AHL Central News: Top 3 Starting to Pull Away

The top three teams in the American Hockey League’s Central Division are separating themselves from the rest of the pack. While they are just three points apart, they have put six points between third and fourth place. Meanwhile, the bottom five teams fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot are separated by five points. From top to bottom, there are just 14 points between the division; by far, the closest of the four AHL divisions.

Griffins Grind Out Four Points to Remain on Top

The Grand Rapids Griffins (28-16-3-4) won two out of their three games last week to stay atop the Central. They are the first team within the division to earn 28 wins, but the teams directly behind them have games in hand. Their 63 points are good for a two-point cushion heading into another busy week.

The Griffins made some headlines on Wednesday when Turner Elson was signed to a two-year, two-way NHL contract by the Detroit Red Wings. The 26-year-old forward was playing on an AHL contract but was rewarded for his good play this season. Later that night, the Griffins got some late-game magic to steal a 2-1 victory from the Manitoba Moose. After nearly two periods of scoreless hockey, the Moose broke the tie on a 2-on-1 rush with 1:31 left in the middle frame.

Brian Lashoff appeared to tie the game just over six minutes into the third period, but the goal was disallowed due to goaltender interference. The Griffins had a 5-on-3 advantage with two minutes left in regulation and they turned it into a three-man advantage by pulling netminder Harri Sateri.

Enter Filip Hronek, who tied the game with just 1:21 left in regulation by blasting home a pass from Filip Zadina from above the left circle. The goal ended a goal drought of 119:26 for the Griffins, who avoided being shutout in back-to-back games for the first time in nearly three years.

Hronek struck again 56 seconds later to win the game. This time, on the power play, he scored on a one-timer from the point off a pass by Chris Terry.

Forward Michael Rasmussen’s conditioning stint with the Griffins came to an end and he was recalled by the Red Wings on Thursday morning. He scored a pair of goals in his three AHL contests.

Detroit Red Wings Michael Rasmussen
Michael Rasmussen is back in Detroit after a short stint with the Griffins. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The following day the Griffins traded center Trevor Yates to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for future considerations. The 23-year-old has spent all but two games this season in the ECHL where he scored two goals and seven points. The Penguins were in town on Saturday night as they continue their trip through the division. Patrik Rybar, who was making his first start since Jan. 25, came up big with 33 saves in a 4-1 victory.

Moments after Terry shot wide on a penalty shot attempt, the Griffins converted on their third straight power play to open the scoring halfway through the first period. Carter Camper threaded a pass from the high slot to Zadina in the left circle where he beat the goaltender to the far post.

The Penguins drew even midway through the second period thanks to a shot changing direction twice before it got past Rybar. The Griffins took over in the third period to pull away.

Colin Campbell scored the eventual game-winning goal just 45 seconds into the third period by tapping a loose puck into a wide-open net. Libor Sulak doubled the lead just over seven minutes later by getting to the rebound off a Dominic Turgeon shot. Matt Puempel finished off the scoring while on a 5-on-3 power play 54 seconds later.

The two power-play tallies marked the first time this season that the Griffins have scored multiple power-play goals in consecutive games. However, their good fortunes at home came to an end Sunday afternoon with a 4-1 loss to the Chicago Wolves. The defeat was their fifth regulation loss in 27 games on home ice this season.

The Wolves took advantage of a rather sleepy Griffins squad and broke the scoreless tie with a power-play goal in the final minute of the first period. Chicago doubled their lead with another power-play goal 3:30 into the second period. They added a full-strength goal late in the frame to take a 3-0 lead into the third period.

The Griffins outplayed the Wolves for much of the final 20 minutes and got on the board at the 4:35 mark when Zadina notched his 13th goal of the season. Camper appeared to cut the lead to 3-2 with 1:26 left in regulation, but after a lengthy review it was determined that his shot hit the post and stayed out. The Wolves added an empty-net goal in the final seconds to complete the scoring.

Player of the Week: Hronek led all Griffins with four points last week. When he found the scoresheet, the team won. He had both goals in Wednesday’s win over the Moose and assisted on a pair of goals versus the Penguins on Saturday. He leads all Griffins defenders with 23 points despite recently spending six weeks with the Red Wings.

Filip Hronek Grand Rapids Griffins Detroit Red Wings
Filip Hronek has been a weapon from the blue line all season long. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Friday, Feb. 15 vs San Antonio Ramage; Saturday, Feb. 16 vs Rampage

Back-to-Back Dramatic Wins Keep Wild in Second

The Iowa Wild (27-16-4-3) rebounded nicely from their three-game California losing streak by winning all three of their games this past week. Their 61 points have them two points behind the Griffins, but one point ahead of third place. They began their week by snapping their losing streak with a 4-2 win at the San Jose Barracuda Tuesday night.

Defenseman Louie Belpedio scored the lone tally of the opening period with a power-play goal just past the 12:00 mark. The recently acquired Michael Kapla picked up his first point with the Wild by getting credit for the secondary assist.

Gerry Mayhew doubled the lead eight minutes into the second period. Will Bitten forced a turnover then found Mayhew in the high slot where he blasted a one-timer for his 14th goal of the season. Colton Beck made it a 3-0 game just 1:18 later by roofing home a rebound for his 13th goal of the campaign.

San Jose got on the board just over a minute later and made things interesting by cutting the lead to 3-2 with 2:55 left in regulation. Mayhew iced the game and finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal with just over a minute remaining. Kaapo Kahkonen made 24 saves to earn his first road win since Dec. 1.

When the Wild returned home, they learned that forward Joel Eriksson Ek had again been recalled by the Minnesota Wild. He’s averaged a point per game in his nine games in the AHL this season and has spent most of the season in the NHL.

The San Antonio Rampage came calling for an exciting two-game series which began with a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory.  Colton Beck put the home team ahead early by scoring the Wild’s eighth shorthanded goal of the season, a franchise record.

The Rampage tied the game late in the first period and then scored a pair of goals just 19 seconds apart early in the second period to go up 3-1. Matt Read scored on the power play about two minutes later to cut the lead in half. Kapla picked up another assist with his pass hitting Read’s skate and getting past the goaltender.

Michael Kapla
Michael Kapla is fitting in well with Iowa after a recent trade from New Jersey. (Photo Credit: Patrick Dodson/New Jersey Devils)

San Antonio regained its two-goal lead about four minutes later before the Wild’s quick-strike offense turned things around. Read deflected another shot by Kapla to make it a 4-3 game and 56 seconds later, Mayhew redirected a Matt Bartkowski slap shot into the Rampage net to tie the game.

Things settled down in the third period after a six-goal outburst in the middle frame. The game headed into overtime where the Wild earned a power play. Dmitry Sokolov was in the right place at the right time as the puck bounced off the end boards, right to his stick and he snapped the puck home for the game-winner. The goal was a special one, as Sokolov’s mother and uncle made the trip all the way from Omsk, Russia to see him play.

“It feels awesome,” Sokolov told the Wild’s official website. “I was looking at her after it happened and she was just jumping around all over the place.”

The teams reunited for the rematch the following night and the Wild stunned the Rampage again, this time 3-2 in overtime. The Rampage scored first with a late first-period power-play goal. Mayhew continued his big week by tying things up about eight minutes into the second period, but the Rampage reclaimed the lead just over two minutes later.

J.T. Brown picked the perfect time to score his first goal for Iowa as he got to a loose puck at the side of the net and slid it over the goal line to tie the game with just nine seconds left in regulation. Carson Soucy, who had the primary assist on Brown’s late tally, won the game in overtime by blasting a one-timer into the top corner of the net.

Wild right wing J.T. Brown
J.T. Brown picked a perfect time to score his first goal in Iowa. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Player of the Week: This was a hard choice to make as Belpido had a goal and led the team with five points and Kalpa picked up four assists over the three games. However, the nod goes to Mayhew who scored four goals and scored goals in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. He now leads the team with 17 goals and is just two points behind Cal O’Reilly for the overall scoring lead.

The Week Ahead: Saturday, Feb. 16 @ Rockford IceHogs; Sunday, Feb. 17 @ Wolves

Wolves Offense Continue to Lead the Way

The Wolves (27-15-5-1) entered a very busy stretch of 15 games in 30 days after playing just nine games over the last 34 days. They were off to a great start with a pair of road wins to keep pace with the Griffins and Wild. Chicago’s 60 points have them one point out of second place and they now have a six-point cushion over fourth place.

The weekend started with a 3-2 overtime win at the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday afternoon. After a scoreless opening frame, T.J. Tynan opened the scoring at the 6:31 mark of the second period. Tynan got to the front of the net to put in a rebound off a Keegan Kolesar shot for his ninth goal of the season.

TJ Tynan Chicago Wolves
TJ Tynan made an immediate impact upon his return from injury. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Admirals tied the game on a redirect about seven minutes into the third period, but Daniel Carr put the Wolves right back on top 38 seconds later by winning a battle for a loose puck in front of the net. Milwaukee forced overtime by scoring with just 19 seconds left in regulation. Brooks Macek scored the game-winning goal 1:28 into overtime after the Wolves picked off a breakout pass. Oscar Dansk made 20 saves for his 16th win of the season.

The following afternoon the Wolves were in Grand Rapids for a Sunday matinee against the Griffins. They took advantage of a Griffins team that was sluggish during the first two periods and earned a 4-1 victory.

Nic Hague scored the first of two power-play goals for the Wolves to open the scoring with just 18 seconds left in the first period. Curtis McKenzie doubled the lead while on an early second-period power play. Gage Quinney increased the lead to 3-0 with just over three minutes remaining in the middle frame by sniping a shot from the slot into the Griffins net.

The Griffins put up a fight over the final 20 minutes and got on the board early in the period. They looked like they cut the lead down to a single goal late in the period, but after a long review by the officials, it was deemed that the puck hit the post and stayed out. Carr scored an empty-netter in the final seconds to finish off the scoring.

Max Lagace made 34 saves in his first game back after being reassigned by the Vegas Golden Knights earlier in the week. The special teams played a big factor in the win. In addition to the two power-play goals, the Wolves were a perfect five-for-five on the penalty kill.

Player of the Week: Tynan made a big impact in his return to the lineup after missing the previous four games due to injury. He picked up a pair of assists versus the Griffins to go along with his goal in Milwaukee to lead the Wolves with three points last week. He now has 32 helpers on the season and is just three behind Carr for the team lead.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Feb. 13 @ Manitoba Moose; Friday, Feb. 15 @ Moose; Sunday, Feb. 17 vs Wild

IceHogs Hot Streak has Them Back in a Playoff Spot

The IceHogs (23-20-3-5) have been the hottest team in the division over the past two weeks. A recent six-game winning streak has them back in a playoff spot. Their 54 points have them tied with the Admirals, but they have the advantage of four more wins in regulation and overtime (ROW).

While goaltender Anton Forsberg has struggled during his time in the NHL, he has been very good in the AHL throughout his career. He proved how valuable he’s been to the IceHogs this season with a 45-save performance during Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over the Penguins.

Rockford area native Josh McArdle got the scoring started 1:42 into the game. The young defenseman was able to get to a loose puck in the slot and fire it into the Penguins net for his first career AHL goal. The Penguins responded with a game-tying goal just over a minute later. Luke Johnson scored the game-winning goal late in the first period while on a two-man advantage by one-timing a Dylan Sikura pass on a backdoor play.

After giving up just seven on shots on goal during the first period, the IceHogs’ defense was nonexistent over the final 40 minutes of play. The Penguins put 39 shots on goal during the second and third periods, but Forsberg stopped them all to steal two points and extend the team’s winning streak to five games.

The Tucson Roadrunners came to town for back-to-back games starting on Friday night. The IceHogs played much better to earn their sixth straight win with a 3-1 decision.

Anthony Louis broke a scoreless tie with less than three minutes remaining in the first period by blasting a one-timer, from the right dot, off a setup from Jacob Nilsson. Johnson scored his second game-winning goal in as many games by finishing off a rush to the glove side of goaltender Adin Hill 6:30 into the middle frame. The Roadrunners cut the lead in half nine minutes later to make it a 2-1 game heading into the final 20 minutes.

Nilsson converted on a 5-on-3 power play with just over four minutes left in the game to give the IceHogs some insurance and cap off the scoring. After giving up 46 shots on Wednesday, the IceHogs limited Tucson to six during Friday’s final period.

The Roadrunners got the better of the IceHogs with a 5-3 win in Saturday night’s rematch. Lucas Carlsson put the IceHogs up 1-0 with a first-period power play goal by blasting a slap shot from the left point through traffic. Tucson had a quick answer and tied the game 25 seconds later. They went up 2-1 less than three minutes after that, then doubled their lead with a power-play goal six minutes into the second period.

The scored stayed at 3-1 until the IceHogs tied the game with a pair of goals in 40 seconds midway through the third period. The first goal came on the power play as Jordan Schroeder scored on a one-timer off a nifty cross-ice pass from Sikura. Dennis Gilbert became the second Rockford defenseman to score his first AHL goal this week by tying the game from the left circle.

The IceHogs kept the pressure on and nearly took the lead a couple of times. Unfortunately, Andreas Martinsen took a questionable interference penalty with four minutes to go and defenseman Robbie Russo scored his second power-play tally of the night. The Roadrunners added an empty-netter a few seconds later to seal the deal.

On Sunday, Scott Powers of The Athletic reported that defenseman Luc Snuggerud had been placed on unconditional waivers. He only played in 44 games during his two professional seasons and only four this season, due to injury including multiple concussions.

Player of the Week: Sikura continues to drive the offense in Rockford. He picked up an assist in all three games last week and he has two goals and eight points in his last eight games. He leads the team in goals (13) and points (30). However, the IceHogs will be without their leading scorer for the time being as he was recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday.

Dylan Sikura Blackhawks
Dylan Sikura is off for his third stint with the Blackhawks. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Feb. 12 vs Texas Stars; Saturday, Feb. 16 vs Wild; Sunday, Feb. 17 vs Rampage

Admirals Struggle to Earn Just a Single Point

The Admirals (22-19-9-1) continue to trend in the wrong direction. They earned just one point in their three home games last week and are tied with the IceHogs with 54 points but are in fifth place because they trail in the ROW column.

The Admirals started this disappointing and frustrating week with a 1-0 loss to the Texas Stars on Wednesday night. Troy Grosenick made 27 saves and allowed just one goal on a partial breakaway early in the first period. The Admirals had 29 shots on goal, including 18 in the third period, but they could not figure out Texas goaltender Landon Bow.

Milwaukee Admirals Alexandre Carrier Troy Grosenick
Goalie Troy Grosenick was outdueled versus Texas. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

On Friday, the Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes made a trade that caused some major changes to the Admirals’ roster. Emil Pettersson, who led Milwaukee with 33 points at the time of the trade, was sent to Arizona along with Jeremy Gregoire for forwards Laurent Dauphin and Adam Helweka.

With the Roadrunners playing in nearby Rockford, both Dauphin and Helweka were able to make their Admirals debut in Friday night’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins.

The Penguins came out firing on all cylinders and built a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. They extended the lead to 4-0 before the Admirals finally got on the board later in the middle frame. Anthony Richard scored his team-high 18th goal of the season by finishing off a shorthanded breakaway.

Defenseman Duncan Siemens scored his first goal with the Admirals late in the third period and 44 seconds after the Penguins went up 5-1, but it was not nearly enough to mount a significant comeback.

The Admirals were able to salvage a point with some late-game heroics in Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Wolves. The Wolves scored the only goal of the first two periods, but Cole Schneider tied the game less the seven minutes into the third period by deflecting a Helewka shot into the Chicago net. However, the Wolves responded by retaking the lead just 38 seconds later.

Tyler Gaudet forced overtime by scoring with just 19 seconds remaining in the game with his goaltender on the bench for the extra attacker. The Admirals’ losing streak was pushed to five games as the Wolves scored 1:30 into overtime.

Player of the Week: It’s hard to stick out on a team that scored four goals over three games last week. Gaudet gets the honor since his late goal earned the team their lone point of the week on Saturday. He also added an assist to be the only Admiral to pick up two points last week.

The Week Ahead: Monday, Feb. 11 vs Rampage; Sunday, Feb. 17 @ Moose

Stars Offense Goes Cold in Trip up North

The Stars (23-20-3-2) will need to reboot their offense after it went missing in a two-point week. The defending Western Conference champions are in sixth place with 51 points. They enter an important week three points out of a playoff spot.

Their week on the road began at the Admirals where they picked up a big 1-0 victory. Joel L’Esperance scored the only goal of the game just over a minute into it. Dillion Heatherington sent L’Esperance in on a breakaway where he scored his 25th goal and his fourth game-winner of the season. He became just the second rookie in the league to score 40 points this season.

Bow was fantastic in goal, stopping all 28 shots for his second shutout of the season. He had to make 18 stops in the final period in order to preserve the win. The following day, he learned he was heading back to the NHL for the second time this season when he was recalled by the Dallas Stars. Colton Point was reassigned in a corresponding move, who is 1-3-1 with a 3.96 goals-against average (GAA) and .854 save percentage (save %) in five AHL games this season.

The Stars’ road trip continued north of the border with a weekend set at the last place, Moose. Their hosts were not gracious as they swept the two-game series, beginning with a 3-2 decision on Saturday night. Michael Mersch’s 12th goal of the season broke a scoreless tie just 17 seconds into the second period by putting his own rebound in off a breakaway shot into the Manitoba net. L’Esperance scored his second goal of the week thanks to a brutal Moose turnover in front of their own net.

The game turned around, late in the second period, shortly after Sam Laberge was given a match penalty for an illegal check to the head. In fact, Laberge earned a two-game suspension for the hit. The Moose scored during 4-on-4 play just over a minute later and then they tied the game on the power play just two minutes after that.

The Moose scored the eventual game-winning goal about four minutes into the third period. The Stars pressured with 13 shots during the final frame, but they were unable to draw even.

The scoring frustrations continued into Sunday’s rematch as the Stars were shutout 2-0. The Stars got 34 shots on goal and hit the crossbar twice, but could not light the lamp. Phillippe Desrosiers had one of his best games of the season by giving up just one goal on 32 shots.

Player of the Week: The Stars only scored three goals last week and L’Esperance scored two of them, including the lone goal in their only win. The rookie has four goals and six points during his current five-game scoring streak and leads the AHL with 26 goals.

The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Feb. 12 @ IceHogs; Friday, Feb. 15 vs Roadrunners; Saturday, Feb. 16 vs Roadrunners

Rampage Squander Leads and Points in Iowa

The Rampage (23-21-4-0) have struggled all season on the road and that is the biggest reason why they have been at the bottom of the division for much of the year. They lost two more road games last week but at least they were both in overtime to earn a pair of points. They are in seventh place with 50 points, one point out of both sixth and eighth place.

Special teams played a huge factor in Friday night’s 5-4 overtime loss at the Wild as the Rampage gave up three power-play goals and a shorthanded goal as well. After the Wild opened the scoring with their shorthanded goal 11 minutes into the game, Trevor Smith tied the game late in the opening frame. The veteran was in the right place at the right time as a rebound from a Jordan Kyrou shot bounced off of him and over the goal line.

Six goals were scored in the second period and the Rampage failed to hang on to a pair of two-goal cushions. Adam Musil gave the Rampage a 2-1 lead at the 3:01 mark with a wrist shot from the right circle. Niko Mikkola scored his first career AHL off a feed from Austin Poganski 21 seconds later.

The Wild answered with the first of their three power-play goals about two minutes later. Sammy Blais would get that goal back four minutes later by cashing in on his own rebound, but that would be the final San Antonio tally on the night. About four minutes after Blais’ goal, the Wild struck again on the power play and then tied the game just 56 seconds later.

The game headed to overtime after a scoreless third period when Blais was called for hooking on an Iowa breakaway and the Wild converted on the ensuing power play for the victory.

Rampage captain Chris Butler is back for another tour of duty in the NHL. (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

Before the Rampage took to the ice for Saturday’s rematch in Iowa, they learned that they would be without their captain. The St. Louis Blues announced that they had recalled defenseman Chris Butler. Later that night, the Rampage suffered another disappointing overtime loss to the Wild after holding a late third-period lead.

A Rampage power play opened the scoring this time around as Blais scored off a one-timer from the right circle 16 minutes into the first period. Kyrou picked up an assist to extend his points streak to seven games.

The Wild tied the game 7:45 into the second period with a redirection that beat Jared Coreau over the shoulder. Kim Kostin reestablished the Rampage’s lead just over two minutes later with a wrist shot from the right wing.

With the goaltender on the bench for an extra attacker, the Wild forced overtime with less than 10 seconds left in the game. They went on to score the game-winner just 39 seconds into overtime to pull off the stunning comeback win.

Player of the Week: Blais has spent this season going back and forth between San Antonio and St. Louis and has also dealt with an injury. He is getting his footing in the AHL with goals in each of his last four games and points in 12 out of his last 13. He was the only Rampage player with three points and now has 18 points in his 24 AHL games this season.

The Week Ahead: Monday, Feb. 11 @ Admirals; Friday, Feb. 15 @ Griffins; Saturday, Feb. 16 @ Griffins; Sunday, Feb. 17 @ IceHogs

Point Streak Helping Moose Dig Out of Early Hole

The Moose (22-21-3-2) are still struggling to score goals but they continue to get very good goaltending. They took five out of a possible six points last week and remain in eighth place with 49 points. They are still within striking distance of the postseason but will need to avoid any extended losing streaks.

The Moose suffered a disappointing 2-1 loss at the Griffins, their only road game of the week, on Wednesday night. It took 38:29 of play before the game saw its first goal, coming from Skyler McKenzie off the rush. After the Griffins had a goal waived off for goaltender inference early in the third period, they took advantage of two late penalties to steal a victory. While on a 6-on-3 power play, thanks to pulling the goalie for an extra attacker, Hronek tied the game. The talented Griffins defender scored the game-winning goal 56 seconds later. Eric Comrie made 30 saves in the losing effort.

The Moose returned home for a weekend series against the Stars, beginning with a great come-from-behind 3-2 victory on Saturday night. After a scoreless first period, the Stars built a 2-0 lead five minutes into the middle frame. Comrie and the Moose settled down and fought back to tie the game by the end of the second period.

For the second straight game, McKenzie got the Moose on the board as he finished off a 2-on-1 rush while both teams had a man in the penalty box for his sixth goal of the season. Tucker Poolman even things up with a power-play goal just over a minute later, extending his points streak to four games.

Marko Dano scored the eventual game-winning goal four minutes into the third period by batting the puck out of mid-air and into the Stars’ net for his seventh goal of the season.

The following day, the Moose got a 34-save performance from rookie goaltender Mikhail Berdin, who was just recalled from the ECHL, in a 2-0 victory over the Stars. Berdin set the tone early by stopping all 15 shots he faced during the opening period. The game remained scoreless through 40 minutes until the Moose finally lit the lamp in the third period.

Seth Griffith’s hustle to beat out an icing call led to the first goal of the game about five minutes into the third period. His play forced a turnover and Dano found Logan Shaw all alone in front of the net for his 20th goal of the season. Griffith added an empty-net goal to finish off the scoring and extend Manitoba’s point streak on home ice to nine games.

Seth Griffith, Manitoba Moose
Seth Griffith is a big reason for Manitoba’s better play since Christmas. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Player of the Week: Poolman was one of three Moose players to pick up three points last week. With his assist on Griffith’s empty-net goal on Sunday, his point streak has been extended to five games. Since his return to the lineup on Jan. 12, Poolman has two goals and nine points in 13 games.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Feb. 13 vs Wolves; Friday, Feb. 15 vs Wolves; Sunday, Feb. 17 vs Admirals

For the teams outside of the top three in the standings, the playoffs have already begun. Any team hoping to earn that fourth and final postseason berth has to bring their best to the rink every night from here on out.