TURNING UP THE HEAT … A seven-game road trip couldn’t slow down the Abbotsford Heat, and now the Calgary Flames’ top affiliate sits with the best record in the Western Conference one-quarter of the way through their 2011-12 schedule.
The Heat, who have played 13 of their first 19 games on the road, went 6-1-0-0 on their trip which started and ended in Houston with stops in Cedar Park, San Antonio and Oklahoma City in between. Abbotsford (13-5-1-0) returns home with a two-point lead atop the West Division.
As he has been all season, Leland Irving was the Heat’s go-to man between the pipes, starting all seven games of the roadie. Irving, who has gotten 88 percent of Abbotsford’s playing time in the crease this year, capped the trip with a 1-0 win over Houston on Nov. 20, stopping all 34 shots in regulation and overtime before turning aside all five Aeros attempts in the shootout. Named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for his efforts last week (3-1-0, 1.47, .948, two shutouts), Irving is now an impressive 17-6 in 23 career shootouts.
The addition of Krys Kolanos in late October continues to pay off for Abbotsford. Kolanos has nine goals and eight assists for 17 points in 10 games, joining Jon Rheault (9-8-17) and Greg Nemisz (7-10-17) atop the team’s scoring leaderboard. The Heat are averaging 3.70 goals per game with Kolanos in the lineup, and 1.67 goals per game without him.
Abbotsford, 11-2-0-0 on the road this season after winning 16 road games all of last year (16-18-2-4), is home for a quick two-game series with San Antonio this weekend before heading back out for a four-game swing through the Midwest.
NORTHEAST UP FOR GRABS … When the AHL realigned its divisions during the offseason, the five-team Northeast was left with just one team that qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2011. But over the first quarter of 2011-12, the quintet has made up the AHL’s most competitive division from top to bottom.
Connecticut, which has made the postseason in 13 of its 14 seasons in Hartford, sits atop the Northeast with a record of 9-4-1-2 (21 points) entering the new week. A three-way tie for second place locks Springfield (10-7-0-0), Albany (9-6-1-1) and Bridgeport (9-7-2-0) at 20 points each, and Adirondack comes in at 19 points on a 9-6-0-1 mark.
The 2011-12 playoff format says that the three division winners plus the five teams with the next best records will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs in each conference. All five Northeast Division teams currently occupy a top-eight spot in the Eastern Conference.
WILD ABOUT DEVELOPMENT … Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Colorado at the Xcel Energy Center on Nov. 17 had a decidedly AHL flavor thanks in large part to the relationship between the NHL-leading Wild and their AHL affiliate in Houston.
Of the 18 skaters in the Wild lineup that night, 12 were former Houston Aeros, including six – Colton Gillies, Nate Prosser, Warren Peters, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon and Kris Fredheim (in his NHL debut) – who played for current Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo with Houston’s Western Conference championship team in 2010-11.
PENALTY SHOT PROWESS … Jeremy Smith accomplished a rare feat in Milwaukee’s 3-1 win in Grand Rapids on Nov. 19: The Michigan native (Dearborn) and 2007 second-round draft pick by Nashville denied Chris Conner and Tomas Tatar to become the first AHL goaltender to stop two penalty shots in the same game since Bridgeport’s Wade Dubielewicz accomplished the feat against Hershey on Dec. 10, 2005.
Earlier in the week, Springfield goaltender Manny Legace faced Worcester forward Mike Connolly on a penalty shot 52 seconds into overtime and saved both the attempt and the game, as just over a minute later the Falcons won, 3-2, on a goal by Alexandre Giroux. Since the 1992-93 season, there have been 27 penalty shots taken in overtime of an AHL game (including four in the playoffs); goalies have stopped 25 of them.
All told, goaltenders have turned aside 14 of 19 penalty shots (73.7 percent) in the AHL this season.
ETC. … Peoria’s Brett Sterling, Bridgeport’s David Ullstrom, Norfolk’s Carter Ashton and Oklahoma City’s Philippe Cornet began the week tied for the AHL lead with 12 goals apiece; Sterling and Ullstrom also began the week on NHL recall to St. Louis and the N.Y. Islanders, respectively… Alec Richards made 48 saves – the most by an AHL goaltender this season – in Rockford’s 3-2 shootout win at Charlotte on Nov. 18; in a rematch two days later, the Checkers scored four times on 21 shots and chased Richards early in the third period of a 4-3 win… In his first AHL action of the season, Rostislav Olesz had four points (2-2) in the two games for the IceHogs… Jordan Nolan scored two shorthanded goals in Manchester’s 3-2 overtime win over Worcester on Nov. 18… Springfield’s Martin St. Pierre enters the week with a 10-game scoring streak (3-13-16), longest in the league this year… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 8-0-0-0 road start came to an end as the Penguins went 0-1-0-2 on their weekend trip to Portland, Manchester and Worcester… Sporting the top two offenses in the league, Norfolk and St. John’s split a two-game series at Mile One Centre, 6-2 Admirals and 3-1 IceCaps… Albany is 8-0-1-1 in one-goal games this season, but 1-6-0-0 in games decided by two goals or more… Springfield has made three trips beyond regulation this season and won all three games in the overtime period… Connecticut has needed OT in eight of its first 16 games… West Division teams are a combined 13-4-0-1 against the North Division… Chicago (10,913), Lake Erie (10,202) and Hershey (10,036) all drew Saturday night crowds of over 10,000 on Nov. 19, while San Antonio welcomed 10,534 fans to a school-day matinee on Nov. 15.