals Charlotte (Friday) and Albany (Saturday) this week.

WHALE, BRUINS TO HEAD OUTSIDE … The Connecticut Whale and Providence Bruins are set to take AHL action outdoors this weekend, as the longstanding New England rivals will battle on Saturday in the Harvest-Properties.com Whale Bowl at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 ET.

It marks the second outdoor game in the AHL’s 75-year history, and the league’s single-game attendance record of 21,508 – established at last February’s Mirabito Outdoor Classic in Syracuse – expects to be challenged. This will be the 128th regular-season meeting all-time between Connecticut and Providence, with the Whale holding a 68-49-11 advantage, including 4-2-0 this season. The teams have also collided four times in the Calder Cup Playoffs, most recently a seven-game opening-round victory for the Bruins in 2007.

Built on the site of a former civilian and military airfield, Rentschler Field has served as home to the University of Connecticut’s football team since opening in 2003.

ANOTHER MILESTONE IN SIGHT … It’s already been a memorable tenure in Oklahoma City for Bryan Helmer, who signed with the Barons on Jan. 7 and became the AHL’s career scoring leader among defensemen six days later. Now, Helmer is on the verge of making another entry into the AHL record books.

The next time he hits the ice – as soon as Friday night against the Abbotsford Heat at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary – Helmer will become just the seventh player ever to skate in 1,000 career regular-season games in the AHL. He will join an exclusive list which includes AHL Hall of Famers Willie Marshall, Fred Glover, Harry Pidhirny, Mike Nykoluk and Jody Gage, as well as current Providence head coach Rob Murray. Helmer is already the AHL’s career leader in playoff games played (138).

Helmer’s first AHL game was on Oct. 8, 1993, a 6-2 win for his Albany River Rats at Rochester.

ETC. … Providence forward Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman is poised to play in his second AHL outdoor game this weekend; he skated for Syracuse in last year’s event… Leland Irving stopped 104 of 108 shots (1.00, .963) and posted two shutouts in four starts for Abbotsford last week… Norfolk’s 3-0 and 4-0 victories over Syracuse last weekend marked the club’s first back-to-back shutouts since Michael Leighton blanked Binghamton in both games of their 2004 qualifying round playoff series… Charlotte’s Jon Matsumoto has seven points (4-3-7) in his last five games, and the Checkers are 13-1-0-0 this season when Matsumoto scores a goal… Springfield collected an 8-2 win over Providence on Saturday, marking the Falcons’ most goals in a single game since scoring 14 against the Bruins on Dec. 30, 1999… Two-time Calder Cup champion Kyle Wilson has recorded 12 points (6-6-12) in 10 games since joining the Falcons from parent-club Columbus… With 36 points each, Lake Erie’s Mark Olver, Springfield’s Tomas Kubalik, Charlotte’s Zac Dalpe, Manitoba’s Bill Sweatt and Binghamton’s Colin Greening are in a five-way tie for the AHL’s rookie scoring lead… Six of Maxime Sauve’s 13 goals for Providence this season have been game-winners… Peoria had taken part in only three shootouts through its first 49 games before participating in three in a four-game span from Feb. 4-11; the Rivermen are 3-3 in shootouts for the year… Hamilton has scored just 38 first-period goals this season but has followed that up with 59 second-period markers… Grand Rapids and Chicago combined for 58 goals in their six-game season series, an average of 9.67 per game; each side earned three victories… After allowing three power-play goals in a 4-2 loss at Syracuse on Feb. 5, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has killed off 23 straight penalties over its last five games… The Penguins began the new week with each of their top seven scorers – Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling, Eric Tangradi, Ryan Craig, Tim Wallace and Joe Vitale – on NHL recall… After going their first 49 games without recording a shutout, Worcester has posted two in a row – one apiece by Carter Hutton and Daren Machesney – since losing workhorse starting goaltender Alex Stalock to injury… Adirondack has earned at least a point in nine of its last 10 road games (7-1-0-2) after beginning the season 2-15-1-0 away from the Glens Falls Civic Center… No team in the Western Conference has more wins than San Antonio (32), but the Rampage have scored first a league-low 18 times this season… Manitoba retired Mike Keane’s number 12 in a pre-game ceremony at the MTS Centre on Saturday night; the three-time Stanley Cup champion captained the Moose from 2005-10.