AHL Weekly: Looking shipshape in Norfolk


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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … After qualifying for the playoffs in each of their first seven seasons in the AHL, the Norfolk Admirals have missed out for three consecutive springs. Buoyed by the AHL’s top-ranked offense, though, the Admirals are out to bring Calder Cup Playoff hockey back to southern Virginia in 2011.

Following a perfect three-game weekend trip through New England, first-year AHL head coach Jon Cooper has the Admirals at 15-6-3-1 on the season, good for 34 points and second place in the East Division, five points back of league-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Norfolk, which has gone 12-4-2-0 on the road while playing 18 of its first 25 games away from Scope Arena, is averaging a league-high 3.96 goals per contest just one season after ranking 22nd in that category (2.60). The Admirals have reached the six-goal mark in seven of their 25 outings, including four seven-goal efforts.

Norfolk has maintained success despite watching six players also suit up for the parent Tampa Bay Lightning already this season, including top-three scorers Johan Harju (13-10-23), Marc-Antoine Pouliot (6-16-22) and Blair Jones (9-11-20). In his first North American pro season, Harju has recorded multiple points in nine of his 17 games for the Admirals, including a hat trick and four-point effort on Nov. 26 at Adirondack. Pouliot, a former first-round draft pick who spent nearly all of the past two seasons in the NHL with Edmonton, began the season by registering a point in nine of his first 10 games; and Jones, an AHL All-Star last season, shows a team-best three game-winning goals for Norfolk to go along with a goal and an assist in nine NHL contests.

Paul Szczechura, who spent 52 games with the Lightning in 2009-10, is in a tie for fourth on the Admirals scoring list with 19 points (8-11-19) and needs just 10 more points to match his AHL career high of 29, achieved with Norfolk each of the past two campaigns. Third-year pro Matt Fornataro (7-12-19) has already eclipsed in 25 games the 18 points (11-7-18) he recorded in 45 outings for the Admirals last season, and he had a season-high three points (2-1-3) in Friday’s 7-2 victory at Manchester. Twenty-year-old James Wright has recorded 6-11-17 totals in 25 games for Norfolk while appearing in one game with the Bolts, a season after playing 48 NHL contests as a rookie.

Fifth-year pro Mike Angelidis (8-8-16), who had a five-point showing (two goals, three assists) on Friday, is well on pace to eclipse career highs in both goals (15) and points (27) in his first season with the Tampa Bay organization. Fellow newcomer Chris Durno (8-7-15) boasts a team-best plus-13 rating, and Alex Berry has 11 points (7-4-11) in 23 games after posting 3-4-7 in 55 AHL contests for Toronto as a rookie in 2009-10.

Defensively, Mathieu Roy (2-12-14, plus-9) and Mike Vernace (5-4-9) are enjoying strong starts to their AHL seasons while also seeing action in Tampa, and former first-round draft pick Ty Wishart (4-8-12) is nearly halfway to his career-high goal total of nine. 2010 Second Team AHL All-Star goaltender Cedrick Desjardins was traded to the Lightning organization last summer and has won 10 of his first 15 outings with Norfolk (10-4-1, 2.56, .901) while also stopping 13 of 15 shootout tries (.867). Second-year netminder Dustin Tokarski checks in at an even 5-5-0 (2.98, .893) through 10 appearances.

The road-weary Admirals will now play 11 of their next 15 contests on home ice, beginning with a Wednesday evening tilt against Syracuse. Norfolk then hosts Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday in the opener of a home-and-home set before traveling to northeast Pennsylvania for a rematch with the Penguins on Saturday.

ALL-STAR BALLOTING UNDERWAY … The 2011 AHL All-Star Classic Fan Balloting presented by Reebok is underway now, exclusively on the official Web site of the AHL at theahl.com and on the Official American Hockey League Facebook Fan Page at facebook.com/theahl.

Fans will have an opportunity to vote for the most deserving AHL players by visiting going on-line and completing the official Reebok AHL All-Star Fan Ballot. The players receiving the most votes by position will earn berths in the starting lineups of both the Eastern and Western Conference AHL All-Star teams at the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Capital BlueCross, Jan. 30-31 in Hershey.

Fan balloting is scheduled to end at 11:59 p.m. EST on Jan. 9, 2011.

CHECK THIS OUT … Charlotte and Syracuse played to a 1-1 draw after the first period on Monday at the Time Warner Cable Arena, but the middle frame was anything but even as the Checkers erupted for eight goals in the second period – all in a span of 13:44 – and rolled to a 10-3 victory. The eight goals marked the most an AHL team had scored in a single period since the Providence Bruins set the AHL record with 10 scores in the first period on Nov. 25, 1998, also against the Crunch.

Nine different Checkers tallied a goal on the night, and 15 of the club’s 18 skaters recorded at least one point. Oskar Osala led the way with four points (1-3-4), and rookie Riley Nash was the only player to score twice. The Checkers’ second-period onslaught included six goals in a span of just 3:39.

JEFFREY, PENS STILL ROLLING … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton center Dustin Jeffrey recorded four goals and six points in three victories last week, and the third-year pro is now on a five-game goal-scoring streak (6-4-10) and has earned multiple points in 10 of his 24 contests this season. An AHL All-Star last season when he posted career highs in goals (24), assists (47) and points (71) for the Penguins, Jeffrey is now tied with Hershey’s Andrew Gordon for the overall AHL scoring lead with 30 points (13-17-20) in 24 games this year.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s latest winning streak is now up to five games, and Saturday’s 3-2 triumph over Adirondack made the Penguins (20-4-0-0) the first AHL team this season to reach the 20-win and 40-point plateaus. The Pens are a remarkable 11-1-0-0 on the road – they didn’t earn their 11th road win last season until Feb. 21 – and show a perfect 10-0-0-0 mark when leading after the first period.

RISSMILLER CRUISING IN CLEVELAND … Lake Erie forward Patrick Rissmiller began the 2010-11 season by playing six games for the Chicago Wolves and tormented his old club on Friday night with a four-goal, five-point explosion to help the Monsters to a 6-3 victory at Quicken Loans Arena. Rissmiller set a Monsters franchise record for goals in a game and became the third player in club history to post five points in a single contest, joining Eric Healey and Brad Richardson, who both accomplished the feat on Apr. 13, 2008, at Rochester.

Rissmiller recorded just one goal in his six-game stay with Chicago but has flourished in Cleveland, racking up five goals and 10 points through his first eight games in a Monsters uniform. Named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week on Monday, Rissmiller has reached the 40-point mark in all six of his previous AHL seasons and has also appeared in 182 career NHL contests, primarily with the San Jose Sharks.

ETC.Joey MacDonald earned his 91st victory in a Grand Rapids uniform on Friday at Milwaukee, passing current Detroit Red Wing Jimmy Howard for the franchise’s all-time lead… In two visits to Rochester this season, Albany goaltender Jeff Frazee has faced 58 shots and stopped them all en route to a pair of shutouts… Fifth-year pro and former Calder Cup champion Nathan Oystrick had a career-high four points (2-2-4) in Peoria’s 5-4 overtime loss to Milwaukee on Sunday… 2008 AHL Goaltender of the Year Michael Leighton, on a conditioning loan from the Philadelphia Flyers, appeared in both games for Adirondack last weekend… Connecticut is 4-0-0-1 since its rebranding as the “Whale” after beginning the year 6-11-2-3 as the Hartford Wolf Pack… Houston has scored the first goal in 16 of its last 19 games and a league-high 18 times in 26 contests overall (13-3-0-2)… Chicago currently boasts the AHL’s second-ranked power play (23.4 percent) but is last on the penalty kill (73.3 percent)… Toronto visits Copps Coliseum to battle arch-rival Hamilton on Sunday at 1:00 ET in a game to be televised nationally on CBC (Canada) and the NHL Network (United States).