SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Last year’s 100-point regular season was a distant memory after they were swept out of the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. But the Peoria Rivermen are out to prove that they can be a force in a division that has produced five straight Calder Cup finalists.
Peoria will enter December in fourth place in the West Division, but without a regulation loss in its previous six games (4-0-1-1). And with a win in their next game, the Rivermen would find themselves on pace for another 100-point season at the one-quarter mark of their second AHL campaign. The Rivermen are an impressive 8-3-1-1 this season against foes from the West Division, which boasts four teams with points percentages of better than .600.
Marek Schwarz, a first-round draft pick (17th overall) by the parent St. Louis Blues in 2004, owns a 7-2-0 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Rivermen this season. The 20-year-old native of the Czech Republic has not lost a game in regulation since his debut vs. Chicago on Oct. 7.
Trent Whitfield leads the Rivermen with 10 goals and 20 points on the year, and scored the game-winning goals in both ends of Peoria’s home-and-home sweep of Omaha over the weekend. A veteran of 174 National Hockey League games, Whitfield is the only Peoria player averaging better than a point per game in 2006-07.
David Backes, a rookie out of Minnesota State University-Mankato and a second-round pick by the Blues in the 2003 draft, has scored nine goals, including a team-leading seven on the power play. Jon DiSalvatore is second on the team with 15 points, and three of his four goals have been of the game-winning variety. Ryan Ramsay is in the midst of a four-game scoring streak (1g, 4a) after totaling two points in his first 12 games played this season.
Six points back of first-place Chicago with two games in hand, head coach Dave Baseggio leads Peoria back into action on Friday night when they host the Iowa Stars at Carver Arena.
THREE-TEAM SCORING RACE … With exactly one quarter of the AHL’s 2006-07 season in the books, the league’s top seven scorers come exclusively from three teams – the Chicago Wolves, the Norfolk Admirals and the Worcester Sharks.
Chicago’s trio of Jason Krog, Darren Haydar and Brett Sterling continues to generate incredible numbers as the season moves on. Krog leads the AHL with 43 points, finding the scoresheet in each of his 20 games with the Wolves and also scoring a goal during his one-game NHL recall to Atlanta on Nov. 24. Haydar’s 21-game scoring streak (14g, 27a) is the AHL’s longest in the last 13 years, and Sterling’s 18 goals and 32 points pace all rookies.
Brandon Bochenski has recorded 16 points in his last seven games for Norfolk to vault into a tie for third place in the AHL scoring race, joining teammate Martin St. Pierre with 32 points on the year. In Worcester, Mathieu Darche leads the league with 19 goals in 20 games and rookie forward Joe Pavelski added 26 points in 16 contests before his NHL recall to San Jose, where he scored a goal in his debut vs. Los Angeles on Nov. 22.
BEASTS IN THE EAST … The East Division features three teams who hit the quarter pole on pace to challenge the AHL’s single-season records for wins (57) and points (124) in a season, both set by the 1992-93 Binghamton Senators. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (15-3-1-1) is on a 60-win pace; Hershey (13-2-1-3), which plays Game 20 on Wednesday, is on pace for 126 points, and Norfolk’s 14-3-2-1 mark projects to 56 wins and 124 points over 80 games.
ETC. … Mike Wall, 5-1-1 in seven appearances for Portland this season, made 19 saves in his NHL debut on Sunday, earning the win in Anaheim’s 5-3 victory over Calgary… Matt Foy had seven points in three weekend games for Houston, including a third-period hat trick in Friday’s 5-3 win over San Antonio… Alexandre Giroux has six goals in his last three games for Hershey, including a hat trick in Sunday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton… Jason LaBarbera’s 34-save blanking of Portland on Sunday was the Manchester goalie’s 23rd career AHL shutout, moving him into a tie for ninth place on the AHL’s all-time list, as well as his 100th career AHL victory… Hartford’s Jarkko Immonen has bagged six goals in his last six games after going scoreless in his first 13 outings of the season… Marty Sertich scored a goal in each of Iowa’s four games last week… North Division leader Rochester has a 12-point lead over its nearest pursuers, Hamilton and Manitoba; in the Atlantic Division, 11 points separate first-place Portland from last-place Hartford… The top four power plays in the AHL reside in the East Division: Norfolk (24.6 percent), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (24.2), Philadelphia (22.0) and Hershey (21.5)… Fellow East Division resident Bridgeport ranks last in the league on the power play (12.5 percent) but first on the penalty kill (91.2)… After scoring a total of 11 goals during its seven-game losing streak from Nov. 7-18, Grand Rapids scored 11 times in weekend wins over Chicago (6-4) and San Antonio (5-3)… Friday’s 4-2 win over Albany gave Philadelphia an all-time record of 10-0-1 on the day after U.S. Thanksgiving… Norfolk has won five overtime games this season, by scores of 6-5, 5-4, 4-3, 3-2 and 2-1… There have been 19 hat tricks recorded in the AHL this season, including nine in the last 10 days.