AHL Weekly Release: Streak has Aeros in thick of race

hou06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Entrenched in a battle for a playoff spot in the highly competitive West Division, the Houston Aeros have soared to seven straight wins to move into fourth place, tied with Milwaukee and one point ahead of Peoria.

All seven victories during the streak have come against opponents from outside the division, where Houston is 17-5-1-1 this season. And all seven victories have come without their All-Star goaltender Nolan Schaefer, out due to injury for the last month. Since Schaefer went down less than two minutes into a 7-1 win at Peoria on Feb. 12, Barry Brust has shouldered the load in the Aeros’ crease, piloting them on their winning streak by allowing just nine goals in the seven games (7-0-0, 1.24, .956) and posting three shutouts along the way.

Houston ranks 26th in the 29-team AHL in offense but is at the top of the heap in defense, allowing a league-low 2.28 goals per game. Schaefer (17-12-0, 2.10, .924) and Brust (16-10-3, 2.21, .925) are the only teammates who are both among the AHL’s top 10 goaltenders, and both are also in the top five in save percentage. Their eight total shutouts are one shy of the club record, set by current NHL’ers Mike Smith and Josh Harding in 2004-05.

Houston is also second in the league on the penalty kill at 87.1 percent efficiency, although they are last on the power play (14.0 percent). The Aeros have registered 46 consecutive successful penalty kills over their last 10 games.

Offensively, forward Adrian Foster is having a career year in his first season in Houston, already setting personal highs in goals (14), assists (20), points (34) and – perhaps most significantly – games played (59). A first-round draft pick by New Jersey in 2001, Foster was limited by injuries to just 122 games total over his first five professional seasons.

All-Star defenseman Erik Reitz also has 34 points on the year for Houston and his plus-11 rating is first among team blueliners. Second-year pro Ryan Hamilton has surpassed his rookie output with 11 goals and 28 points, including a goal in each of his last three games. Peter Olvecky is tied for the team lead with 14 goals and has 26 points in just 44 games; and Benoit Pouliot, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft, potted the overtime goal in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over Rochester.

First-year Houston head coach Kevin Constantine, a veteran of nearly 400 games as an NHL head coach with New Jersey, Pittsburgh and San Jose, has already guided the Aeros (34-22-2-3) to more wins and points than they amassed all of last season. The club puts its seven-game winning streak on the line Thursday when a nine-game homestand continues against Rockford. 

FIVE IS ENOUGH … When Providence snapped an 0-3-1-1 slide with a 5-2 win at Manchester on Saturday night, it continued an impressive run of needing the fingers on just one hand to count a Bruins winless streak. The B’s have had eight separate five-game skids over the last seven years, but have not gone six games without a win since an 0-4-1-1 stretch in March 2001.

With a magic number sitting at four points, Providence is on the verge of becoming the first team to clinch a berth in the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Providence Bruins –
Longest winless streaks since 2001-02
5Mar. 1-7, 20080311
5Dec. 30, 2006 –
Jan. 6, 2007
5Mar. 4-12, 20050401
5Jan. 15-26, 20050500
5Oct. 23-Nov. 6, 20040311
5Mar. 15-22, 20030230
5Nov. 30-Dec. 7, 20020410
5Feb. 16-22, 20020410

… The five-player trade between the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 26 paid off for the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night, as Josh Gratton scored the winning goal and David LeNeveu made 31 saves in a 2-1 win at San Antonio.

Gratton and LeNeveu were both playing in San Antonio when they were acquired by the Rangers, along with Fredrik Sjostrom, in exchange for Marcel Hossa and Al Montoya just prior to the NHL’s trade deadline. Montoya made 28 stops Saturday against his former Pack mates.

The teams meet again at Hartford’s XL Center this Friday.

LEAP KROGJason Krog secured his first 30-goal season as a professional with both Chicago goals in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Peoria. Krog’s previous career high was 29, accomplished last season with the Wolves (26), the Atlanta Thrashers (1) and the New York Rangers (2).

Krog has played in the Calder Cup Finals (Bridgeport, 2002) and the Stanley Cup Finals (Anaheim, 2003), and participated in his first AHL All-Star Classic earlier this season. His 84 points in 62 games give him a 10-point cushion over the field in his pursuit of his first AHL scoring championship.

AHL standings
Scores and schedules
League leaders

ETC. … Like Krog, Providence’s Pascal Pelletier and Portland’s Geoff Platt also hit the 30-goal mark last week… Six of Houston forward Steve Kelly’s 10 goals this season have been game-winners… Rockford rookie Jack Skille scored three goals – including the overtime winner – and assisted on the other one in a 4-3 victory over Iowa on Sunday… Brad Richardson recorded four points (1g, 3a) in the third period of Lake Erie’s 5-3 win over Grand Rrapids on Saturday night… Rich Peverley has recorded 12 points (4g, 8a) in his last five games for Milwaukee… Jean-Sebastien Aubin has stopped 114 of 119 shots (3-1-0, 1.26, .958) in four starts since joining Portland… Following Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win in Glens Falls, N.Y., Albany’s Michael Leighton is 6-0-1 with a 1.12 GAA and .966 save percentage against Binghamton this season… Toronto’s David Ling has six goals in six games against his former team Syracuse this season, and six goals in 48 games against the rest of the AHL… A night after erasing a two-goal third-period deficit in a 4-3 win at Manchester, Hershey coughed up 4-2 lead in a 5-4 loss at Springfield… Syracuse has earned points in nine straight games (6-0-0-3) and is 10-1-0-4 in its last 15.