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AHL Weekly Release: Young Devils coming on strong


low06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Lowell Devils are one of the AHL’s youngest teams this season, showing 10 players on the current roster who have yet to celebrate their 23rd birthday. But the Devils have been jelling of late, putting up a 6-2-0-2 record in their last 10 tilts to pull into a tie with Worcester for the Atlantic Division’s final Calder Cup Playoff berth.

Head coach Kurt Kleinendorst’s Devils are seven games over .500 since Christmas (14-7-0-2) and enter the new week at 25-21-1-5 (56 points) overall, attempting to bring Calder Cup Playoff hockey back to the city of Lowell for the first time since 2005.

Seven of Lowell’s top 15 scorers this season are rookies, a group led by Russian-born winger Vladimir Zharkov. The 2006 third-round draft pick has put up 23 points and a team-best plus-16 rating in 42 games for Lowell in his first season of North American hockey.

Michael Swift shows 21 points (9-12-21) in 35 games after hitting the 100-point mark last season for Niagara (OHL), where his teammates included fellow Devils rookie Matthew Corrente.

First-year pro Matt Halischuk’s quick start was slowed by injury, but he still shows 10 goals and 18 points in 21 AHL games. Other Lowell freshmen making an impact include touted defenseman Tyler Eckford (2-19-21) and former second-round draft pick Alexander Vasyunov (9-8-17).

Although not a rookie by AHL definitions, defenseman Anssi Salmela has had an impressive debut coming over from his native Finland. He has 23 points in 36 games with Lowell while also contributing three assists in 15 NHL contests with New Jersey.

The young Devils have also benefited from a strong group of experienced forwards. Rod Pelley, who spent the bulk of 2007-08 in the NHL with New Jersey, registered five points in two games last weekend to push his season total to 28 points (11-17-28); third-year pro Patrick Davis has already set career highs in goals (11) and points (23) through 50 games; former first-rounder Nicklas Bergfors (11-21-32) is on pace to top his career best of 40 points; and Jon DiSalvatore leads the team with 16 goals and 44 points as he guns for his sixth 20-goal effort in as many AHL seasons. Pascal Rheaume is a former Calder Cup (1995) and Stanley Cup (2003) champion in the Devils organization, while Chad Wiseman reached the Calder Cup Finals with Hershey in 2007.

An injury suffered by Devils icon Martin Brodeur opened the door for Scott Clemmensen to join the big club after appearing in Lowell’s first eight games. In turn, that paved the way in Lowell for rookie netminder Jeff Frazee, who is now tied for fifth in the AHL with 20 wins (20-9-4, 2.59, .923) and was named an AHL All-Star.

The Devils host Albany on Wednesday before playing 21 of their final 27 games against division foes; Lowell is an impressive 22-13-0-2 within the Atlantic this season. Hartford visits Tsongas Arena on Friday before the Devils head north to Manchester on Saturday and return home to face Worcester on Sunday.

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BYLSMA JOINS NHL COACHING RANKS … Another National Hockey League team turned to the AHL coaching ranks on Sunday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins named Wilkes-Barre/Scranton bench boss Dan Bylsma as the big club’s interim head coach.

Bylsma’s Baby Pens extended their season-high winning streak to eight games with a 5-2 triumph over Worcester on Sunday, and at 35-16-1-2 Wilkes-Barre owns the best record in the Eastern Conference (.676) at the start of the week.

Bylsma, who was an assistant under Todd Richards when the Penguins reached the Calder Cup Finals in 2008, becomes the second East Division head coach to be promoted to his NHL affiliate in a two-week span after Binghamton’s Cory Clouston ascended to the top job in Ottawa on Feb. 2. All told, 16 former AHL head coaches are now head coaches in the NHL.

LIGHTING THE LAMP … Teams across the AHL put together an offensive show this past weekend. In 21 games on Saturday and Sunday combined, 147 goals were scored, an average of seven per game over that two-day span. Three teams – Lowell, Quad City and Houston – reached the seven-goal plateau in Saturday’s action, and Portland registered a 7-6 shootout win over Lowell in Sunday’s highest-scoring affair.

Three rookies – Mikko Lehtonen of Providence, Matt Beaudoin from Houston and Tim Kennedy of Portland – all tallied hat tricks over the weekend. Two-time AHL All-Star Teddy Purcell racked up two goals and two assists for Manchester on Saturday, the same night Quad City took a 7-3 win over San Antonio behind five points by Carsen Germyn (1-4-5) in the second period alone.

CLEAR DAY SET … Clear Day for the 2008-09 season has been set for Wednesday, March 11. Each AHL member club is required to submit its Clear Day list to the league office by 3:00 p.m. ET on that day.

Only those 22 players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to complete in the remainder of the AHL regular season and in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension. Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts after Clear Day, but only once their respective junior or college seasons are complete.

ETC. … Manitoba is 12-0-0-2 in its last 14 road games, one shy of the single-season AHL record for most consecutive road games with a point… Toronto has scored 24 goals during its current four-game winning streak, including 15 goals in two victories over Grand Rapids during that time… Syracuse is playing 19 of its final 29 games at home… Lowell took 26 shots in the third period of Sunday’s 7-6 shootout loss to Portland, scoring twice in the final 24 seconds to force overtime… Syracuse’s Sebastian Dahm (40 saves) and Grand Rapids’ Jimmy Howard (39 saves) combined to stop 79 of 81 shots in regulation and overtime before the Crunch pulled out a 2-1 shootout win on Friday… Houston was 4-for-4 on the power play in its 7-6 win at Iowa on Saturday… After making his NHL debut earlier in the week, Ryan Vesce returned to Worcester and extended his AHL scoring streak to 17 games (9-18-27) with a goal and an assist at Wilkes-Barre on Sunday… Portland’s Tim Kennedy has scored seven goals in his last seven games coming off a 28-game drought… In Washington’s 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday night, Michal Neuvirth won his NHL debut in net and 2006 Calder Cup champion Mike Green set an NHL record for a defenseman by scoring a goal in his eighth consecutive game… The Capitals’ and Lightning’s AHL affiliates also battled on Saturday, and Craig Kowalski stopped 46 of 50 shots in his Norfolk debut to help the Admirals to a 5-4 win at Hershey… Bears forward Keith Aucoin hit the 500-point mark for his AHL career on Saturday, becoming the 74th member of that exclusive club.