AHL Weekly Release: Picking up where they left off


chi_200.jpg SPRINGFIELD, Mass.
… Proving that last season’s offensive juggernaut was no fluke, the Chicago Wolves are out to the AHL’s best start in 2007-08 with a .900 points percentage over their first 15 games.

Head coach John Anderson’s Wolves scored 331 goals in the regular season a year ago, the highest total by an AHL team since 1995-96, and finished with 101 points on their way to a trip to the Western Conference finals for the third time in six seasons. So far this year, Chicago sits fourth in the league averaging 3.60 goals per game, and had earned a standings point in every game before Sunday’s 4-0 loss to San Antonio.

In his first season in the Atlanta Thrashers organization after being acquired in an off-season trade with Vancouver, Jesse Schultz is tops on the Wolves with eight goals and shares the team scoring lead (17 points) with Steve Martins through 15 games. The 25-year-old Schultz scored a career-high 37 goals with Manitoba in 2005-06, and made his NHL debut with the Canucks last season. Tied with six goals and nine assists each are Alexandre Giroux, who scored 42 goals for the Eastern Conference champion Hershey Bears last season, and Jason Krog, who put up 80 points in just 44 games for Chicago in 2006-07.

Brett Sterling, the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award winner as the AHL’s top rookie last year, returned to the Wolves on Nov. 5 after a month in the NHL and has recorded five goals and seven points in seven games with Chicago. After tallying 34 points (16g, 18a) last year, second-year pro Jordan LaVallee has 11 points in his first 15 contests this season, and his four power-play goals are already one more than he notched as a rookie.

In addition to maintaining their offensive firepower, the Wolves have also become a defensive stalwart. Chicago leads the league with 2.07 goals against per game, more than a goal a game fewer than their average last season (3.15). With rookie Ondrej Pavelec getting an early promotion to Atlanta, Fred Brathwaite has carried the bulk of the workload in net and has posted a 9-1-0 record with a 2.25 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Chicago-area native Brian Fahey ranks second among all AHL defensemen with a plus-12 rating (he was a double-digit plus each of his first two full seasons in the league as well), 2004 first-rounder Boris Valabik is a plus-9 in 12 games, and 2007 AHL All-Rookie blueliner Nathan Oystrick has chipped in with a goal and six assists.

The week ahead sees Chicago and Peoria bookending the Thanksgiving holiday with a home-and-home series, beginning Wednesday night at Allstate Arena. After visiting the Rivermen on Friday, the Wolves entertain Rockford on Saturday evening.

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HARTFORD ROLLS INTO FIRST-PLACE TIE … A busy week for the Hartford Wolf Pack yielded some late heroics and left them in a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division. Hartford posted victories over Norfolk, Hamilton, Lowell and Portland last week, winning four games in a five-day stretch for the first time since Dec. 27-31, 2000.

Heavyweight Francis Lessard scored with 5:29 left in the third period – his second goal in less than two minutes – to propel the Wolf Pack to a 3-2 win over the Bulldogs on Friday night. Artem Anisimov did the honors on Saturday, scoring with 3:46 remaining to give Hartford a 3-2 win at the Devils. And Michael Sauer’s first professional goal came with 1:04 left in regulation on Sunday and sent the Pack home with a 4-3 win over Portland.

TOPPLING THE GIANTS … The AHL’s last two teams without a regulation loss this season – Toronto and Chicago – both saw their impressive starts come to an end over the weekend.

The Marlies were 11-0-0-2 before rookie Chris Stewart’s hat trick and Jason Bacashihua’s 35 saves paced Lake Erie to a 5-3 victory over Toronto on Saturday night. And the Wolves’ 13-0-1-0 mark was no match for San Antonio on Sunday, as Joey Tenute scored twice and David LeNeveu pitched a 35-save shutout for a 4-0 Rampage win. It was Chicago’s first home regulation loss to San Antonio in 20 meetings, since Feb. 4, 2004.

CLOSING IN ON 400 … Albany’s Keith Aucoin and Peoria’s Trent Whitfield enter the week on the verge of a significant milestone: Both players are one point shy of 400 for their AHL careers. Aucoin has 127 goals and 272 assists in 406 AHL games, while Whitfield has compiled 160 goals and 239 assists in 482 AHL contests.

Chicago’s Darren Haydar, currently on NHL recall to Atlanta, has 398 points for his AHL career, and Hamilton’s Eric Manlow is sitting on 393. Earlier this season, Binghamton’s Denis Hamel and Toronto’s David Ling surpassed the 400-point mark for their AHL careers.

The leading career AHL scorer among active players is currently San Antonio defenseman Bryan Helmer, with 439 points in 797 AHL games.

ETC.Mathieu Darche (3g, 7a), Kyle Wanvig (6g, 3a) and Craig MacDonald (1g, 5a) combined for 25 points in Norfolk’s four games last week; the rest of the Admirals’ roster combined for seven points… Patrick Thoresen scored two shorthanded goals (including one during a 5-on-3 disadvantage) and two shootout goals in Springfield’s 5-4 win over Norfolk on Friday… Manchester rookie Teddy Purcell has five goals and 10 assists during his current eight-game scoring streak, and now leads the entire AHL in scoring with 25 points on the season… Former Crunch players David Ling (2g, 1a) and Derrick Walser (2a) led Toronto to a 5-4 win at Syracuse on Friday night… Curtis McElhinney stopped 131 of 136 shots over his last five starts for Quad City (4-1-0, 0.99, .963) and was recalled by Calgary after the weekend… Jakub Klepis had five goals and an assist in Hershey’s two weekend wins over Albany… Mike Santorelli scored a pair of one-on-one goals – one on a penalty shot and one in the shootout – against San Antonio’s Josh Tordjman in the Admirals’ 4-3 win on Friday… Geoff Platt recorded six points (3g, 3a) in his first three games for Portland last weekend… Manitoba has allowed the game’s first goal nine times in its last 10 games, but is 7-3-0-0 in that time… Chicago is a perfect 13-0-0-0 this season when scoring at least one goal in a game – both of its losses have been via the shutout.