AHL Weekly Release: Off and running


ahl06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League’s 73rd season got underway last week with all 29 of the league’s teams beginning on the road to the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Among the 22 teams who have played more than one game, seven still have perfect records through Monday night’s action. The Providence Bruins, who won the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular-season champion in 2007-08, kicked off the new campaign with a 4-3 shootout victory over Lowell on Wednesday night. Vladimir Sobotka, who was recalled to the NHL today by Boston, posted a goal and an assist in that game, and rookie Mikko Lehtonen tallied the winning shootout marker. The P-Bruins then took a 4-3 victory from Springfield on Sunday, with Sobotka scoring the game-winner in overtime.

The Hershey Bears have raced out to a league-best 3-0-0-0 start after capturing a trio of divisional road games during the season’s first week, including an 8-4 win in Wilkes-Barre on opening night and a sweep of their two-game weekend set in Norfolk. The Bears scored 17 times in the three games, with Keith Aucoin (2g, 5a), Graham Mink (4g, 2a), Chris Bourque (2g, 3a) and Alexandre Giroux (2g, 3a) combining for 10 goals and 13 assists.

The Syracuse Crunch, winners of 15 straight games to close last season, opened their 2008-09 slate by sweeping a home-and-home set against arch-rival Rochester last weekend. NHL veteran Mike York has registered four points (1g, 3a) through the season’s first week, tied for the team lead along with Adam Pineault and Tom Sestito. The Crunch’s 17 straight regular-season victories match the all-time high set by the Philadelphia Phantoms from Oct. 22 to Nov. 27, 2004.

Three teams that did not reach the postseason in 2007-08 – Binghamton, Hamilton and Lake Erie – have all jumped out to 2-0-0-0 starts this season. Second-year pro Brian Elliott turned aside 66 of 68 shots in the Senators’ victories, while the Bulldogs won a pair of games in Winnipeg and the Monsters opened with victories over Grand Rapids and Toronto.

After finishing with the top-ranked defense in the AHL last year, Houston (2-0-0-0) continued to stifle the opposition, taking a 2-1 overtime decision from Chicago in the defending Calder Cup champions’ season opener Saturday and then blanking Milwaukee, 3-0, on Monday. That was the first shutout of the season in the AHL and it came courtesy of Nolan Schaefer (27 saves), who had six of the Aeros’ league-leading 11 shutouts in 2007-08.

The week ahead includes home openers in Binghamton and Hamilton on Friday night, and in Bridgeport, Hershey, Springfield, Worcester, Manchester, Chicago and Milwaukee on Saturday.

AHL standings
Scores and schedules
League leaders

GOOD FIRST IMPRESSIONS … The Lowell Devils opened the home portion of their schedule on Saturday night with a 6-4 victory over Worcester in a game that featured notable performances by a pair of newcomers to the Devils’ lineup this season. Rookie right wing Matt Halischuk, a fourth-round draft pick by New Jersey in 2007, tied a Lowell team record with four goals and five points in just his second match as a pro. Halischuk scored twice on the power play, once shorthanded, and once at even strength, becoming the first AHL rookie to tally four goals in a game since Matt D’Agostini for Hamilton on Mar. 16, 2007.

Left wing Jon DiSalvatore, who joined the Devils after posting five straight 20-goal seasons in the AHL, also tied a team record on Saturday with four assists against the Sharks. Overall, DiSalvatore shows five points (1g, 4a) through Lowell’s first two contests, tied with Halischuk and Nicklas Bergfors (1g, 4a) for the team lead.

ROSTER REVIEW … The 29 AHL team rosters submitted to the league office on opening day included 697 players, from Abdelkader (Grand Rapids’ Justin) to Zubov (Binghamton’s Ilya). The average age of an AHL player to start the 2008-09 season was 24 years and 2 months.

The youngest player in the league is 18-year-old forward Nikita Filatov, who was assigned to Syracuse after the opening-day rosters were submitted. The sixth overall pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Filatov (born May 25, 1990) scored a goal in his professional debut, a 4-3 Crunch win at Rochester on Friday.

All told, there were 298 American Hockey League players (42.8 percent) who were 22 years old and under as of Oct. 8, and 464 (66.6 percent) under the age of 25. Providence is the league’s youngest team to start the season, with an average age of just 22 years, 4 months, while Rochester, the youngest team in 2007-08, comes in second at 23 years, 3 months.

ETC. … Hockey Hall of Famer and Hartford hockey legend Gordie Howe was in attendance at the XL Center for Sunday’s game between the Wolf Pack and Bridgeport… Providence opened the season with a pair of extra-time wins (one OT, one shootout) despite coughing up third-period leads in both contests; thanks to prevailing in both, the Bruins are now 71-0-0-0 when leading after two periods since a shootout loss to Hartford on Mar. 26, 2006… All seven of Rockford’s goals through three games have come on the power play… Grand Rapids’ Darren Helm and Lake Erie’s Kyle Cumiskey each had an unsuccessful penalty shot attempt in the first period of the Monsters’ 4-3 overtime win on Saturday, marking the first AHL contest to feature two penalty shots in the same period since Dec. 15, 2007 (Chicago vs. Iowa), and the first in Griffins history… Hershey is 3-0-0-0 for the first time since the 1999-2000 campaign… Rookies accounted for all five of Hamilton’s goals in a 5-3 win at Manitoba on Saturday, including the first career AHL goals for Ryan White, Yannick Weber and Ben Maxwell… Second-year forward Trevor Smith and newcomers Mike Iggulden and Kurtis McLean combined for 10 of Bridgeport’s 15 points in the team’s first three games, helping the Sound Tigers to a 1-1-0-1 mark thus far… Lowell, which was the only club in the AHL not to score a shorthanded goal on home ice last season, netted one in its home opener this year.