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AHL Weekly: Tales from a busy Friday

WEEKLY RELEASE #11

AHL standings || Scores and schedules || League leaders

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … With the AHL at an all-time high of 30 teams in 2010-11, the first 15-game night in AHL history took place on Friday with more than its share of highlights.

The first puck of the evening dropped at 7:01 p.m. ET in Manchester, where the Monarchs were hosting Portland in a battle of Atlantic Division co-leaders. The Verizon Wireless Arena was also where the first of 85 goals on the night was scored, as the Monarchs’ Bud Holloway found the net 1:23 into the contest en route to his first career hat trick and a 4-3 Manchester win.

Holloway’s was the only hat trick in Friday’s action, but five other AHL players recorded three points each, including Dane Byers and rookie defenseman John Moore in Springfield’s 6-3 victory at Bridgeport. It was the Falcons’ ninth road win of the season, two shy of their total from the entire 2009-10 campaign.

In Wilkes-Barre, Joe Vitale had a goal and two assists to help the league-leading Penguins to a 5-2 win over Abbotsford, a game which saw also Dustin Jeffrey record a goal and an assist in his return from Pittsburgh.

Joel Perrault had three power-play points, including his first goal since Oct. 29, for Manitoba in a 5-3 victory over Houston, one of five come-from-behind victories pulled off on Friday night; the Moose trailed 3-1 late in the second period before rallying.

Jim O’Brien also had a goal and two assists on Friday, leading Binghamton’s charge in a 7-0 rout of Syracuse. The Senators saw 14 of their 18 skaters find the scoresheet while Robin Lehner made 25 saves for his second shutout of the season – both at the Crunch’s expense.

Lehner was one of five goaltenders around the league to put up a goose egg on Friday. Like Lehner (by Ottawa in 2009), Jacob Markstrom (by Florida in 2008) and Jeremy Smith (by Nashville in 2007) are recent second-round draft picks, and they both earned their first career AHL shutouts on Friday with Markstrom making 27 stops in Rochester’s 2-0 win over Toronto and Smith turning aside 31 shots in Milwaukee’s 3-0 victory over Lake Erie. Curtis Sanford earned his 19th career AHL shutout with a 29-save effort in Oklahoma City as Hamilton blanked the Barons, 3-0, and Richard Bachman made a season-high 41 saves to lead Texas to a 3-0 win over San Antonio.

Adirondack spotted Hershey a 1-0 lead before rallying for a 3-1 win in Glens Falls thanks to Denis Hamel’s 299th and 300th career AHL goals. Peoria, with a 10-game points streak on the line entering the weekend, erased an early deficit and rolled to a 5-2 win in Grand Rapids, what would be the Rivermen’s second of three wins in eight days over the Griffins. Rockford held on for a 3-2 victory over Chicago, the IceHogs’ 14th win in 18 all-time regular-season home games against the Wolves. And Charlotte got goals from rookies Zac Dalpe and Riley Nash and scored three times in the final six minutes to pull away with a 6-2 victory at Providence, running its road winning streak to six games.

The highest drama on Friday’s schedule was saved for two overtime games. In Hartford, Chad Kolarik’s goal with 29.5 seconds left in the extra period lifted Connecticut past Worcester, 3-2. And in Norfolk, the Admirals saw a late lead slip away as Matt Anderson scored with 2:03 left in regulation and Vladimir Zharkov scored a rare 5-on-5 goal in OT to give Albany a 4-3 win.

All told on Friday night, 75 players scored a goal, 177 players recorded a point and 32 goaltenders stopped 802 of the 884 shots they faced (.907 save percentage). Teams were 27-for-137 (19.7 percent) on the power play and scored four shorthanded goals.

There will be three more days this season with 15-game schedules, the next one set for Jan. 8.

RIVERMEN ROLLING RIGHT ALONG … Peoria ran its points streak to 13 games (11-0-2-0) with three wins over the weekend, leaving the Rivermen with a chance to claim a share of first place in the West Division heading into the Christmas break. Derek Nesbitt recorded the game-winning goal in all three games and has a team-high seven goals overall during the 13-game run, which began on Nov. 19.

Peoria’s streak is made even more impressive by the fact that six Rivermen skaters have been recalled by the parent St. Louis Blues in the last month. Ian Cole, Chris Porter, Adam Cracknell, Stefan Della Rovere, Dave Scatchard and Nikita Nikitin have all missed recent AHL action while skating in the NHL.

Peoria, currently two points behind first-place San Antonio, can catch the Rampage with a win over Toronto in its final pre-holiday match on Tuesday night.

HALEY’S COMET … Bridgeport winger Micheal Haley scored the Sound Tigers’ first goal of the 2010-11 season, less than three minutes into their opener vs. Worcester on Oct. 9. He then went 26 full games without scoring again.

That drought has ended in impressive fashion, with the fourth-year pro tallying six goals in Bridgeport’s last four games – including three game-winning goals and the first three power-play markers of his AHL career. In that eight-day span from Dec. 12-19, Haley potted as many goals as he had in any of his three previous AHL seasons, matching the six he scored for the Sound tigers in 65 games a year ago.

CLEAR THE TRACK, HERE COMES LACK … Filling some pretty big skates in the Manitoba crease, Eddie Lack has emerged as one of the AHL’s top young goaltenders over the first half of the season. The 22-year-old Lack, in his first season of play in North America, has a record of 10-6-2 in 18 appearances for Manitoba, ranking seventh in the league in both goals-against average (2.03) and save percentage (.927).

Lack, who is following former AHL all-stars Cory Schneider, Drew MacIntyre and Wade Flaherty in the Moose cage, was a perfect 3-0-0 last week, including a 39-save effort in a 3-1 win over Texas last Tuesday and his first professional shutout, a 20-save performance in a 1-0 win over Houston on Saturday.

ETC. … Four of the 19 players in AHL history with 300 career goals have spent part of their careers in Glens Falls, including Jody Gage, Glenn Merkosky, Bruce Boudreau and now Denis Hamel… On Saturday night, Oklahoma City’s Alexandre Giroux became the 44th player ever with 600 career AHL points; the next night, Hershey’s Keith Aucoin netted his 200th career AHL goal… Chicago head coach Don Lever enters Tuesday’s battle with Milwaukee sitting on 299 career AHL victories, looking to join 15 other coaches who have won 300 games… Joe Paterson is the new head coach in Adirondack, named Monday as John Paddock returns full-time to his post as assistant general manager of the parent Philadelphia Flyers… Syracuse goaltender J.P. Levasseur has stopped 84 of 88 shots in two starts (both wins) against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season… The Penguins are 0-2-0-0 against the Crunch, 0-3-0-0 against Norfolk and 23-2-0-0 vs. the rest of the AHL in 2010-11… Assigned by the parent Montreal Canadiens earlier in the week, Dustin Boyd scored four goals in three games for Hamilton over the weekend, including the game-tying goal late in regulation and the winner in overtime in Saturday’s 3-2 decision at Texas… Two-time Second Team AHL All-Star goaltender Drew MacIntyre earned his first win of the season on Saturday, stopping 22 shots in Chicago’s 5-1 victory over Milwaukee… Rookie Martin Jones (9-2-0, 1.60, .950) has allowed two goals or fewer in 12 of his 14 appearances for Manchester this season… Rockford rookie Peter LeBlanc has a goal in four straight games and has tallied 5-1-6 in six games since being recalled from Toledo (ECHL) on Dec. 6… Binghamton’s penalty kill leads the league in road efficiency (91.2 percent) but ranks 29th at home (74.0 percent)… Hershey’s 2-1 loss to Providence on Saturday put the Bears on their first three-game losing streak since dropping the middle three games of their 2009 East Division Finals series with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 19 months earlier; Hershey got back in the win column with a 6-3 decision over Charlotte on Sunday.

The entire American Hockey League extends best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy holiday season.