Post-holiday schedule takes off tonight

Photo: Tori Hartman/Hershey Bears

📝 by Patrick Williams

The AHL’s post-holiday schedule really takes off tonight.

After a Belleville-Toronto matinee on Boxing Day followed by a four-game slate Tuesday night, 11 games await AHL fans tonight.

Here is where the AHL season stands as play returns in earnest:

The Hershey Bears own the best record in the AHL at 21-6-2-1 (45 points), including last night’s 2-1 shootout win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The Bears face the second-place Providence Bruins (16-5-5-2, 39 pts.) tonight for the first time this season, with a rematch set for New Year’s Eve. Hershey has just one regulation loss in its last nine outings (7-1-0-1) and is a league-best 12-2-1-1 on home ice as it opens a seven-game homestand tonight.

The rest of the division is tight, with six points separating third place from eighth.

The AHL’s Battle of Ontario resumes tonight in Belleville as the Marlies and Senators finish their home-and-home series. Toronto has taken three of the teams’ first five meetings, including a 3-2 victory Monday afternoon, but Belleville handed them a 6-1 defeat in the most recent CAA Arena clash on Nov. 18. Monday’s win gave the Marlies (18-8-1-1, 38 pts.) an eight-point advantage for first place in the division, the largest edge for any division leader in the league.

Rochester will have some rust to shake off tonight when Utica comes to Blue Cross Arena. Western New York’s inclement weather last week forced a postponement of the Amerks’ final game before the holiday break, and means that the club hasn’t played since Dec. 17 in Charlotte.

Rochester and Syracuse are tied for second place with 30 points, with Utica (28), Cleveland (27), Belleville (26) and Laval (24) close behind.

Division-leading Texas returns from its holiday break on Friday when the Stars open a two-game set with Tucson in Cedar Park. The Stars have been off since a 3-2 overtime loss to Rockford on Dec. 21, which ended their eight-game winning streak — the longest in the AHL this season. That run has helped Texas (17-7-3-2, 39 pts.) to keep the hard-charging Manitoba Moose at a distance. The Moose went into their holiday break with four consecutive wins and are four points behind Texas with three games in hand. Manitoba returns to action with games Friday and Saturday vs. Abbotsford.

Can Iowa reset following the break? A five-game losing streak has stranded the Wild in fifth place and opened up a seven-point gap between them and fourth-place Rockford. Head coach Tim Army’s club will face some of the best competition that the AHL can offer tonight and Friday at home with a visit from the Pacific Division-leading Colorado Eagles.

A three-team battle for the division lead has emerged among the Eagles, Calgary Wranglers, and Coachella Valley Firebirds. Colorado (18-8-2-0, 38 pts.) holds a one-point lead over the Wranglers (18-7-1-0, 37 pts.) and Firebirds (17-6-3-0, 37 pts.), although the Eagles have played two more games.

A three-game journey to southern California begins tonight for the Wranglers at Bakersfield, where they will also play again Friday. They face the Condors in four of their next seven outings. Following a 2-5-0-0 start, the Wranglers have taken wins in 16 of their past 19 games (16-2-1-0).

The Firebirds host Ontario tonight before going to San Jose for meetings Friday and Saturday with the Barracuda. After this weekend, the club will play 28 of their final 43 contests at Acrisure Arena.

🏒 AHL goaltenders will get a break from Tucson’s Michael Carcone, at least for the moment.

Recalled by the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday for his NHL season debut, Carcone delivered a goal while playing 15:01 in a 6-3 home win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. Before his promotion to the Coyotes, Carcone had amassed 30 points in his past 18 games to race past the field and take over the AHL scoring lead at 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists in 27 games).

With Roadrunners graduate Matias Maccelli out of the Arizona line-up for at least six weeks with a lower-body injury, the 26-year-old Carcone could have a strong opportunity to secure a place for himself with the Coyotes.

🏒 Some of the AHL’s finest young talent is showing well early at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Rochester’s Isak Rosen had two goals for Sweden in the team’s opening win Monday against Austria. Jiri Kulich, Rosen’s teammate in Rochester and fellow Buffalo Sabres first-round pick, put on his own show Tuesday with a hat trick to lead Czechia past Austria, 9-0.

Simon Nemec, Utica’s 18-year-old defenseman and the second overall pick in this past summer’s NHL Draft, is captaining Slovakia. The New Jersey prospect logged a team-high 26:50 on Tuesday in the club’s 5-2 setback to Finland. Manitoba’s Brad Lambert, who went 30th overall in that draft to the Winnipeg Jets, posted a goal for Finland.

Another Moose forward, Chaz Lucius, provided the go-ahead goal Monday to lead Team USA past Latvia, 5-2.

Cleveland’s David Jiricek has an assist in each of his first two appearances on the Czech blue line.