American League clubs have played roughly one-third of their 80-game schedule and some trends are beginning to take hold.
Clubs that are doing some unexpected damage can no longer be considered flukes and teams that were seen as contenders, but have instead flopped may be in deep trouble if they do not begin to collect points immediately.
Here is a look at some early AHL surprises – good and bad – so far.
• The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were the beneficiaries of a strong off-season haul from their parent club in Pittsburgh and were expected to push the two-time defending Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears considerably – but a 21-4-0 mark in the brutally tough East Division to start the season? Good times and stability in Pittsburgh are not hurting the situation in northeastern Pennsylvania, either.
• The Toronto Marlies finished October holding a 2-6-0 record and facing a 10-game road trip to begin November. They then rolled off six wins as the visitor and collected at least a point in three of the four other games. If the Marlies can improve their 6-7-0 home mark, they could become a legitimate contender.
• Edmonton Oilers affiliates have been dreadful for much of the past decade. The franchise shared AHL affiliates from 2001-02 to 2006-07; vagabond Oilers prospects have thus set up homes with a variety of AHL clubs in recent years. A fully stocked Edmonton affiliate has not reached the playoffs since 2004 and last season’s Springfield club managed just 66 points. But the Oilers set up shop this off-season in Oklahoma City, stocked the Barons roster with a good mix of prospects and veterans and the moves have yielded positive results. The Barons are a strong contender in a tough West Division and Edmonton’s likely exclusion from the Stanley Cup playoffs would boost the Barons’ springtime fortunes.
• The Chicago Wolves were once again expected to be a legitimate Calder Cup contender this season, but that has not happened. A league-worst 73.1 penalty-killing rate has contributed to the Wolves surrendering 3.64 goals per game, the second-most in the AHL. Mediocre goaltending has only soured the situation further. Even the offensively talented Wolves can’t score enough to completely offset the defensive problems.
• With new coach Claude Noel, a lineup restocked with top prospects such as centers Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder and a nice mix of veterans to support the kids, Manitoba was expected to make a run for Winnipeg’s first pro hockey championship since 1979. Instead, the Moose and their abysmal 11.3 percent mark on the power play have been wildly inconsistent.
• It’s no surprise the Adirondack Phantoms are bad – but three-wins-in-25-games bad? The Phantoms have only eight points this season and are a legitimate challenger to the 1989-90 Binghamton Whalers (31 points) for the worst record in AHL history.
• On recall to Ottawa, right winger Bobby Butler has been a scoring force with a so-so Binghamton club. The undrafted Butler, signed after being named a Hobey Baker finalist at the University of New Hampshire last season, has put up 15 goals in 25 games.
• Left winger Luke Adam has been on the Buffalo-Portland shuttle often this season, but when he’s been with the Pirates, he’s managed to amass 11 goals in 17 games.
• Rookie goaltenders are well represented among the AHL’s top backstops. Martin Jones (Manchester) and Jake Allen (Peoria) are a combined 15-3-0 with five shutouts for two of the AHL’s more dangerous clubs and rank 1-2 in goals-against average. Swedish rookie Eddie Lack is one of the few bright spots for a sub-par Manitoba club.
• Providence’s Steven Kampfer, recalled to Boston this week, has picked up 13 assists in 20 games for the Baby B’s. Nice work for a first-year defenseman learning the pro game.
THIS & THAT
• Left winger Patrick Rissmiller, on loan from Chicago to Lake Erie, hit the Wolves up for four goals Dec. 3 in a 6-3 Monsters win in Cleveland. The evening helped Rissmiller earn AHL Player of the Week honors.
• Grand Rapids’ major off-season signings, center Jamie Johnson and left winger Chris Minard, combined for 49 goals last season, despite Minard’s injury-abbreviated year. This season with the Griffins, the pair has four goals between them.
• Charlotte scorched Syracuse for eight goals in the second period of Monday’s 10-3 Checkers win. Charlotte racked up the eight goals in a 13:44 span. The eight goals are the most in an AHL period since Providence put up 10 goals in the first frame of a November 1998 game – also against Syracuse.
• Norfolk, second overall in the Eastern Conference, will play 10 of its next 14 games at home.
• Hamilton and Toronto continue their season series Sunday, Dec. 12 in the afternoon at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. CBC will show the 1 p.m., ET game and U.S.-based viewers can see the CBC feed on the NHL Network.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world’s second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.