Greg Boysen The Hockey Writers
AHL Central News: The Stretch Run Begins
The top two teams in the American Hockey League’s Central Division have checked out and left the rest of the group in their rearview mirrors. The remaining six teams are battling it out for the final two spots, although a couple of those squads need to get hot in a hurry.
On Friday morning, the AHL announced that Scott Howson will be the next President and Chief Executive Officer of the league. He will take over on July 1, 2020, for David Andrews, who is retiring after 26 years at the position. He will remain with the league as the Chairman of the Board of Governors.
Admirals Fight Through Inconsistency
The Milwaukee Admirals (35-11-4-3) struggled to score goals for most of the week, but they still won two of their four games. They maintained their seven-point lead in the Central Division and are still the top team in the league with 77 points.
After a rare winless week, the Admirals got back on track with a 2-1 win over the visiting Texas Stars on Wednesday night.
The Stars had the lone goal of the opening period when a shot from the blue line hit the right post and got in behind Troy Grosenick. Alex Carrier tied the game in the second with a near-identical play when his shot from the right circle hit the post and went in for his fifth goal of the season.
Tommy Novak literally used his head to pick up the primary assist on the game-winning goal midway through the third period. Daniel Carr’s initial shot hit Novak in the face and bounced right to the stick of Cole Schneider for an easy tap-in goal.
The Stars had a late power-play and played the final four minutes without a goaltender, but Grosenick made 31 saves to pick up his 18th win of the season.
“We’re not finishing at the rate we usually have, so we have to learn how to stay with it,” said head coach Karl Taylor after the hard-fought win. “I thought we did a good job of that tonight. Tonight, we were able to bag one and get the win.”
Th hopped on the bus to make the short trip down to Chicago to begin a three-game road trip versus the Wolves on Thursday night. Things went great through the first 40 minutes, but it all fell apart in the third period of a 5-2 loss.
The Admirals only had four shots on goal during the first period, but they held a 1-0 advantage through 20 minutes. Late in the frame, Michael McCarron got to the front of the net and redirected a Carrier shot from the point for his 11th goal of the season.
Eeli Tolvanen doubled the lead 12 minutes into the second period. Miikka Salomaki forced a turnover that Tolvanen jumped and quickly deposited into the Chicago net for his 14th goal of the season.
Connor Ingram was great through the first two periods, but the wheels came off in the final frame. The Wolves scored on five consecutive shots, including an empty-netter, to win going away in the end.
The road trip continued with a trip north of the border for a pair of games at the Manitoba Moose. The offense must not have cleared customs as they were shutout 1-0 on Saturday night.
Grosenick made 21 saves and the only blemish on the night was an early third-period goal. The Admirals got 35 pucks to the net, but none of them went over the goal line. This marked the third time they were shutout this season and the first since Nov. 1. It was also just the second time where they have lost back-to-back games in regulations since the season began.
The Admirals got back on track with a 4-1 win over the Moose in a rare Monday matinee in Manitoba.
The first period did not see any scoring, but there were 48 penalty minutes dished out. Tanner Jeannot got into a fight nine seconds into game while Yakov Trenin dropped the gloves later in the frame.
Salomaki ended the Admirals goal drought at 110:55 early in the second period. He forced a turnover at the right faceoff dot then quickly swatted a backhander home for his fifth goal of the season.
They didn’t have to wait quite as long for their next goal as another Manitoba misplay led to a second goal about two minutes later. McCarron jarred the puck loose with a big hit behind the net. Frederik Gaudreau was there to pass it out front to Trenin for his 16th goal of the season.
Another Moose turnover led to the Admirals’ third goal in a span of 3:46 when Tolvanen jumped on a loose puck and then blistered home a slap shot from the of the left circle.
The Moose got on the board about two minutes later when Ingram could not see a shot from the right point through a screen in front of him.
Rem Pitlick’s late empty-net goal was the only tally of the third period. Ingram finished his afternoon with 18 saves.
Player of the Week
Salomaki is not a player who shows up in this section very often, but he led the Admirals with three points last week. The veteran of 167 NHL games with the Nashville Predators is up to give goals and 15 points this season.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 19 vs Iowa Wild; Friday, Feb. 21 vs Chicago Wolves; Saturday, Feb. 22 vs Rockford IceHogs
Wild Keep Pace with Admirals
The second-place Wild (32-15-3-3) won two out their three games to keep pace with the Admirals. They are one of just four teams in the AHL to have hit the 70-point mark this season and they have a 15-point lead over third place.
On Tuesday morning, the Wild announced that they signed defenseman Matt Register to a one-year, standard player contract. Register was about to reach his 25-game professional tryout (PTO) threshold, so he was rewarded with an AHL deal for the rest of the season.
Later that evening, the Wild set a new franchise record by extending their winning streak to seven games with a 2-1 victory over the visiting San Antonio Rampage.
Luke Johnson opened the scoring while on an early first-period power play with his 10th goal of the season and second in as many games. Sam Anas and Brennan Menell had the assists on the play. The All-Star duo has combined for 75 assists on the season.
The Rampage answered with a power-play strike of their own less than four minutes later. The game remained even until midway through the third period.
With just over 10 minutes to play, Nico Sturm found Gerry Mayhew in the slot where he directed the puck into the top corner of the net for his league-leading 36th goal of the season.
Kaapo Kahkonen made 31 saves to become the first AHL goaltender to win 20 games on the season.
On Friday, the Wild welcomed in the San Diego Gulls from the Pacific Division for a weekend set. The first game turned into the Mayhew show as his third-period natural hat trick was the only scoring on the evening.
After a scoreless 40 minutes of hockey, Mayhew began his onslaught two minutes into the third period. His snap shot from below the left circle beat goaltender Anthony Stolarz to the glove side before it banked in off the right post. His second and third goals were both of the empty-net variety during the final minute of play.
Kahkonen made 35 saves, including a handful of big ones during a late 5-on-3 power play for the Gulls.
Saturday night’s rematch did not go so well for the Wild as they were taken down by the Gulls, 5-2.
For the second time in three games, Johnson started the scoring with a goal through a nice screen by Kyle Rau. Defenseman Chris Wideman evened the score, on the power-play, with a one-timer, seven minutes later.
The Gulls scored the only goal of the middle frame when Isac Lundestrom picked up his fourth goal of the season with less than three minutes to play. They extended their lead to 4-1, early in the third period with a pair of goals just 25 seconds apart.
With less than three minutes to play, Dmitry Sokolov cut the lead to 4-2 with his first goal since Jan. 18. Max Comtois iced the game with an empty-net goal with just over a minute to play. The Wild’s eight-game winning streak, 10-game home winning streak and 11-game point streak all came to an end with the loss.
Player of the Week
Mayhew finished the week with four goals, including all three in Friday night’s win over San Diego. He leads the league with 39 goals, 11 more than second-place Reid Boucher of the Utica Comets. He and Anas tied for the AHL lead in scoring with 59 points. He had better start making room in his man cave for an MVP trophy.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 19 @ Admirals; Friday, Feb. 21 @ Stars; Saturday, Feb. 22 @ Stars
Wolves Navigate Through Ups & Downs
The Wolves (25-22-3-2) had a roller-coaster week as their play and compete level went up and down. They scored two big wins to remained tied for third place with 55 points. They own the tiebreaker because they have a greater point percentage through 52 games.
A busy week on home ice began with a game against the Admirals on Thursday night. They used a third-period offensive explosion to turn a two-goal deficit into a big 5-2 victory.
The Wolves held an 11-4 shot advantage at the end of the first period, but they headed into the locker room trailing by one as the Admirals scored off a redirection late in the frame. A Jimmy Schuldt turnover led to Milwaukee’s second goal in the middle frame. Despite being the better team through 40 minutes, the Wolves were down a pair of goals.
When the puck dropped on the third period, the feeling was that the Wolves would have a tough time lighting lamp. After hitting three posts and no goals on 25 shots, the Wolves scored on five consecutive shots to go from a frustrating night to a big win over the league’s top team.
Gage Quinney finally got the Wolves on the scoreboard, nine minutes into the final frame, by pouncing on a rebound in the slot. Two minutes later, defenseman Dylan Coghlan joined the rush and tapped home a pass from Jake Leschyshyn to tie the game.
Valentine Zykov scored the game-winning goal, just over a minute later, by redirecting a Jake Bischoff shot from the point as it zipped on by.
Cody Glass, playing in his first game of any kind since Jan. 4, muscled his way to a loose puck in front of the net and swept it home as he was diving across the crease for his first AHL goal of the season.
“I think strength,” Glass replied when asked what the biggest improve his game is. “That was probably the biggest part when I made my jump to the NHL and having to go into corners with guys like Brent Burns who can push you around. Just trying to stand your ground and being as hard as you can.”
Glass picked up an assist on Tye McGinn’s empty-net goal, who became the first Wolves player to score 15 goals on the season. Glass’ stint with the Wolves lasted exactly one game as he was back on a plane to Las Vegas on Friday.
As good as the Wolves were on Thursday, they were equally as bad in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss at the hands of the Grand Rapids Griffins. The two teams came into the game tied for third place and the Wolves never answered the bell.
They did score first, however, while being severely outplayed in the first period. Lucas Elvenes and Leschyshyn were put together on the same line for the first time this season and they combined for the opening goal with less than two minutes to play in the first period. Elvenes made a nice move along the right wall to get the puck into the zone then led Leschyshyn right to the net for an easy tap-in goal.
The Griffins went on to score the next five goals of the game, including their first just 32 seconds after the Wolves jumped ahead. They added two more goals in the second period followed by another pair of tallies early in the final frame.
Bischoff added a second goal nine minutes into the third period by coming down in the offensive zone, skating the puck behind the net and finishing with a nice wraparound shot for his second goal of the season.
“I feel embarrassed by that performance and that effort,” head coach Rocky Thompson said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Grand Rapids. They had to travel all night after playing last night. We should have been the fresher team and they just outbattled us. They wanted it more and we just sat back and ate it. That’s embarrassing.”
Sunday’s game was not about style points, but rather about points in the standings. The Wolves were outplayed by the Cleveland Monsters for the first half of the game, but they pulled off a huge 3-2 come-from-behind overtime win.
After a scoreless opening frame, Monsters’ forward Calvin Thurkauf scored off a rebound from a Brandon Troock shot at 3:35 of the second period. Less than nine minutes later, Thurkauf setup Troock for an easy tap-in goal at the side of the net, his first in the AHL this season.
Curtis McKenzie got the Wolves on the board late in the second period by finishing off a play that started with a nice chip pass out of the zone by Quinney and then pushed ahead by McGinn.
Coghlan tied the game with nine minutes left in regulation when his shot from the right point dipped at the last minute and got past goaltender Veini Vehvilainen. The young defenseman won the game in overtime by going bar down moments after Vehvilainen robbed him with a huge pad save.
Player of the Week
Elvenes led the way with four assists, but Coghlan scored three huge goals. He had the tying goal versus Milwaukee on Thursday before his two monstrous goals against Cleveland. Thompson is always looking for offense from his blue line and Coghlan provided it last week.
The Week Ahead
Thursday, Feb. 20 vs Griffins; Friday, Feb. 21 @ Admirals; Sunday, Feb. 23 vs Rockford IceHogs
Griffins Rebound for Four-Point Week
The Griffins (24-22-3-4) got off to a rough start last week but rebounded with back-to-back impressive victories. They are tied with Chicago for third place and have a two-point advantage for the final Calder Cup playoff spot in the division.
Before the Griffins took the road, both Taro Hirose and Givani Smith were reassigned to the AHL by the Detroit Red Wings. Their addition to the lineup did not help much in a 6-2 loss at Cleveland on Tuesday night.
The Monsters started fast and were too much to handle in the early stages of the contest. Gabriel Carlsson scored just 61 seconds into the game before Stefan Matteau added a shorthanded goal later in the period. Paul Bittner and Jakob Lilja increased Cleveland’s advantage to 4-0 with early second-period goals.
Evgeny Svechnikov stayed hot to finally get the Griffins on the scoreboard shortly after the Monsters’ fourth goal. He scored his 10th goal of the season, and a fourth power-play goal in the last three games, by redirecting a Moritz Seider shot.
Trey Fix-Wolansky quickly responded with a fifth Monsters’ goal and Steve Johnson increased the lead to 6-1 just a minute later. Starting goaltender Calvin Pickard was removed from the game after giving up six goals on 20 shots. Pat Nagle stopped all 14 shots he faced in the second half of the game.
The Griffins played hard through the end of the game as they had a 14-6 shot advantage during the third period. Eric Tangradi scored the Griffins 14th power-play goal in as many games, late in the period, by redirecting a Dennis Cholowski shot into the top corner. The veteran forward has eight goals since re-signing with the Griffins 12 games ago.
These two teams had a rematch in Grand Rapids Friday night and the Griffins dished out some revenge with a 4-2 win.
After a scoreless first period, Thurkauf put the Monsters up 1-0 early in the second stanza. The Griffins answered with a pair of goals just 32 seconds apart to take the lead. Jarid Lukosevicius struck first from the slot. Moments later, Svechnikov extended his goal streak to four straight games by blasting home a one-timer off a pass from Hirose.
Cleveland evened up the score, about four and a half minutes into the third period when Kole Shorewood scored a backdoor goal.
With just 1:23 left to play in the third period, Turner Elson beat Vehvilainen to the glove side with a quick backhander. Hirose finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final seconds. Nagle made 19 shots to pick up his fourth win in his last five decisions.
“It was a big game,” Elson said shortly after scoring the game-winner. “We went into their building and they stuck it to us. We haven’t had great starts lately. I think we came out with the attitude that we weren’t going to be denied tonight. We did a great job.”
The Griffins closed out their successful weekend with a dominating 5-2 win at the Wolves on Saturday night.
Despite the Griffins getting 12 of the first 14 shots on goal, the Wolves struck first late in the opening frame. Smith answered just 32 seconds later by getting to a rebound off a Cholowski shot and swiped it home.
They grabbed a 2-1 lead on their first shot of the second period when Matt Ford’s wrister from the slot hit Lukosevicius on its way into the back of the net. Ford doubled the lead about eight minutes later with a shot through heavy traffic.
Ford stuck again early in the third period while the Griffins were on a brief 5-on-3 power play. Later in the frame, Smith showed off his slick hands by bringing the puck up through the neutral zone before flipping a backhand under the crossbar for his second goal of the evening.
The Wolves added a second goal with 11 minutes to play, but they could not draw any closer. Nagle made 17 saves to continue his hot streak.
Player of the Week
Both Cholowski and Chase Pearson finished the week with four assists, but Cholowski gets the nod as he picked up a helper in all three games. His big week brought his assist total up to nine in 23 AHL games this season. The young blueliner, who turned 22 on Saturday, also has two goals and eight points in 33 games with the Red Wings this season.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, Feb. 18 @ IceHogs; Thursday, Feb. 20 @ Wolves, Saturday, Feb. 22 vs Rampage; Sunday, Feb. 23 vs Rampage
IceHogs Roll in Perfect Week
The red-hot IceHogs (25-25-1-2) have turned a corner after a brutal January and have been playing some of their best hockey of the year. They swept their three-game week and have won five out of their last six games. Rockford is up to fifth place and are just two points out of a playoff spot with 22 games left to play.
The IceHogs took down the Moose, 2-1, on Wednesday night to win for the third time in their last four games following a six-game losing streak.
They needed to rebound from a rough first period which saw them get outshot 12-3 and give up a power-play goal with less than a minute to play in the frame. Things improved over the final 40 minutes as they owned a 24-17 shot advantage and, more importantly, scored a pair of goals.
Alexandre Fortin tied the game, midway through the second period, by tapping home a great saucer pass from Gabriel Gagne. The IceHogs came out buzzing in the third period and John Quenneville scored the game-winning goal at the 4:47 mark. He extended his goal streak to four straight games, the longest such for any Rockford player this season.
Dylan Sikura had the primary assist on the play to extend his point streak to a career-high eight games. Defenseman Lucas Carlsson picked up the secondary assist to make it four games in a row with a helper.
Goaltender Kevin Lankinen returned to his All-Star form from earlier in the season by making 28 saves for his first victory since Dec. 15.
The IceHogs swept their two-game set at the Moose with a 5-2 win on Thursday night. They got goals from four different players and 10 of the 18 skaters found their way onto the scoresheet in a balanced victory.
Two AHL veterans scored just 69 seconds apart, late in the first period, to give the IceHogs a 2-0 lead heading into the locker room. Joseph Cramarossa finished off a 2-on-1 rush with Tim Soderlund for his sixth goal of the season.
Garrett Mitchell, who signed a professional tryout contract (PTO) just last week, scored his first goal with the IceHogs to double the lead. He got his stick on a Jacob Nilsson wrist shot to deflect into the back of the Manitoba net.
Lankinen stopped all 16 shots he faced in the opening frame, but he was nowhere to be found to start the second period. Colin Delia took over and made 17 saves over the final 40 minutes. Head coach Derek King said Lankinen tweaked an old shoulder injury and though it was best to sit him for the rest of the game.
Nilsson extended the lead to three goals just over a minute into the third period when he finished a 2-on-1 rush with Brandon Hagel, who missed Wednesday’s game with a stomach bug. The Moose got on the scoreboard later in the period.
Carlsson, who extended his assist streak on the Nilsson goal, picked up another helper when Tyler Sikura redirected his shot from the point early in the third period. Dylan Sikura was credited with the secondary assist on his older brother’s goal to extend his point streak.
Mitchell added an empty-net goal to give the IceHogs a 5-1 lead before the Moose scored a late and rather meaningless goal.
The IceHogs finished off their perfect week with a 4-1 beating of the Monsters, Saturday night.
Dylan Sikura wasted very little time to get his point streak to double digits with a power-play goal three and a half minutes into the game. Hagel doubled the lead 13 minutes later by getting to the rebound off a MacKenzie Entwistle and flicking it into the net.
The Monsters got back into the game with a late second-period goal. Defenseman Ian McCoshen scored his first goal of the season, seven minutes into the third period, with a laser beam of a one-timer. McCoshen added an empty-net goal, late in the game, to complete the scoring.
“I was feeling pretty good with the puck in the first period,” McCoshen said after the game. “Usually as a d-man, you seldom get chances to shoot the puck. I had a few in the first period and it continued throughout the second and third. I just made the most of the opportunity and shot it on net.”
Delia made 27 saves on a night the IceHogs gave away bobbleheads of the netminder doing his “Billionaire Strut.” When he was announced as the game’s First Star, he gave the fans exactly what they wanted to see.
Player of the Week
Carlsson led the IceHogs with four points (all assists) last week, but the nod goes to Dylan Sikura. He had a point in every game with assists in each game against the Moose and the opening goal versus the Monsters. He has points in 10 straight games and has been huge since returning from the NHL. In his 13 games since Jan. 19, he has four goals and 14 points.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, Feb. 18 vs Griffins; Friday, Feb. 21 vs Rampage; Saturday, Feb. 22 @ Admirals; Sunday, Feb. 23 @ Wolves
Rampage Move Ahead of Rivals
After a loss in Iowa to start the week, the Rampage (19-20-7-5) swept a weekend series in their home state. They have jumped up to sixth place in the Central with 50 points. They are five points behind the Wolves and Griffins for a playoff spot as they look to finish out their time in San Antonio on a high note.
The Rampage’s near month-long road trip continued in Iowa Tuesday night. They fell short in a tightly-contested 2-1 defeat.
The Wild took advantage of an early Ryan Olsen boarding penalty to take a 1-0 less than six minutes into the game. Olsen was returning from his one-game suspension for receiving a match penalty after an illegal check to the head in Rockford last Friday.
Joey LaLeggia drew the Rampage even with a power-play goal of this own, from just inside the left circle, less than four minutes later. Derrick Pouliot had the primary assist for his 21st power-play point on the season. He is tied with Menell of the Wild for the most power-play points among all AHL defensemen.
That would be the only offense the Rampage could muster against the red-hot Wild. Iowa scored the eventual game-winning goal midway through the third period. Goaltender Ville Husso made 27 saves in the losing effort.
The Rampage returned to the state of Texas with a successful weekend series at the Stars. The two-game set began with a 3-2 shootout victory on Friday night.
Mitch Reinke opened the scoring with an early goal off a rebound from a Klim Kostin shot. The Stars came back to tie the game before the end of the opening period.
Tanner Kaspick gave the Rampage a 2-1 lead, 13 minutes into the second period, seconds after a power play expired. The puck found him in front of the net, after a turnover, and he went upstairs for his fifth goal of the season.
They held on to this lead until Dakota Joshua took an ill-advised high-stick penalty late in the third period. The Stars forced overtime just 10 seconds later.
In the shootout, Nathan Walker was the only of the six players to convert to give the Rampage the extra point. Adam Wilcox made 22 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping all three challenges in the shootout.
Goaltending was the name of the game in Saturday’s rematch with Husso making 28 saves in a 2-0 shutout.
The game was in a scoreless deadlock until the 12:19 mark of the third period when Olsen followed up a Jordan Nolan shot and flipped it in for his sixth goal of the season. The assist was Nolan’s 100th career AHL point.
Alexey Toropchenko scored from the high slot just 54 seconds later to double the Rampage lead and finish off the scoring.
With the weekend sweep, the Rampage is 8-0-1 in their last nine games versus the Stars and they have won six in a row in their home building.
Player of the Week
Husso was fantastic last week, giving up just two goals on 57 shots for a .965 save percentage (SV%). He has three shutouts on the season and two of them have come at the expense of the Stars. Eight of his nine AHL shutouts have come in a Rampage uniform. His first was with the Wolves when they were the St. Louis Blues affiliate, which they might be again next season.
The Week Ahead
Friday, Feb. 21 @ IceHogs; Saturday, Feb 22 @ Griffins; Sunday, Feb. 23 @ Griffins
Stars Trend the Wrong Direction
Last week, the Stars (22-24-2-3) were in a playoff spot and now they sit in seventh place. The slide began with just one point in three games and was aided by having two points taken away from them by the league.
The AHL announced that they have decided to reschedule the Jan. 10 game versus the Toronto Marlies. The game was originally considered a forfeit by the Marlies after assistant coach Rob Davidson had a medical emergency before the game. No date has been announced for the rescheduled game yet.
The Stars wrapped up their six-game road trip with their second visit to Milwaukee in five days. The outcome was not as good this time around as they lost to the Admirals, 2-1.
Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther gave the Stars a 1-0 lead, midway through the first period, when his slap shot from the blue line found its way to the back of the net. Goaltender Jake Oettinger made a couple of great saves to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Admirals finally got one past Oettinger in the second period to even the score as a shot banked off the post and went into the net. They scored the game-winning goal eight minutes into the third period. Oettinger stood tall with 29 saves, but he came out on the short end of the stick.
Leading-scorer Jason Robertson was recalled by the Dallas Stars on Thursday morning. He made his NHL debut and picked up his first point with an assist on the game-winning goal versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Stars missed Robertson’s offense in their weekend series against the Rampage, which began Friday night with a 3-2 shootout loss.
Shortly after allowing the game’s first goal, starting goaltender Landon Bow left the game due to injury, about six minutes in, and was replaced by Oettinger. Midway through the period, Brad McClure set up Rhett Gardner’s game-tying goal.
The Rampage regained a 2-1 lead, just after a power play expired, 13 minutes into the second period.
The Stars needed just 10 seconds of a late power play to tie the game with just three minutes to play. Michael Mersch was in the right place at the right time to tip in a shot from Taylor Fedun to force overtime.
After a scoreless overtime, Oettinger gave up a lone goal in the shootout while Joel L’Esperance, Tanner Kero and Oula Palve were all denied.
The offensive struggles continued the following night as the Stars were shutout 2-0 by their in-state rivals.
Oettinger made 24 saves and kept the game scoreless until he surrendered a pair of goals, less than a minute apart, late in the period. The Stars had five power-play opportunities and 28 shots on goal but were unable to light the lamp.
“That’s the big thing about being in a developmental league,” head coach Neil Graham said about his squad being shorthanded. “If a couple of guys go up or a couple of guys are out, you have depth and guys have got to grab it. It was a night where the effort was there, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to get anything by the goalie.”
Player of the Week
The Stars offense was only able to put up three goals in three games. Bayreuther scored one of them and assistant on another. He now leads all Texas defensemen with five goals and is second in scoring with 20 points. He is two goals shy of equally his career-high which he reached in each of the last two seasons.
The Week Ahead
Friday, Feb. 21 vs Wild; Saturday, Feb. 22 vs Wild
Moose Need a Surge
The last-place Moose (23-31-0-0) had four home games to try to get back into the playoff race. After just one victory in those four games, they are nine points out of fourth place and time is running out. They were outscored 11-5 last week as their offense continues to struggle.
The Moose began a new week by hosting the IceHogs on Wednesday night and their battle to score goals followed them. After being shutout last Friday by the Wolves, they only scored once in a 2-1 loss.
The home team dominated the opening period as the Moose outshout the IceHogs 12-3. C.J. Suess finally got them on the scoreboard with just 40 seconds left in the first period. The late power-play goal was Suess’ 13th tally of the season.
The IceHogs got even midway through the second period. After Michael Spacek hit the post in the first period, Leon Gawanke drew iron late in the middle frame.
Goaltender Eric Comrie had to make a couple of huge saves early in the third period, but he surrendered the eventual game-winning goal a few moments later. He made 25 saves in the losing effort.
Things didn’t get a whole lot better in Thursday’s rematch as the Moose were soundly beaten 5-2.
The IceHogs scored a pair of goals, just over a minute apart, late in the first period to build up a two-goal lead. They added a third goal early in the middle frame. JC Lipon tucked home his 12th goal of the season to cut the deficit to 3-1 heading into the final period.
Rockford added two more goals in the third period, including an empty-netter with just under six minutes to play. Spacek used the top of the net for his eighth goal of the season with less than two minutes to play, but it was far too late to mount a serious comeback.
The Moose’s homestand continued with the first of two games against the Admirals on Saturday night. Comrie brought his A-game against the league’s top team with a 1-0 shutout.
Defenseman Jimmy Oligny thought he opened the scoring late in the first period, but his shot hit the right post and stayed out.
Comrie made 13 of his 35 saves during a hotly-contested second period to keep the game scoreless. The frustration began to build as both Skyler McKenzie and Jonathan Kovacevic drew iron during the frame.
Finally, seven minutes into the third period, Brent Pedersen scored the evening’s only goal by using the top half of the net. It was his third goal of the season and second game-winner. Comrie picked up his first shutout of the season and ninth in his AHL career.
“We deserved that win,” Comrie said during his postgame press conference. “We’ve deserved to win a lot of the games we’ve played lately and just haven’t the results. Even today, we could have gotten down after hitting a lot of posts, but we stayed with it.”
They scored just one goal in Monday afternoon’s rematch with the Admirals, who left town with a 4-1 victory.
Ryan White set the tone early by getting into a spirited tilt nine seconds into the contest. He also picked up a 10-misconduct later in the period for an extended argument with an Admirals player. The opening frame saw 48 combined penalty minutes, but no goals.
The Admirals struck first, less than three minutes into the second period when a Kovacevic turnover was quickly put in behind Comrie. The Admirals scored again just over two minutes later when a puck was mishandled behind the net and was deposited.
White’s rough afternoon continued on the next shift when he turned the puck over just outside of his own zone and the Admirals increased their lead to 3-0 seconds later.
Nelson Nogier got one of those goals back less than two minutes later. He fired a shot from the right point that found its way through heavy traffic and into the back of the net for his first goal of the season.
White picked up his second 10-minute misconduct of the day, late in the third period, to bring his penalty minute total 27. A performance like that makes you wonder why the Moose are using a roster spot on him instead of a younger, developing player who might actually add some offense to the team.
The Admirals capped off the scoring with a late empty-net goal.
Player of the Week
It is impossible to blame Manitoba’s recent struggles on Comrie, who played well in his three games. In addition to his first shutout of the season, he allowed just five goals on 90 shots in his three starts for a .944 save percentage.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Feb. 19 @ Laval Rocket; Friday, Feb. 21 @ Rocket; Saturday, Feb. 22 @ Belleville Senators
The post AHL Central News: The Stretch Run Begins appeared first on The Hockey Writers.
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