WEEKLY RELEASE #11
CROWDED AT THE TOP … The three-team race at the top of the West Division is also a battle for supremacy in the AHL’s overall standings, as the Oklahoma City Barons, Houston Aeros and Abbotsford Heat continue to jockey for positioning.
At 20-7-0-2, the Barons begin the week with the most points (42), the most wins (20) and the highest points percentage (.724) in the AHL. The Aeros (16-5-2-7), having played one more game, are right behind Oklahoma City with 41 standings points but also trail the Heat (19-8-2-0, 40 pts.) in points percentage, .690 to .683.
The logjam in the West isn’t the only tight battle going on; through games of Dec. 19, four of the AHL’s six divisions were led by no more than one point. In the East, Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Norfolk were even at 37 points apiece; in the Atlantic, St. John’s had a one point lead over Manchester; and in the Midwest, Charlotte was hanging onto a one-point cushion on Milwaukee.
TAYLOR MADE … Signed to a contract by Abbotsford on Dec. 1, Danny Taylor has stepped in since Leland Irving’s recall to the NHL and made the most of his opportunity, keeping the Heat positioned near the top of the AHL standings.
The sixth-year pro and former Los Angeles Kings draft pick has made five starts for Abbotsford and has a record of 4-1-0 with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage taking over for Irving, who led the league in wins at the time of his recall. Including previous stints with Manchester, Syracuse and Springfield, Taylor has a career record of 33-19-4 (2.55, .917) with five shutouts in 66 AHL appearances.
Irving made his NHL debut with Calgary on Dec. 16, stopping 39 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss at Florida.
HAVE STICKS, WILL TRAVEL … When Mark Mancari earned his first recall of the season on Dec. 15, both the Chicago Wolves and the parent Vancouver Canucks were on the road. Fortunately, their travel schedules had aligned nicely.
While Mancari and the Wolves were in Charlotte for a two-game set with the Checkers, the Canucks were 170 miles away in Raleigh preparing to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. And after Daniel Sedin woke up with back spasms, Mancari was whisked to the RBC Center for his Canucks debut.
Mancari, a five-time 20-goal scorer in the AHL, logged three shots on goal in 11 shifts for Vancouver and remained with the big club while the Wolves split a pair in Charlotte.
DEVILS GET THEIR DUE … It took 19 tries and nearly seven years, but the Albany Devils finally got in the win column against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Dec. 19, defeating the Penguins, 2-1. Rookie winger Mike Hoeffel, a 2007 second-round draft pick by New Jersey, scored both goals for the Devils, including the game-winner with 4:38 left in regulation.
Wilkes-Barre had won its previous 18 meetings against New Jersey’s top prospects, and all 14 against the A-Devils franchise including its four seasons in Lowell (2006-10). The last Penguins loss to a New Jersey affiliate had been a 2-1 defeat to the Albany River Rats on Apr. 1, 2005.
SHOOTING GALLERY … There were four penalty shots awarded during AHL action on Dec. 17, tied for the most on a single night in the last 20 years. Worcester’s Sean Sullivan and Adirondack’s Ben Holmstrom were successful on their attempts, while Portland’s Matt Watkins and Connecticut’s Jordan Owens (in overtime vs. Providence) were not.
Shooters are now 8-for-32 (25.0 percent) on penalty shots in the AHL this season.
BEAR NECESSITIES … With a week and a half still remaining before the calendar turns, the Hershey Bears are getting in an offensive groove.
The Bears, locked in a three-way tie for first place in the East Division, are tied for second in the league in offense averaging 3.66 goals per game for the season. In December, that average is up to 4.33 goals per game as Hershey has won seven of its first nine games this month. The Bears are also 14-for-39 on the power play in December, boosting their league-best efficiency to a remarkable 31.3 percent for the season (41-for-131).
The top four December scorers in the league all reside in Hershey, with Keith Aucoin (4-13-17), Jacob Micflikier (3-12-15), Chris Bourque (5-10-15) and Ryan Potulny (6-8-14) combining for 61 points in nine games.
QUICK HITS … Rockford forward Brandon Pirri had multiple points in all three IceHogs games last week; Pirri had a streak of five consecutive multiple-point games from Nov. 16-25… St. John’s defenseman Paul Postma has points in eight straight games (2-11-13), the longest scoring streak by an AHL blueliner this season… Sixth-year pro Greg Rallo, a Calder Cup finalist with Manitoba (2009) and Texas (2010), made his NHL debut with Florida on Dec. 18… Jean-Francois Jacques scored all three Syracuse goals in a 4-3 loss to Adirondack on Dec. 17, his first hat trick since a four-goal game on Feb. 16, 2007… After earning five of six points in a weekend visit to New England, St. John’s sits at 10-0-2-1 on the road this season… First-place Connecticut is 8-2-1-2 against the Northeast Division this season… Worcester is 1-3-1-1 against Manchester this season, and 12-4-2-2 vs. the rest of the AHL; the Sharks’ only two regulation losses on the road (7-2-3-2) have come at the Verizon Wireless Arena… Monday marked the 75th birthday of Hersheypark Arena, which opened on Dec. 19, 1936, and was home to the Hershey Bears until 2002… The league’s three-day Christmas break ends with a 1 p.m. ET Boxing Day matinee when Hamilton and Toronto face off at the Air Canada Centre.
The entire American Hockey League extends best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy holiday season.