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AHL Weekly Release: Milwaukee making its move


mil_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Milwaukee Admirals – no strangers to success as winners of the 2004 Calder Cup and finalists again in 2006 – started out slowly from the gate in the 2008-09 season, winning just two of their first seven games (2-4-0-1). But bolstered by a steadily improving offense, the Admirals have shot up the West Division standings of late, going 14-3-0-0 since Halloween and entering the new week on a season-high five-game winning streak.

Guided by second-year head coach Lane Lambert – a former Calder Cup champion himself as a player with the 1986 Adirondack Red Wings – the Admirals are 16-7-0-1 overall through 24 games, good for 33 points. That puts them in a three-way tie with Iowa and Peoria for second place in the competitive West Division, one point back of division-leading Chicago.

Milwaukee averaged 2.71 goals per game over their first seven contests, which ranked them 20th in the AHL at the time. The Admirals have 65 goals in 17 games since, improving that overall mark to 3.50 goals per game, shooting them all the way to the third-best average in the league behind Hershey (4.11) and Hamilton (3.63). Milwaukee has netted at least four goals in all five games of its current winning streak, outscoring opponents 26-13 during the run.

Second-year pro Mike Santorelli posted just six points over his first 12 games, but he has put together a 12-game scoring streak since (8-15-23) and ranks second on the team overall with 29 points (9-20-29). Third-year pro Cal O’Reilly, who led Milwaukee and ranked fifth in the AHL with 79 points in 2007-08, has a team-high 32 points (5-27-32) this year, and on Saturday he played in his 160th consecutive regular-season game.

Andreas Thuresson and rookie Nick Spaling have each chipped in six goals and nine assists for the offense, and Thuresson shows a team-high plus-15 rating thus far. Antti Pihlstrom racked up eight goals and 12 points in 15 games this season before parent-club Nashville summoned him to the NHL on Nov. 24. First-year pro Ryan Jones has averaged a point-per-game (6-4-10) for Milwaukee and has also chipped in six points in 16 NHL games with the Predators. Other top forwards on the Admirals include Stephen Werner (6-4-10), Kelsey Wilson (5-4-9) and Patric Hornqvist, who has seven points (3-4-7) in 10 games since his assignment from Nashville.

Alexander Sulzer ranks second among AHL defensemen with 19 points (4-15-19), 14 of which have come on a Milwaukee power play that is second-best in the AHL at 22.3 percent. Cody Franson, an AHL All-Rookie blueliner a season ago, shows 15 points (5-10-15) and a plus-7 rating in 20 games this year. Goaltender Drew MacIntyre, a two-time 20-game winner in the AHL and a Second Team AHL All-Star with Manitoba last season, is out to an 11-5-1 start (2.74, .909) for Milwaukee this year, including a 10-2-0 mark over his last 12 decisions. Rookie counterpart Mark Dekanich (5-2-0) is currently riding a three-game winning streak.

The week ahead has the Admirals playing four games in five nights, beginning with a home tilt on Wednesday against Houston. Milwaukee then travels to Grand Rapids for games on Friday and Saturday before returning to the Bradley Center to tangle with Iowa on Sunday.

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PHANTOMS FLYING HIGH … The Philadelphia Phantoms have also been red-hot over the past two weeks, beginning December with a five-game winning streak to tie Milwaukee for the longest active run in the league. The Phantoms, who previously won six in a row from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7, defeated Springfield by a 5-2 count on Friday behind three points (2-1-3) from Jared Ross and a goal and an assist from rookie Claude Giroux. Giroux then extended his goal-scoring streak to three games (4-1-5) when he notched the game-winner in Philadelphia’s 2-1 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and he now leads all AHL rookies with 27 points (14-13-27) on the season.

That win on Sunday pulled the Phantoms into a tie with the Penguins for third place in the East Division at 34 points apiece. Philadelphia has now won three straight games against the in-state rival Penguins, and the teams will meet twice more this month before the calendar turns to 2009.

VARLAMOV NABS FIRST NHL WIN IN STYLE … Goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 32 saves in his National Hockey League debut on Saturday night to help the Washington Capitals defeat the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1. He was named the game’s first star for his efforts, which were seen nationally on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada and on the NHL Network in the United States.

Varlamov was recalled on Friday from the AHL’s Hershey Bears, where he is 10-3-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average and one shutout in 13 appearances. A 20-year-old native of Samara, Russia, Varlamov is in his rookie season after being drafted by Washington in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

KEEPING IT CLOSE … The Lake Erie Monsters went 3-1-0-0 in a stretch of four games in five nights last week, with all four games being decided by either one- or two-goal margins.

That has been the trend for this season for the Monsters, who have had 21 of their 25 games thus far decided by one or two goals, including 14 in a row. Lake Erie is 6-5-1-2 in one-goal games and 3-4-0-0 in two-goal games on the campaign.

Nigel Williams, a second-round draft pick (51st overall) by parent-club Colorado in 2006, capped the weekend by scoring the game-winning goal against Peoria in Lake Erie’s 2-1 victory on Sunday, which marked the Monsters’ second win over the Rivermen in a five-day span.

ETC. … The top six teams in the West Division enter the week separated by just four points… San Antonio’s Josh Tordjman was 0-10-1 with a 3.63 goals-against average and an .878 save percentage from Oct. 18 until Nov. 29; he is 6-0-0 (1.16, .954) with three shutouts since… Mike Brodeur played six games in eight nights for Rochester from Dec. 7-14 and went 4-2-0 (1.16, .958) with two shutouts… Steve Downie returned to Norfolk from parent-club Tampa Bay last week and posted six assists in two games, giving him 12 assists in just eight games for the Admirals on the season… Michael Ryan’s hat trick on Friday in Manchester was the River Rats’ first since Cody McLeod accomplished the feat against Philadelphia on Jan. 20, 2007… Monarchs captain Marty Murray has picked up eight points (2-6-8) in his last five games after totaling eight points (1-7-8) in his first 21 games of the campaign… Hershey’s 11-game winning streak came to an end with a pair of losses in Texas last weekend, including a 6-1 loss at Houston in the teams’ first meeting since the 2002 Calder Cup Playoffs… After going 0-2-0-1 in the first three games of its season series with Worcester, Hartford defeated the Sharks twice in three days last weekend.