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AHL Weekly Release: Sens surging, eye playoff return

WEEKLY RELEASE #18

bng_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Boosted by a well-balanced offense and the league’s most potent power play, the Binghamton Senators have steadily been climbing the East Division standings as they look to bring Calder Cup Playoff hockey back to New York’s Southern Tier for the first time since 2005.

Binghamton enters the new week with points in five straight games (3-0-2-0) and in third place in the East Division, one point up on Bridgeport and five points back of second-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Senators’ success comes despite having seen 10 players skate in a combined 113 NHL games with Ottawa already this season, as well as the promotion of head coach Cory Clouston to the same post with the big club on Feb. 2.

The Senators’ offense features seven players with 10 or more goals to their credit, led by Josh Hennessy’s 15 (15-15-30). Hennessy is currently on a four-game scoring streak (3-2-5) and is on pace to secure his fourth consecutive 20-goal season to begin his professional career. Second-year pro Ilya Zubov leads the B-Sens with 37 points (12-25-37) in just 36 AHL games, to go with two points in 10 games with Ottawa. His 37 AHL points are just one point shy of the 38 he posted in 74 games as a rookie with Binghamton in 2007-08.

Former AHL All-Rookie forward and Stanley Cup champion Ryan Shannon averaged nearly a point per game (10-25-35 in 36 games) with the B-Sens prior to getting the call to Ottawa last week, and 2008 draft pick Zack Smith ranks among the AHL’s rookie leaders with 30 points (13-17-30) on the campaign. In his first season of North American hockey, Danish-born pivot Peter Regin has 23 points and a team-best plus-8 rating in 36 games with Binghamton while also scoring his first NHL goal in six appearances with Ottawa.

The losses of Brian Lee and Brendan Bell to Ottawa early in the season opened the door for other defensemen to carry the load. 2009 AHL All-Star Mattias Karlsson leads all Binghamton blueliners with 29 points (4-25-29), 22 of which have come on a Senators power play that ranks first in the AHL at 23.4 percent. Tomas Kudelka has registered seven points (2-5-7) in his last five games, and the second-year pro has 20 points in 49 games after coming into the year with five points in 51 AHL contests.

Goaltender Brian Elliott was 18-8-1 in 30 AHL appearances before being recalled on Jan. 9 to Ottawa, where he continues to impress. Martin Gerber replaced Elliott in Binghamton and has gone 5-3-0 with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in eight outings.

Curtis Hunt makes his home debut as Binghamton’s head coach on Wednesday when the Senators open a four-game homestand against Albany. The Senators host Hershey on Friday – the first of three home-ice match-ups with the division-leading Bears this month – and Philadelphia visits the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday.

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HAYDAR JOINS ELITE COMPANY … It was a tough couple of days on the ice for Grand Rapids, but captain Darren Haydar provided a bright spot when he registered his 500th career AHL regular-season point with the Griffins’ lone goal in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Lake Erie. Haydar added two more points in Sunday’s 10-5 defeat in Toronto and now shows 189 goals and 313 assists for 502 points in 468 career AHL games, becoming the 73rd member of the AHL’s 500-point club.

A two-time Calder Cup champion and the AHL’s 2007 scoring champion and MVP, Haydar is already the league’s career playoff scoring leader with 55 goals and 124 points in the postseason.

RIVER RATS TOP PIRATES IN GLENS FALLS … A standing-room-only crowd of 5,462 watched the Albany River Rats take a 3-2 shootout win over the Portland Pirates on Saturday afternoon at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The River Rats have won both home games played in Glens Falls, N.Y., this season with two more visits remaining (Mar. 8 vs. Syracuse, Apr. 3 vs. Worcester).

The game held special significance for Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen, whose father, Bill, was bench boss of the Adirondack Red Wings from 1983-89. Bill Dineen guided the Red Wings to Calder Cup titles in 1986 and 1989, clinching the championship at the Civic Center on both occasions.

The Pirates and River Rats are set to square off again on Tuesday evening, this time at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, home of the NHL’s Sabres, who are in the first year of an affiliation agreement with Portland.

AHL OFFICIALS SHOW SUPPORT … This past weekend, referees and linesmen across the AHL wore special helmet decals to support Hustle for a Cure – The John D’Amico Fund, which was established in memory of longtime on-ice official and Hockey Hall of Famer John D’Amico, who lost his battle with leukemia in 2005.

Hustle for a Cure is dedicated to raising funds and awareness towards finding a cure for pediatric blood cancers through efforts in both Canada and the United States.

ETC.Tim Stapleton scored four goals and Andre Deveaux added three in Toronto’s 10-5 win over Grand Rapids on Sunday; they are the first teammates to record hat tricks in the same game since Michael Ryan and Chris Taylor did it for Rochester in a 9-4 win over Syracuse on Mar. 31, 2006… Springfield’s Ryan Potulny has netted a goal in each of his last five AHL games, accounting for five of the Falcons’ nine goals in those contests… Rochester’s Michal Repik has a goal in four straight outings after scoring once in his previous 19 games… Ryan Vesce’s scoring streak for Worcester has hit 16 games (8-17-25)… Lowell rookie Matt Halischuk’s 15 points in 18 games this season include a five-point night (4g, 1a on Oct. 11 vs. Worcester) and a four-point effort (2g, 2a on Feb. 6 at Springfield)… Providence rookie Mikko Lehtonen has seven goals in seven games against Worcester this season, including four in their last two meetings… The Bruins have won a combined 13 of 15 meetings this season with Springfield (7-1-0-0) and Worcester (6-0-1-0)… Reebok/AHL Player of the Week John Curry has won 16 of 19 decisions (16-3-0) for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton since Dec. 13, posting a 2.02 goals-against average and .929 save percentage over that span… Hamilton All-Star defenseman Yannick Weber has 12 goals for the season, eight of them on the power play… Riku Helenius, Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick in 2006, pitched a 41-save shutout for Norfolk in his first career AHL start vs. Bridgeport on Friday… Houston has played a league-high 11 shootouts this season (3-8) and has lost each of its last four trips to the tiebreaker… Binghamton is 18-3-3-1 against opponents outside the East Division… Manitoba, 13-2-0-2 in its last 17 games overall, kicked off a 10-game road stretch by earning three of a possible four points over the weekend.