WEEKLY RELEASE #24
SPRINT TO THE FINISH … With less than four weeks to play in the 2011-12 regular season, it’s a near certainty that the race to the Calder Cup Playoffs will come down to the wire.
In the Western Conference, Oklahoma City and Toronto have been running 1-2 for some time now, but behind them eight teams are separated by six points between third and 10th place with the top eight advancing to the postseason on Apr. 15. The Barons (87 points) are unbeaten in regulation in their last seven games (4-0-2-1) and will play eight of their final 11 games against teams currently outside of the playoff picture. The Marlies (79 pts.) have won four of their last five and have allowed more than three goals in a game just twice since Jan. 10.
Chicago, Peoria and Charlotte have all owned the lead in the Midwest Division at different times in the past week. The Wolves (75 pts.), currently two points ahead, will play eight of their final 12 games on the road, including a seven-game trip beginning Mar. 29. The Rivermen (73 pts.) have won four in a row heading into a critical two-game visit to Charlotte to begin the new week, and the Checkers (72 pts.), with one victory in their last seven outings (1-3-1-2), are suddenly in danger of slipping out of the top eight altogether.
Houston (76 pts.), which began last week in 10th place in the West, opens this week in the fourth spot after Reebok/AHL Player of the Week Joe Fallon helped them to a 4-0-0-0 showing by stopping 120 of 125 shots. Abbotsford snapped a three-game losing streak by going 2-0-0-1 on its swing through San Antonio, Houston and Cedar Park, pulling into fifth place with 75 points. And Rochester (71 pts.) clings to the eighth position heading into the week on the strength of an 8-2-0-0 mark in its last 10 contests. Lake Erie and San Antonio, both of which have occupied a top-eight spot as recently as Mar. 16, enter the week on the outside looking in but with a playoff spot within reach.
The Eastern Conference essentially boils down to a nine-team race for the final three playoff spots, with six points separating seventh place from 14th. Manchester (69 points) sits seventh after sweeping its two-game weekend visit to St. John’s, and Worcester (67 pts.) checks in in eighth place despite a 4-7-0-2 mark in its last 13 games. Syracuse (66 pts.) climbed from 14th place on the morning of Mar. 14 to eighth place four days later, and begins the week in ninth, one point behind the Sharks and tied with Springfield (66 pts.).
Albany (65 pts.) is still just two points off the pace despite bringing an eight-game winless slide into the week (0-5-1-2), and Portland (65 pts.) will play eight of its last 12 on the road, where the Pirates are 1-6-1-1 in their last nine. Adirondack and Providence, both with 63 points, are well within striking distance in the points column, but have five teams to shed to reach one of the coveted qualifying positions.
At the top of the conference, Norfolk (93 pts.) and St. John’s (83 pts.) have all but sewn up the top two seeds, with the Admirals 10 points ahead of the pack in the East Division and the IceCaps 14 points clear atop the Atlantic. After going winless for the month of January, Connecticut (76 pts.) is 14-5-1-0 since the start of February and has a four-point cushion for the Northeast Division lead over Bridgeport (72 pts.), which is winless in its last six on the heels of a 20-2-0-2 run. And arch-rivals Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (83 pts.) and Hershey (78 pts.) have been locked in the 4-5 spots for the last few weeks and appear headed for a first-round matchup and what would be their fifth playoff meeting in seven years.
18 AND COUNTING … The Norfolk Admirals rewrote the AHL record book on Sunday afternoon, becoming the first team in the 76-year history of the league to string together 18 consecutive wins. The Admirals tied and then surpassed the 2004-05 Philadelphia Phantoms’ 17-game winning streak in convincing fashion, posting 7-2 and 5-0 road victories over the Charlotte Checkers over the weekend.
At 18 games, the Admirals’ winning streak is one better than the NHL standard held by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins, and matches the professional hockey record set by the Peoria Rivermen during the 1990-91 International Hockey League season.
Norfolk rookie Tyler Johnson has erupted for 12-19-31 and a plus-20 rating during the 18 games, and enters the new week riding a personal 10-game scoring streak (9-13-22) and having registered at least one goal and at least two points in each of his last seven contests.
Norfolk, which has also become the first team to clinch a berth in the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs, returns home to take on Albany this Friday and Saturday.
TURNING 20 AGAIN … Denis Hamel scored his 20th goal of the season for Adirondack on Mar. 17, reaching that plateau for the 10th time in his AHL career.
Hamel, who ranks 11th all-time with 335 career goals in the AHL, topped 20 goals twice with the Rochester Americans (1999-2000, 02-03) and six times with the Binghamton Senators (2003-06, 07-10) before accomplishing the feat in each of the last two seasons in Glens Falls.
AHL Hall of Famer Fred Glover holds the league record for most career 20-goal seasons, hitting the mark 16 times during his illustrious career from 1948-68.
QUICK HITS … Norfolk forward Alexandre Picard, who has 3-8-11 during the Admirals’ 18-game winning streak, was also a part of the 2007-08 Syracuse Crunch team that finished the regular season with 15 wins in a row… Robert Slaney, a native of Upper Island Cove, N.L., played in his home province for the first time as a pro on Mar. 13 and scored his first career AHL goal to help Hamilton to a 4-2 win at St. John’s; it was his 62nd career AHL match… Manchester had lost all five previous meetings with the IceCaps before taking 3-1 and 3-0 wins during a weekend visit to Mile One Centre… Fresh off his senior season at Brown University, Mike Clemente made his pro debut with Springfield last weekend, stopped 63 of 65 shots in eight periods of work (2-0-0, 0.76, .969) and became the first Falcons goaltender ever to post a shutout at the XL Center in Hartford… Hershey defenseman Tomas Kundratek totaled six points (3-3-6) over consecutive nights on Mar. 16 (vs. Adirondack) and Mar. 17 (vs. Albany)… Portland rookie Ethan Werek has 3-4-7 in his last five games after totaling 4-4-8 in his first 51 outings… Toronto’s Ben Scrivens has climbed to third in the AHL with a 2.12 goals-against average for the season, allowing two goals or fewer in 16 of his last 19 starts… Five of Brad Malone’s nine goals for Lake Erie this season have been game-winners… Houston’s 1-0 shootout win over Abbotsford on Mar. 17 marked the second time this season that the teams had played each other scoreless for 65 minutes; conversely, the Aeros and Heat also played a 7-6 shootout game on Mar. 6… Oklahoma City is 26-1-2-4 when scoring at least one power-play goal… Syracuse had four victories all season when allowing the game’s first goal before accomplishing the feat in three consecutive games last week… Russ Campbell of Wyoming, Mich., was recognized on Mar. 16 as the five millionth fan to attend a Grand Rapids Griffins game at Van Andel Arena.