When you are dealing with a division as competitive as the American Hockey League’s Central Division, the standings will change with each and every gameday. One night you can be at the top of the mountain and the next morning you can be on the outside, looking in, when it comes to a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Wild Watch Their Lead Vanish
The Iowa Wild (8-3-2-1) had themselves a rough week with just one win in their three games. Their 19 points have them tied for first place in the division, but the two-point week has the rest of the division closing in on them.
The Wild hosted the Chicago Wolves in front of a very enthusiastic School Day crowd on Thursday afternoon, returning home after a seven-game road trip. Unfortunately, they did not have much to cheer for as the home team was shutout 3-0. Despite outshooting the Wolves 35-15, they failed to light the lamp. The loss ended goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen’s six-game win streak, which was a franchise record.
“The first game home, at times, you can have a lack of energy,” head coach Tim Army said. “But I thought we had good energy. I thought we worked hard. I don’t know if we had our best legs, but, then again, it was a tight game.”
The Ontario Reign came to town for a weekend set of games, starting on Saturday night. The visitors from the Pacific Division drew first blood with a 3-2 win in the series opener.
The Reign grabbed an early 1-0 lead after a shot from the blue line hit off the skate of an Iowa defender and got in behind Kahkonen. Gerry Mayhew tied the game with a power-play goal about five minutes later.
Nico Sturm’s third goal of the season, also on the power play, gave the Wild a 2-1 lead, midway through the second period. Ontario evened things up early in the third period and scored the eventual game-winning goal with 2:32 remaining in the game.
Mat Robson got the start in net for Sunday afternoon’s rematch and he stopped all 17 shots he faced to pick up his first-ever AHL shutout. Cody McLeod scored the only goal of the opening period, just two minutes into the contest, by intercepting a pass and sneaking a shot just inside the post. It was the veteran forward’s first goal with the Wild.
The Wild struck again, early in the second period, with Sturm scoring his second goal in as many games by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush. About 10 minutes later, Mayhew scored the team’s second shorthanded goal of the season to cap off the scoring. In the end, they outshout the Reign 42-17 in a dominating performance.
Player of the Week: Sturm had just two goals in the first 12 games of his AHL career. He doubled that output over the weekend with a goal in each of the games versus the Reign. He and Mayhew were the only players to score more than one goal last week. Sturm’s four goals are tied for the third-most on the team with Kyle Rau.
The Week Ahead: Saturday, Nov. 16 @ Wolves; Sunday, Nov. 17 vs Wolves
Admirals Continue Surge up the Standings
The Milwaukee Admirals (8-3-1-2) have been playing great hockey of late. They won all three of their games last week and find themselves tied with the Wild at the top of the Central.
The Manitoba Moose came calling for a School Day Game on Wednesday afternoon and the Admirals picked up their second straight victory in a 6-4 decision.
The home team had to erase three separate one-goal deficits before pulling away in the second half of the game. Tommy Novak’s first career AHL tied the game about seven minutes after the Moose opened the scoring. Cole Schneider tied the game at 2-2, with just 29 seconds left in the opening period, about a minute after Manitoba’s second goal.
Disaster struck in the second period when the Admirals gave up a breakaway goal while they were on a 5-on-3 power play. The Admirals were able to shake that off and score the next four goals of the game.
Yakov Trenin tied the game just over a minute after the major miscue. Daniel Carr added a pair of goals before the end of the second period to give the Admirals a 5-3 lead. Colin Blackwell added a sixth and final goal early in the third period before the Moose scored late in the frame. Goaltender Troy Grosenick made 22 saves for his third win of the season.
The Admirals traveled to Texas for a weekend series at the San Antonio Rampage. Milwaukee extended their winning streak to three games with a 3-1 victory on Friday night.
The Rampage scored the lone goal of the first period and it would be the only puck they would get by Connor Ingram on the night. Trenin scored his second goal in as many games to even things up in the middle frame. While on the power play, he redirected a Matt Donovan shot for his team-high sixth goal.
Carr, playing in his 200th career AHL game, scored a shorthanded goal later in the second period to give the Admirals a 2-1 lead. Laurent Dauphin’s empty-net goal with just 16 seconds left in the game sealed the deal.
The Admirals completed the sweep of the Rampage with a 4-3 shootout win on Sunday afternoon. They have now won four straight games, scoring a combined 18 goals in those victories.
Schneider tied the game with a power-play goal, midway through the first period, by redirecting an Alex Carrier shot into the Rampage net.
After a scoreless second period, the Rampage grabbed a 2-1 lead about four minutes into the final stanza. Fred Allard responded with his first goal of the season, just 34 seconds later, to even up the score. Less than two minutes later, the Rampage regained the lead off a deflection. The Admirals had another fast answer as Josh Wilkins tied the game by jamming home a rebound two minutes after they fell behind.
The game headed to a shootout after a scoreless overtime, where Carr was the only player to score. Grosenick made 28 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped all three shots he saw in the shootout to help his team to two points.
Player of the Week: After a bit of a slow start, Carr is starting to produce at the pace that won him the AHL MVP last season. He led the way with three goals and six points and had the only shootout goal on Sunday to help the Admirals grab all six points on the week. He has eight points in his last six games and is tied for the team lead in scoring with 10 points. Earlier today, he was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for his efforts; making it three weeks in a row a player from the Central has won this award.
The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Nov. 13 vs Wolves; Friday, Nov. 15 @ Laval Rocket; Saturday, Nov. 16 @ Belleville Senators
Rampage Stumble on Home Ice
The third-place Rampage (6-3-2-2) got to spend the weekend at home, but they were only able to pick up a single point. They are still all alone in third place with 16 points, however, they are holding on to the spot by just a single point.
The Rampage had their special Friday night spoiled by a 3-1 loss to the Admirals. In a celebration of 25 years of professional hockey in San Antonio, the Rampage wore a different jersey for each period of the game. They wore replica jerseys of the CHL’s San Antonio Iguanas in the first period. They busted out the jerseys of the IHL’s San Antonio Dragons for the second. They returned to their normal home jerseys for the final frame.
It was in those Iguanas jerseys they scored their lone goal of the evening. Jordan Kyrou scored his first AHL goal of the season, on a breakaway, midway through the first period. Special teams were the difference in the second period as the Admirals scored both a power-play and shorthanded goal. They completed the scoring with a late empty-net goal. The loss was the first regulation defeat on home ice for the Rampage this season.
“At 5v5 we were good,” head coach Drew Bannister said during his postgame presser. “Take away the first 8-10 minutes of the first period, from then on we were pretty good. But, at the end of the day, we lost the specialty teams game.”
The offense provided three goals in Sunday’s rematch, but it wasn’t enough as the Rampage fell 4-3 in a shootout.
Klim Kostin opened the scoring midway through the first period by slamming home a rebound for his third goal of the season. The Admirals drew even with a power-play tally a couple of minutes later.
The score remained 1-1 until Kyrou scored off the rush about four minutes into the third period. The lead lasted only 34 seconds, but Mike Vecchione redirected a point shot from Andreas Borgman to give the Rampage a 3-2 lead. Milwaukee had another quick response as they forced extra time with a goal just over two minutes later.
In the shootout, Ville Husso stopped two out of the three shots he saw, but Kyrou, Austin Poganski and Nathan Walker all failed to score so the Rampage had to settle for just one point.
Player of the Week: After missing the first 10 games of the season due to injury, Kyrou is starting to find his grove. He scored two of the four Rampage goals last week and has four points in his first three games of the season. He was third in scoring, with 43 points last season, despite playing in just 47 AHL games.
The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Nov. 12 vs Colorado Eagles; Friday, Nov. 15 @ Moose; Sunday, Nov. 17 @ Moose
Wolves Relying on Goaltending
The three-time defending Central Division champion Wolves (7-7-1-0) are struggling to find the back of the net these days. They are currently ranked sixth out of the division’s eight teams in scoring with 36 goals. However, they are still hanging onto the fourth and final playoff spot with 15 points thanks to some outstanding goaltending.
The Wolves wrapped up their season-long, five-game road trip with a School Day Game at the Wild on Thursday morning. Although they were outplayed for much of the day and severely shorthanded, they found a way to pull off a 3-0 victory.
Leading goal-scorer Gage Quinney missed the game due to injury, while Nic Hague and Nicolas Roy were recalled by the Vegas Golden Knights. Things got worse as the Wolves had to play with 10 forwards for much of the game. Jermaine Lowen was given a game misconduct less than two minutes into the game for fighting before the puck was dropped. A few minutes later, Keegan Kolesar was hit hard into the boards and left with an apparent shoulder injury.
Patrick Brown opened the scoring, just past the halfway point of the first period, while on the team’s first power play. Defenseman Jimmy Schuldt blasted a shot from the point that Brown redirected for his sixth goal of the season.
Late in the second period, Tye McGinn doubled the lead by scoring right off a faceoff. Jake Leshcyshyn, son of former NHL defenseman Curtis, picked up his first career AHL assist by winning the faceoff. Rookie Lucas Elvenes picked up the primary assist to extend his personal points streak to 11 games. Curtis McKenzie added an empty netter with just over three minutes left in the game.
Garret Sparks continued his great play with 35 saves for his second straight shutout. He has won each of his last three starts and has only allowed two goals during that span.
The Wolves returned home on Saturday night to host the Moose, but this time they were on the wrong end of a 3-0 shutout. The offense struggled without the services of Quinney and Kolesar. In fact, the Wolves only dressed 11 forwards on the night and used seven defensemen.
The Moose scored the only goal they would need late in the first period before adding two goals in the final 1:40 of the game. Oscar Dansk stopped 18 of the 20 shots he faced in the losing effort.
“I thought we actually played a decent game,” said Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson after the loss. “We’ve got to grind (teams). We’ve got to tire them out and take advantage of that and capitalize on our opportunities when they come. I thought we had some good opportunities in the second period and a little bit in the third.”
The Rockford IceHogs came to town on Sunday afternoon and it was more of the same for the Wolves in a 4-1 loss.
Dylan Coghlan scored the loan Wolves goal, on a late first-period power play, by blasting home a one-timer from the left circle. The IceHogs responded with a goal in the second period and then three more in the third, including two late empty netters.
Sparks was on his game again, stopping 34 of 36 shots. When the IceHogs finally scored late in the second period, it ended Sparks’ shutout streak at 191:14; a new franchise record. The 26-year-old netminder made 115 straight saves in between goals allowed.
“He’s been incredible,” Coghlan said of Sparks on Sunday evening. “He seems to always be there when we need him to make big saves. Both of our goalies have done a good job with that. He was awesome tonight.”
Player of the Week: This was an easy choice with Sparks stopping 69 of the 71 shots he faced in his two starts. He currently leads all AHL goaltenders with a 1.60 goals-against average (GAA) and .953 save percentage (SV%). The Wolves will need both Sparks and Dansk to be at their best as they try to figure out how to produce more offense.
The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Nov. 13 @ Admirals; Saturday, Nov. 16 vs Wild; Sunday, Nov. 17 @ Wild
IceHogs Ascend as Hot Streak Continues
The points keep coming for the IceHogs (7-6-0-0) as they won three out of their last four games. They have 10 points in their last six games and have moved up to just one point behind the Wolves for fourth place in the Central Division.
The IceHogs continued their winning ways with a 3-1 victory over the Marlies on Wednesday afternoon. The loss was the Marlies first in regulation this season and ended their 10-game point streak.
After a scoreless first period, which saw the IceHogs hold a 17-5 advantage in shots on goal, the Marlies scored first. Just eight seconds into the middle frame, Matt Read took advantage of a strange bounce off the end boards to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. It was the fifth straight game in which the IceHogs have surrendered the opening tally.
Reese Johnson answered for the IceHogs just 24 seconds later by getting to a rebound and banging it home for his third goal of the season. Midway through the frame, Philip Kurashev scored his first professional goal, while on the power play, to break the tie. Brandon Hagel added an empty-net goal to finish off the scoring in the third period.
The IceHogs played a very good defensive game. The Marlies entered the game with the third-ranked power play in the entire AHL. The IceHogs killed off all five of their penalties and limited the Marlies to just 20 shots on goal in total.
The five-game homestand ended on a downer with a 4-0 loss to the Moose on Friday night. The IceHogs played well, outshooting the Moose 41-26, but they ran into a hot goaltender. The lineup did get a boost as defenseman Dennis Gilbert was back from his stint with the Chicago Blackhawks. Also, captain Kris Versteeg returned after missing the previous seven games with a lower-body injury.
“I didn’t think we played bad, we just couldn’t get one by this guy,” head coach Derek King said after the loss. “We kept dumping the puck to him and he’s got some pretty good hands for a goalie. You know how that goes; the first 10 minutes were all over them and we don’t score. They go down and they get a goal and now it just snowballs.”
The IceHogs got back on track with their fourth straight victory over the Wolves this season on Sunday afternoon. They dictated the play for much of the decisive 4-1 win.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the second period, the IceHogs kept the puck in the Chicago zone for much of the frame. They finally tied the game when Anton Wedin redirected Philip Holm’s pass out of midair and into the net for his third goal of the season.
Defenseman Lucas Carlsson scored the eventual game-winning goal, halfway through the third period, by using a nifty toe drag to create space before firing a laser in the top corner of the net.
Matthew Highmore and Tyler Sikura scored a pair of late empty-net goals to cap off the scoring. Matt Tomkins made 18 saves for his second victory of the season as the IceHogs continue to carry three goaltenders.
Player of the Week: Holm has been a great addition to Rockford’s blue line this season. He has provided a calming, veteran presence in their own zone and does a great job in the transition game as well. He led the team with three assists on the week and his seven helpers on the season are the most on the team.
The Week Ahead: Friday, Nov. 15 @ Grand Rapids Griffins; Saturday, Nov. 16 vs Griffins
Griffins Take a Tumble Down the Standings
With just two points last week, the Griffins (6-6-1-1) have fallen down to sixth place with 14 points. Fortunately for them, with the Central Division standings so tight, they are just one point out of a playoff spot.
The Griffins returned home for a School Day Game against the Cleveland Monsters on Wednesday morning. The energetic crowd was not enough to spark the home team as the fell 5-3 to their fourth-straight defeat.
They had to take on the Monsters without two of their top veteran defenders. Joe Hicketts has been with the Detroit Red Wings since Oct. 29 and they recalled Dylan McIlrath on Tuesday morning.
Chase Pearson scored the first goal of the day, early in the first period, by taking advantage of goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks being out of position for an easy tap-in goal. Later in the period, the Griffins received a five-minute power play and cashed in when Chris Terry set up a Matt Puempel one-timer. The Monsters answered less than a minute later with a shorthanded goal to cut the Griffins’ lead in half.
The Monsters scored another shorthanded tally midway through the second period to tie the game. Defenseman Brian Lashoff put the Griffins up 3-2, early in the third period, by intercepting a pass and blasting home a slap shot.
The visitors came back to tie the game again, about four minutes later. They scored the eventual game-winning goal halfway through the final frame, with yet another shorthanded tally. The Monsters added an empty-net goal in the final minute to cap off the scoring.
The game marked the first time the Griffins gave up three shorthanded goals in franchise history. The last time an AHL team scored three shorthanded goals was Dec. 28, 2018, when the Syracuse Crunch beat the Utica Comets 10-1.
Wearing their military appreciation camouflage jerseys, the Griffins snapped their four-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over the Toronto Marlies on Friday night. They were aided by the AHL’s top-rated power-play unit that scored three times.
The Marlies scored an early goal to grab a 1-0 lead, but it was all Griffins after that. Filip Zadina scored the first power-play goal of the evening, early in the second period, by taking advantage of a friendly bounce off of the end boards.
The game remained tied until the 7:36 mark of the third period when Puempel struck on the power play. Hicketts, who was just reassigned by the Red Wings, picked up the primary assist on the play. Just over three minutes later, Givani Smith cashed in off a rebound for the Griffins’ third power-play goal of the evening. Dominic Turgeon added an empty-net goal late in regulation. Former Marlies goaltender, Calvin Pickard, made 21 saves for the win.
“Credit to our guys, we battled for the full 60 minutes,” Pickard said after the win. “I know it’s cliché, but from start to finish, we needed that against a good team. It was definitely a good response after the last few games where we were kind of in-and-out. Tonight was a full effort.”
The Marlies got revenge in Saturday’s rematch with a 5-2 win to earn a weekend split before heading home. They scored an early power-play goal to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. They doubled their lead, early in the second period, after an unfortunate turnover right in front of the Griffins’ net.
The Griffins quickly roared back with a pair of goals, just over a minute apart, shortly after Toronto’s second goal. Zadina scored his second goal of the weekend, from the bottom of the right circle, to get his team on the board. Moments later, Jarid Lukosevicius’ shot laid in behind goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo and Dominic Turgeon was the first to get his stick on it to push it over the goal line.
The Marlies regained the lead and the momentum with a goal very late in the middle frame. They added an insurance goal late in the third period and followed it up with an empty-net goal for the victory.
Player of the Week: While Terry is tied for the AHL lead in scoring, Puempel has been doing his fair share of heavy lifting. He led the Griffins with four points last week. He is currently second on the team in goals (7), assists (9) and points (16). He has 120 points in his 132 games since coming over to the Griffins during the 2017-18 season.
The Week Ahead: Tuesday, Nov. 12 @ Cleveland Monsters; Friday, Nov. 15 vs IceHogs; Saturday, Nov. 16 @ IceHogs
Moose Starting to Put it Together
While the Moose (5-8-0-0) are down in seventh place with 10 points, they have been playing their best hockey of the season over the past two weeks. With their two victories over the weekend, they have now won four of their last five games and are trending in the right direction.
The Moose began their trek through the Midwest with a Wednesday matinee at the Admirals, where their two-game winning streak was snapped in a 6-4 loss.
Kristian Vesalainen scored his first goal of the season, on the power play, about seven minutes into the contest to get the ball rolling. The Admirals responded a few minutes later to tie things up. The final 90 seconds of the opening frame saw each team light the lamp. Cole Maier’s first goal of the season gave the Moose a short-lived 2-1 lead, but the Admirals answered just over a minute later.
C.J. Suess, who just returned from his first stint in the NHL, put the Moose up 3-2, early in the second period, while they were killing off a 5-on-3 Admirals’ power play. It was all downhill from there for the Moose as the Admirals scored the next four goals of the game, including three before the second intermission.
Griffen Outhouse made his AHL debut to start the third period in relief of goaltender Mikhail Berdin. He stopped five of the six shots he saw. Sami Niku scored late to cut the lead down to two goals, but that was as close as the Moose would get.
On Friday night, Berdin rebounded nicely and made 41 saves in a 4-0 shut out of the red-hot IceHogs. The Moose were outplayed for much of the opening period, but they owned a 1-0 lead at the break thanks to Michael Spacek’s second goal of the season.
The Moose scored a pair of power-play goals in the second period to build up a 3-0. The first came from Luke Green, his first goal of the season and second of his AHL career. About 10 minutes later, Spacek picked up his second point of the night by setting up Suess’ power-play tally.
Early in the third period, Seth Griffith scored the final goal of the evening, his team-high seventh on the season.
Head coach Pascal Vincent gave Berdin a second straight start in Chicago on Saturday night and the move paid off. He became the first goaltender in Moose franchise history to post shutouts on consecutive days with a 26-save, 3-0 victory over the Wolves.
Emilie Porier’s first goal of the season, late in the opening period, would be all the Moose would need. After the Moose killed off three penalties in the second period, Kristian Vesalainen scored on the power play midway through the last stanza to double the lead. J.C. Lipon added an empty netter 40 seconds later to complete the scoring.
Player of the Week: Berdin’s week started off on the wrong foot, but even after giving up five goals in Grand Rapids, he still finished the week with a .948 SV%.
“Going into the last two games, I felt good,” Berdin said after Sunday’s practice. “Everybody in the locker room is happy. It’s more enjoyable. The time on the road, it is more fun when you are winning games.”
The Week Ahead: Monday, Nov. 11 vs Texas Stars; Wednesday, Nov. 13 vs Stars; Friday, Nov. 15 vs Rampage; Sunday, Nov. 17 vs Rampage
Slumping Stars Bottom Out
The Stars (3-8-0-2) are the lowest-scoring team in the Central Division with just 31 goals. Their offensive struggles have been compounded with the defense letting them down too as they have allowed the most goals in the division as well. All of this has them sitting in eighth place with just eight points on the season.
The Eagles made the trip from Colorado for the Stars only game of the week on Saturday in front of a sold-crowd for Military Appreciation Night. They took control of the game with three goals late in the first period. After scoring a pair of goals exactly two minutes apart, the Eagles scored a shorthanded goal to take a commanding 3-0 lead into the locker room.
A.J. Greer scored a pair of goals in the second period; one early on and another in the final minutes. In between those tallies, Jason Robertson’s fourth goal of the season put the Stars on the board. Goaltender Landon Bow was pulled after Greer’s second goal and replaced with Jake Oettinger.
Josh Melnick scored his first career AHL goal late in the third period, but it was far too late for the Stars to mount a big comeback.
“I thought we started the game off really well,” a disappointed head coach Derek Laxdal said after the game. “I thought, in the first period, at 5v5, we had some of the best looks. We missed a breakaway, hit a couple of posts and then we gave up the power-play goal. We had a breakdown – a bad pinch – on the second goal. The third goal was shorthanded and all of sudden we were down three.”
Player of the Week: Robertson, in his first professional season, has been one of the few bright spots offensively for the Stars this season. He scored one of the team’s two goals last week and has the team lead with four on the season. He is tied with defenseman Emil Djuse for the team lead in overall scoring with seven points.
The Week Ahead: Monday, Nov. 11 @ Moose; Wednesday, Nov. 13 @ Moose; Saturday, Nov. 16 @ Marlies; Sunday, Nov. 17 @ Marlies
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.