WEEKLY RELEASE #23
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The West Division has been the American Hockey League’s strongest from top to bottom all year long, and with less than four weeks left in the 2010-11 regular season, seven teams could still realistically take home the division crown or miss the playoffs altogether.
Four squads from the West are guaranteed to reach the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, and the fifth-place team will also advance if it finishes with more points than the fourth-place team in the North. Chicago (79 points) currently fits that bill, as the Wolves have gone 10-3-1-3 since the All-Star break to open a three-point lead both on San Antonio for fifth in the West and on Lake Erie for the crossover berth. Darren Haydar shows a club-best 9-10-19 in those 17 games, and Tim Miller has put up 5-3-8 and an impressive plus-9 rating in seven games thus far in March.
Five teams have held sole possession of first place in the West Division at some point this season – Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Peoria, Houston and current pace-setter Milwaukee, which went from Nov. 26 until Mar. 11 without losing consecutive games in regulation. Admirals goaltender Mark Dekanich (23-11-5) leads the AHL in save percentage (.931) and ranks fourth in goals-against average (2.02) for a Milwaukee team that is bidding for its fourth division title in eight years and its eighth consecutive season of 40-plus wins and 90-plus points.
Second-place Houston, which hasn’t earned a division crown since its 2002-03 Calder Cup championship season, enters the new week just one point back of Milwaukee and will host the Admirals on Tuesday with first place on the line. Patrick O’Sullivan has moved up to fourth on the club in scoring by putting up 33 points (14-19-33) in just 25 games with the Aeros; leading scorer Jon DiSalvatore (22-29-51) has matched his career high in goals thanks to a 14-15-29 spurt since O’Sullivan joined the club; and goaltender Matt Hackett (16-13-4) is second among AHL rookies and sixth overall with a 2.25 goals-against average.
Defending Western Conference champion Texas (80 points), which this week will wrap up a stretch of playing 13 of 18 games on the road, sits third in the division, and while the Stars are three points out of first place, they are also four points away from falling out of the postseason picture altogether. Seven of Greg Rallo’s career-high 21 goals (21-22-43) have been game-winners for Texas, which owns a sparking 28-14-2-4 (.646) record against divisional opponents but is in the midst of playing six straight against non-division foes. Hot on the Stars’ heels are Peoria and Chicago, knotted at 79 points each after battling each other five times in 14 days from Feb. 26 to Mar. 11 and earning seven points apiece in those meetings.
The Rivermen have stayed afloat despite being besieged by recalls and injuries, and seven of their next eight games are against teams currently outside the playoff picture, including four against sixth-place San Antonio (76). The Rampage are three points out of a playoff spot but have 15 games remaining – tied for the most of any team in the AHL – all against division opponents, including those four against Peoria and four more vs. Milwaukee. Oklahoma City (75) is a point back of San Antonio as it hits the road for a nine-game, 12-day trip that will end with three games in Houston over the weekend of Mar. 25-27.
And with a 6-2-1-1 charge in their last 10 outings, eighth-place Rockford (27-30-4-5, 63 pts.) is still in the race, with ample opportunity to earn points in its final 14 games down the stretch, beginning with contests this coming weekend against Oklahoma City and Peoria.
THE EXPERIENCE IS CLEAR … With playoff and divisional races poised to go down to the wire, teams must keep an eye on the AHL’s tiebreaking procedures if two squads finish with the same number of points. In a slight modification from past years, the first tiebreaker is regulation and overtime wins (excluding victories obtained in the shootout). The second tiebreaker is points in the teams’ season series, followed by overall goal differential, goals scored in the season series, and points percentage against conference opponents.
A complete list of Calder Cup Playoff qualification rules, along with a daily playoff primer featuring updated standings and potential first-round matchups, can be found at theahl.com.
WISEMAN MAKES HIS MARK … Reigning Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Chad Wiseman turned in one of the most impressive offensive performances in AHL history on Mar. 9, tallying four goals in a span of 9:03 during the third period and single-handedly lifting Albany to a 5-4 win over Bridgeport after the Devils trailed 4-1 with under 10 minutes left to play. Wiseman added two more goals on the week to finish with six in a four-game span, after entering last week with six goals in his first 33 contests this season.
Wiseman became just the seventh player in the AHL’s 75-year history to record four goals in the same period and the first to do it since Cape Breton’s Ralph Intranuovo against Saint John in the opening period of a game on Apr. 16, 1996. It also marked Wiseman second four-goal game in less than 14 months, as he previously accomplished the feat with Springfield on Jan. 17, 2010.
GRIFFINS COME ALIVE … For more than three months between mid-November and mid-February, Grand Rapids held to a win-one-lose-one type of pattern and never moved its record more than one game above or below the .500 mark. Since Feb. 20, though, the Griffins have reeled off eight wins in 10 games and are currently riding a seven-game points streak (6-0-1-0) to pull back into contention in the North Division playoff race. Looking to return to the postseason following a one-year absence, Grand Rapids is three points back of Hamilton for the division’s third and final guaranteed berth with 13 games to play.
Griffins leading scorer and 2011 AHL All-Star Ilari Filppula (20-37-57) has put up a team-best 15 points (2-13-15) over this 10-game surge, and third-year pro Francis Pare has eight goals in that span after totaling 13 strikes in his first 54 outings this season. Jamie Tardif (7-5-12) and Tomas Tatar (3-8-11) have also averaged better than a point per game during the team’s hot streak, while defenseman Doug Janik boasts a gaudy plus-13 mark to go along with a goal and six assists. Having made 13 consecutive starts, rookie goaltender Jordan Pearce has been stellar with a 9-2-2 mark (2.72, .912) with one shutout in that time.
ETC. … Portland defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani reeled off six consecutive multiple-point games from Mar. 1-12 and leads all AHL rearguards in both assists (43) and points (54) in 57 games overall… The Pirates saw their seven-game home winning streak (6-0-1-0) end in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Manchester, just their fifth regulation defeat on home ice all year long (23-5-4-1)… Syracuse’s Brian McGrattan has scored five goals in his first six games for the Crunch, and he set a franchise record with 13 shots in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Rochester… Norfolk’s James Wright had gone 28 straight games without a goal before scoring three times in the third period of Friday’s 8-3 win over Binghamton… Two nights later, the Admirals earned a 3-2 shootout win to snap a nine-game losing skid in Hershey, collecting their first victory at the Giant Center since Feb. 14, 2009… Goaltender Hannu Toivonen appeared in all seven games of Rockford’s just-completed road trip, finishing 4-1-1 (1.69, .954, 1 SO)… Connecticut rookie defenseman Blake Parlett has recorded a point in five of his last six AHL contests (1-6-7) after being held off the scoresheet in his first six… Abbotsford goaltender Leland Irving, who has made a league-high 54 appearances this season, ranks second in the AHL in wins (26) but first in losses (22)… Five of Peoria’s last seven games have extended beyond regulation, and the Rivermen have gone nine straight games without a regulation win (3-4-0-2) since taking a 5-2 decision over Texas on Feb. 23… After suffering a 7-0 loss in Manchester on Saturday, Bridgeport turned around and halted an eight-game winless skid (0-7-0-1) with a 5-1 victory in Providence on Sunday… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 5-4 shootout loss in Abbotsford on Saturday marked the league-leading Penguins’ first setback beyond regulation time this season (46-18-0-1)… Binghamton’s penalty kill ranks third in the AHL on the road (87.0 percent) but 28th at home (77.6 percent)… Rochester and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are the only two AHL teams yet to be involved in a penalty shot – either for or against – this season… Manitoba went 7-4-0-0 on an 11-game road trip that ended in Houston on Sunday, and now plays 10 of its final 13 games at home.