AHL Central News: Wolves Begin Late Surge

As we head into the month of March and the final six weeks of the regular season, the American Hockey League’s Central Division is still up for grabs. We still have three teams with a very good shot at not only winning the division but earning the top spot in the Western Conference, as well. Meanwhile, you can still throw a blanket over the five teams battling out for the fourth and final spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Griffins Lead Begins to Shrink

The Grand Rapids Griffins (31-17-4-4) are still sitting atop the Central as they became the first team in the Western Conference to hit the 70-point plateau. However, after only earning three out of possible six points, their division lead is down to just two points. The Griffins began their week by hosting the Rockford IceHogs on Wednesday night in a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss.

The home team got off to a quick start as Wade Megan scored just 1:21 into the game. Megan was able to backhand the rebound off a Denis Cholowski shot into the Rockford net for his 12th goal of the season. Filip Zadina extended his season-high, personal point streak to six games with the secondary assist.

Denis Cholowski Grand Rapids Griffins Detroit Red Wings
Denis Cholowski has fit in well with the Griffins. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins took advantage of another rebound to double their lead with just under four minutes left in the opening frame. While on the power play, Matt Puempel swatted home the rebound off a Carter Camper shot for a 2-0 lead. The IceHogs got on the board late in the second period as Harri Sateri committed to a one-timer attempt, which was whiffed on, and it led to a goal into a wide-open net. Rockford evened things up with a power-play goal early in the third period.

Zadina had a golden chance to win the game in overtime, but his Spin-o-Rama backhand shot rang loudly off the right post. The IceHogs went on to score the game-winning goal with just 0.6 seconds remaining in the extra time.

On Thursday, the Detroit Red Wings recalled Sateri to the NHL while sending center Christoffer Ehm down the Griffins. Goaltender Kaden Fulcher was recalled from the Toledo Walleye from the ECHL to take Sateri’s spot on the roster. The roster move meant Patrik Rybar would get the net on Friday night versus the Texas Stars and he led the team to a 4-3 shootout win to close out the Griffins’ season-high seven-game homestand.

Patrik Rybar Grand Rapids Griffins
Patrik Rybar will hold down the fort while Harri Sateri is in Detroit. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Stars grabbed a 1-0 lead just over three minutes into the game, but the Griffins had an answer six minutes later. Givani Smith was able to find the puck, after it was poke-checked away, and roofed home a shot from the right circle to tie the game. Libor Sulak put the Griffins up 2-1 just over four minutes later while the teams skated 4-on-4. The defenseman took advantage of the extra space on the ice to skate between the circles and snap the puck just inside the right post for his third goal of the season.

Turner Elson played beat the clock while on the power play to increase the lead to 3-1 before the first intermission. Camper found Elson in the slot from the right corner and he was able to kick the puck to his stick and score with just 0.1 seconds left on the clock.

Texas drew even with just over seven minutes into the second period on a pair of power-play goals. Neither team was able to score in the third period or overtime, which sent the game to the shootout. Puempel and Dominic Turgeon scored in the first two rounds of the shootout, but the skills competition needed five rounds to decide a victor. Derek Hulak’s fifth-round shot barely trickled over the goal line, but it went far enough to give the Griffins the extra point.

The Griffins took to the road for the first time since Feb. 1 at the Chicago Wolves for another game in the Windy City on Saturday night. They would have to hold off the surging Wolves without Zadina, who earned a recall to the Red Wings. Sateri was sent down, but was not in Chicago, as he was recalled on Sunday.

Filip Zadina Grand Rapids Griffins
Filip Zadina finally gets his first taste of the NHL. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins caught a bad break late in the first period as a centering pass hit off the skate of Joe Hicketts and got in behind Rybar to give the Wolves a 1-0 lead. Puempel tied the game midway through the first period, moments after a power play expired, by firing a wrist shot through traffic from the left circle.

The Wolves regained the lead early in the second period, but Megan answered with his second goal of the week about 10 minutes later. The former Wolves forward got his stick on a Hicketts’ shot from the left point to redirect it into the Chicago net. The Wolves scored the final goal of the evening, off a rebound, early in the third period.

Player of the Week: Hicketts had a big week from the blue line as he picked up assists on four of the seven Griffins goals. With Filip Hronek currently up with the Red Wings, Hicketts leads all Griffins defensemen with 19 points. He is fourth on the team with 17 assists.

The Week Ahead: Friday, March 1 @ IceHogs

Wolves Claw Their Way into Second Place

The Wolves (31-17-5-1) used some home cooking this week to pick up six points and jump into second place. They were able to cut the Griffins division lead from six points down to just two in less than 24 hours over the weekend. This was just about the point of the season in 2017-18 in which they made their run to the top of the division for their second straight Central crown.

Before their game began, the Wolves gained another defenseman for the stretch run. The Vegas Golden Knights reassigned Jake Bischoff to the AHL after a three-week stint in the NHL. Despite being with the Golden Knights since Jan. 30, Bischoff is still waiting to make his NHL debut.

Jake Bischoff
Jake Bischoff is back in Chicago after a couple of weeks with Vegas. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

The Wolves hosted the Texas Stars in front of over 15,000 school children on Thursday afternoon, starting a stretch of four games between these two teams over the next 10 days. The home team did not disappoint the packed house in a 3-1 victory. The Stars scored their lone goal just before the five-minute mark of the first period and they held on to their 1-0 lead until past the midway point of the second period.

Curtis McKenzie came back to haunt his former team by tying the game off of a rebound at 11:24 of the middle frame. The goal light went on and the fireworks exploded, but the referee never signaled a good goal so the play went on for about another 30 seconds. After a quick review during the next stoppage of play, the goal was awarded to McKenzie.

Gage Quinney scored the eventual game-winning goal six minutes later. While on the penalty kill, Quinney forced a turnover along the boards then fired a shot to the far post from the left circle for his second shorthanded tally of the season. Daniel Carr added an empty-net goal late in the third period to cap off the scoring. Max Lagace continued his good play with a 38-save effort in the win.

The Wolves gained two huge points on the first-place Griffins by beating them 3-2, in regulation, on Saturday night. McKenzie, who struggled offensively for a good portion of the season, got some puck luck to score his 11th goal of the season on an early power play. He tried to pass across the crease to a wide-open Brooks Macek at the back door, but the puck hit the skate of a Griffins defender and went into the net. Those are the types of bounces you get when you are on a hot streak.

Curtis McKenzie, Chicago Wolves
Curtis McKenzie has been a great addition to the Wolves lineup. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Griffins tied the game before the end of the first period, but the Wolves answered back early in the middle frame. Carr and Macek entered the zone on a 2-on-1 rush and this time the pass got to Macek at the near post and he fired it home.

The game headed into the third period deadlocked at two goals apiece after a late second-period Griffins goal off a redirect. Keegan Kolesar broke the tie and scored the game-winning goal three and a half minutes into the final frame. After his initial shot from the right circle was blocked, Kolesar followed up by pouncing on the loose puck in the slot and roofing it home. The Griffins made a late push to tie the game, but Lagace stopped all 11 shots he saw in the third period on his way to a 24-save victory.

Golden Knights goaltender Maxime Lagace
Maxime Lagace has been great since returning from the NHL. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Sunday was Oscar Dansk’s turn to shine in net as he made a season-high 38 saves in 4-2 victory over the Stars. Kolesar scored his second straight goal to open the scoring six and a half minutes into the game. McKenzie set up the play by drawing two Texas defenders to him behind the net before quickly getting the puck to a wide-open Kolesar in front of the net. The helper extended McKenzie’s personal point streak to eight straight games.

Carr doubled the Wolves lead two minutes into the second period by getting to a loose puck on the power play and firing it into the open net. Zach Whitecloud’s shot from the high slot found its way into the back of the net just over two minutes later to increase the lead to 3-0 and force Texas to swap goaltenders.

The Stars got on the board six minutes into the third period with a power-play goal. The Wolves responded with a 5-on-3 goal just over three minutes later when Dylan Coghlan found pay dirt with a one-timer from the right circle. Texas picked up the second goal in the final minute of play, but that would as close as they would get before the clock struck zero.

Player of the Week: Carr had himself another big week as he keeps adding to his MVP resume. He led the Wolves with two goal and six points in their three games. He leads the league with 69 points, 10 more than Carter Verhaeghe of the Syracuse Crunch, who is second in scoring. He has at least one point in 10 straight games.

Daniel Carr, Chicago Wolves
Daniel Carr has been unstoppable in Chicago! (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Friday, March 1 @ Stars; Saturday, March 2 @ Stars

Wild Slide into Third Place Despite Four-Point Week

The Iowa Wild (28-16-6-5) picked up four out of a possible six points, but the red-hot Wolves were able to jump over them in the standings. They now find themselves in third place with 67 points, but they are still just three points out of the top spot with 21 games left on their schedule.

The Wild began their week hosting the Stars on Tuesday but fell 2-1 in a tightly contested overtime decision. After Texas took a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal during the final minute of the first period, the Wild answered with an early second-period goal while on the man advantage. Kyle Rau, who was reassigned by the Minnesota Wild the previous day, went five-hole to score his 10th power-play goal of the season and 15th overall.

The game headed into overtime after a scoreless third period, marking the 20th time the Wild has needed more than 60 minutes to decide a winner; the most in the AHL. Unfortunately, the visitors struck for the extra point and the Wild lost despite putting 40 shots on goal.

On Thursday morning, Minnesota announced that they had recalled forward J.T. Brown. The veteran forward had three goals and six points in his six AHL games this month.

Wild right wing J.T. Brown
J.T. Brown is back in Minnesota after a great deal of success with Iowa. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Later that evening, the Wild hosted the San Jose Barracuda for their first of back-to-back games against the Pacific Division’s second-place team. They went on to set a franchise record for home wins in a single season with a 4-3 victory. Mitch McClain opened the scoring 11 minutes into the game by firing the puck over the right shoulder of goaltender Antoine Bibeau.

The Barracuda had a quick answer as they tied the game just 16 seconds later. Defenseman Michael Kapla’s first goal with the Wild broke the tie midway through the second period as his one-timer from the left circle beat Bibeau to the blocker side. San Jose, once again, had an immediate response by evening things up less than a minute later.

Michael Kapla
Michael Kapla has produced since coming over from the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

However, the Wild regained the lead one minute later with Cal O’Reilly’s shorthanded tally. The Wild now have nine shorthanded goals on the season, which is the third-most in the AHL. Stop me if you heard this one before, but the Barracuda quickly tied the game 61 seconds later while on the same power play.

Matt Read put the Wild up 4-3 while on the power play with less than five minutes remaining in the third period. This time the Barracuda had no answer and the Wild held on for the victory.

The Barracuda was able to exact some revenge with a 3-2 shootout victory in Friday night’s rematch, but the Wild were still able to extend to the point streak to eight games. After giving up a goal just 29 seconds into the game, Rau tied things up just over 13 minutes later with his 11th power-play goal. Gerry Mayhew got to the rebound off an O’Reilly shot and slid it over to Rau at the side of the net for the easy tap-in goal.

Read, who scored the game-winning goal the night before, struck again in the opening minute in the second period by redirecting a Brendan Menell shot into the San Jose net. The Barracuda drew even late in the middle frame and the game remained tied through 60 minutes of play.

After a scoreless overtime, the Wild’s league-leading 21st overtime period, the game headed to the shootout despite Iowa getting a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes. Dylan Gambrell, who scored the game’s first goal, scored the only goal of the shootout for San Jose. Sam Anas, Read and O’Reilly were all denied by goaltender Josef Korenar.

Player of the Week: After a five-game stint in the NHL, Rau had a very successful return to the AHL last week. He factored in four of the seven Wild goals, scoring two of them and picking up assists on two more. He led all players with four points last week. Rau is second on the team with 16 goals and has scored 11 of the team’s 46 power-play goals on the season.

The Week Ahead: Friday, March 1 @ Bakersfield Condors; Saturday, March 2 @ Ontario Reign; Sunday, March 3 @ Reign

IceHogs Tick Off Another Week in a Playoff Spot

The IceHogs (26-22-3-6) spent their week with three tough road games and earned three points. They still hold on to the fourth and final playoff spot with 61 points and have a three-point lead over the two teams tied for fifth place. Perhaps, it was the moves that were made off the ice this week that helps the IceHogs hold on for a postseason berth.

We have documented the IceHogs offensive struggles on a weekly basis this season and the organization addressed them. On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks traded defenseman Darren Raddysh to the New York Rangers for forward Peter Holland. The 28-year-old veteran had 49 points for the Hartford Wolf Pack and instantly became the best offensive player on the IceHogs roster.

Related: Rangers-Blackhawks: Holland for Raddysh Trade Analysis

The new guy made an immediate impact in his debut as Holland picked up two primary assists in 3-2 overtime win over the first-place Griffins on Wednesday night.

The IceHogs found themselves trailing 2-0 at the first intermission, but they were able to get on the board during the second period. Holland tried to set up a one-timer for Jordan Schroeder, who whiffed on the shot. However, the puck went right to defenseman Joni Tuulola who was able to take advantage on an out of position goaltender to score from the high slot.

Jordan Schroeder Rockford Icehogs
Jordan Schroeder continues to help lead the IceHogs. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Schroeder did get on the board to tie the game with a third-period power-play goal as he backhanded the rebound off a Holland shot over the goal line for his 15th goal of the season. The game appeared to be headed to a shootout, but Luke Johnson had a different idea by getting to the rebound off a Graham Knott shot and swatting back into the net for the game-winning goal.

The IceHogs headed east for the weekend and took on the league’s hottest team, the Hershey Bears, who extended their point streak to 17 games with a 3-2 shootout win. Holland scored his first goal with the IceHogs just 1:21 into the game by blasting a shot from the point past goaltender Ilya Samsonov’s glove hand.

The Bears tied the game later in the period before Jacob Nilsson put the IceHogs back in front with just over two minutes remaining in the opening frame. Anthony Louis drew the attention of the defense by entering the zone with speed up the left wing. He then sent a drop pass behind him which Nilsson one-timed to the back of the net for the 14th goal of his rookie season.

The lead held until the third period when the Bears tied things up early on in the final stanza. After a scoreless overtime session, the teams took to the shootout. Schroeder scored on his attempt, but Riley Barber and Nathan Walker both got pucks past Anton Forsberg. The IceHogs stayed in Pennsylvania to take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Sunday, who avenged a loss in Rockford earlier this month with a 4-1 win.

Despite getting 34 shots on goaltender Tristan Jarry, Johnson was the only IceHog to get one past him to tie the game in the first period.

Luke Johnson Rockford Icehogs
Luke Johnson has been a valuable part of the Rockford’s recent succes. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Penguins took control of the game in the second period thanks to a pair of goals from former IceHogs Jimmy Hayes. In 120 games with the IceHogs, Hayes scored 36 goals and 76 points while he was a top prospect for the Blackhawks. The IceHogs tried to pull off another late-game comeback by outshooting the Penguins 12-6 during the final period, but they gave up a late empty-netter to finish off the scoring.

Shortly after the loss, the front office made another move to try to help boost the offense. The Blackhawks traded Matteson Iacopelli to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for forward Spencer Watson. Iacopelli had 14 goals and 27 points in 85 career games with the IceHogs. Meanwhile, Watson has 47 goals and 92 points in 95 career ECHL games for the Manchester Monarchs. He will definitely get a look in the Rockford lineup down the stretch.

Player of the Week: Hard to argue that Holland deserves this honor after scoring a goal and adding two assists in his first three games with his new team. He is currently tied for fourth in the AHL in scoring with 52 points and is exactly what the IceHogs need down the stretch.

Peter Holland Rangers
Peter Holland made an immediate impact after coming over from the Rangers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Friday, March 1 vs Griffins

Stars Happy to be Heading Back Home

The Stars (26-23-3-3) had a busy week with four games and wasted a chance to gain some valuable points on the teams ahead of them. After earning just three points, they are three points behind the IceHogs for the final playoff spot. They are tied with the Milwaukee Admirals for fifth-place with 58 points but own the tiebreaker because they have three more wins.

The Stars got their four-game road trip off on the right foot with a 2-1 overtime victory at the Wild. Justin Dowling opened the scoring with 26 seconds remaining in the opening frame. While on a power play, fired a crisp wrist shot from the left circle into the back of the net.

Justin Dowling (Ross Bonander / THW)
Veteran Justin Dowling is still producing for the Stars. (Ross Bonander / THW)

The Wild tied things up on an early second-period power play. From there on out, both goaltenders stopped on 34 combined shots they faced during regulation.

In just their league-low seventh overtime game of the season, Travis Morin helped send rookie Brad McClure in all alone behind the Wild defense. The initial shot was saved, but the rebound went back to him and he fired it into the open net for this first career AHL goal. Goaltender Phillippe Desrosiers made 39 saves in the winning effort.

On Wednesday, the Dallas Stars awarded defenseman Joel Hanley with a two-year, two-way contract extension that runs through the 2020-21 season. The 27-year-old has played in 16 NHL games this season while scoring two goals and 13 points in AHL games at the time of the new deal.

Hanley paid dividends by scoring the opening goal on the Stars’ Thursday matinee at the Wolves on Thursday. His shot from the point, through heavy traffic, gave Texas a 1-0 lead early in the first period.

Unfortunately, that would be the only goal the Stars would score, despite getting 39 pucks on goal. The Wolves scored three unanswered goals to send over 15,000 school kids home happy. Later that day, the Stars got some good news as they learned goaltender Landon Bow would be returning from his brief stint in Dallas.

Landon Bow Texas Stars
Landon Bow is back for the stretch run. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Stars’ road trip continued with a stop in Grand Rapids on Friday night. They had to pull out all the stops to rally for a point in a 4-3 shootout loss. All-Star Denis Gurianov gave the Stars a 1-0 just over three minutes into the first period as Michael Mersch sent the puck across the crease for an easy tap-in goal. The Griffins responded with three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.

Three minutes into the second period, Dowling scored on the power play to cut the deficit to one. Niklas Hansson tied the game nine minutes later with a one-timer from the left circle. That would be the final goal of the game as teams skated to a 3-3 tie after the third period and overtime. In the shootout, Travis Morin and Hanley each scored but the Griffins earned the extra point in the fifth round.

The Stars were back in Chicago on Sunday afternoon for the final time, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Wolves. Leading scorer Joel L’Esperance was back in the lineup after his first call-up to Dallas. He scored twice in the third period to make the game a bit closer. Bow made his second straight start since his return, but things did not go well as he was pulled after giving up a pair of quick goals early in the second period that put the Stars down 3-0.

Player of the Week: Goaltender Desrosiers did a great job in taking over the starting job while Bow was enjoying life in the NHL. He was the biggest reason the Stars got three points last week. In his three appearances, Desrosiers gave up four goals on 80 shots for a .950 save percentage (save %).

Phillipe Desrosiers took advantage of his extra playing time. (Photo credit: Michael Connell/Texas Stars Hockey)

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Feb. 27 vs Admirals; Friday, March 1 vs Wolves; March 2 vs Wolves

Admirals in Desperate Need of a Long Winning Streak

The Admirals (23-21-11-1) continue their downward trend as they have dropped to sixth place. They were able to force overtime twice over the weekend to salvage two points. They only have one win during the month of February and earning “loser” points is the only reason they are still in the postseason race.

The Admirals finished off their two-game series at the Manitoba Moose with a 3-2 loss on Monday. After a scoreless first period, the Moose opened up a 2-0 lead with a pair of goals less than a minute apart midway through the second period. Alexandre Carrier’s third goal of the season cut the lead in half just a minute into the third period. The Admirals gave the Moose a 3-1 lead with less than two minutes left in the game by accidentally scoring into their own empty net.

The major miscue turned out to be the game-winning goal as Tyler Gaudet redirected a Matt Donavan shot to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 32 seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, that was as close as the Admirals were going to get.

On Thursday, the Nashville Predators announced that they have recalled Gaudet to the NHL. This is his first stint with the Predators as all 20 of his previous NHL games came with the Arizona Coyotes.

The Admirals opened their two-game set with the Cleveland Monsters with a 3-2 overtime loss. They found themselves down 1-0 to start the second period until Justin Kirkland tied things up just over three minutes into the stanza. About 12 minutes later, Yakov Trenin gave the Admirals a 2-1 lead by scoring his 10th of the season on a breakaway.

Yakov Trenin Milwaukee Admirals
Yakov Trenin helped to provide some offense last week. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Zac Dalpe took over from here as tied the game with less than two minutes remaining the second period. He went on to score the game-winning goal just 16 seconds into overtime. The two teams were back on the ice the following afternoon, with the Monsters winning again in overtime, this time by a 6-5 score.

The Admirals found themselves down 2-0 early in the first period. Kirkland scored for the second time in as many days to cut the lead to 2-1 midway through the opening frame. Laurent Dauphin drew the Admirals even just 37 seconds into the second period. The Monsters went on to build a 5-2 by the 1:36 mark of the third period, including another goal from Dalpe. Nick Baptiste scored a pair of goals to draw the Admirals to within a goal. Eeli Tolvanen completed the comeback by tying the game with 2:14 left in regulation.

Blue Jackets center Zac Dalpe
Zac Dalpe was a pain the next for the Admirals over the weekend. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Unfortunately, Cleveland would get the last laugh as Mark Letestu scored the winning goal with just one second left in overtime to complete the weekend sweep.

Player of the Week: Baptiste was one of the few consistent players for the Admirals last week. He led the team with three goals and four points. However, this will be the last time he will get this honor because hours after his two-goal performance, Baptiste was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs with forward Emerson Clark coming back to Milwaukee.

Related – Recapping Predators’ Trade Deadline Deals

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Feb. 27 @ Stars; Friday, March 1 @ San Antonio Rampage; Sunday, March 3 @ Rampage

Rampage Squander Valuable Points Out West

The Rampage (25-24-5-0) made their way out west to take on some of their old Pacific Division rivals. They nearly went two-for-two to start the trip but stumbled late on Saturday. They cannot afford to let any more points slip away if they want to make a late push for the final playoff spot. They enter this week six points behind the IceHogs.

Their four-game western swing began Friday night with a 4-2 win over the Ontario Reign. Jakub Jerabek opened the scoring with a power-play goal late in the first period as Mitch Reinke’s shot from the point hit him on the way into the Reign’s net.

Shortly afterward, the Rampage was right back on the power play and Jordan Kyrou fired a wrist shot from the top of the left circle past goaltender Cap Petersen for his 14th goal of the season.

Jordan Kyrou
When he hasn’t been in the NHL, Jordan Kyrou has driven the San Antonio offense. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

After a scoreless middle frame, the Reign drew even with a pair of goals by Kale Clague, about four and a half minutes apart. The Rampage went to the power play with just 1:37 left in regulation and the cashed in for the third time eight seconds later as Jordan Nolan scored from close range with the assists going to Jerabek and Kyrou. Ryan Olsen added an empty-net goal in the final seconds to ice the game. The Rampage got a season-high 52 shots on goal versus the Reign.

The Rampage appeared to be on their way to a weekend sweep the following night, but the San Diego Gulls staged a late comeback to steal a 5-4 win.

After a scoreless first period, the suddenly red-hot Rampage power play struck twice to open up a 2-0 advantage midway through the second frame. Olsen opened the scoring by beating goaltender Jeff Glass with a wraparound shot. Exactly two minutes later, Nolan scored from just above the goal line in the right corner. The Gulls responded with a pair of goals just 15 seconds apart, about six minutes later, to tie the game.

Trevor Smith forced a turnover and scored on a breakaway to put the Rampage up 3-2 a minute into the third period. The Gulls tied the game at the 6:37 mark and then took their first lead of the game about four minutes later.

Former Wild forward Justin Kloos added an empty-net goal with less than two minutes remaining, but the Rampage still had some fight left in them. Chris Thorburn scored off a one-timer from the slot to cut the lead to 5-4 with 20 seconds left, but they were unable to score the equalizer.

Player of the Week: Reinke was one of three players to put up three points over the weekend; all of his points were assists. He now has 34 points on the season which leads all AHL rookie defenseman. He has also tied Keith Yandle for the franchise record for points in a season for a rookie blueliner.

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Feb. 27 @ Golden Eagles; Friday, March 1 vs Admirals; Sunday, March 3 vs Admirals

Moose Still Herding at the Bottom of the Standings

The last-place Moose (25-25-3-2) struggled through their four-game week. After starting with a win on home ice, they dropped three straight road games. They are tied with the Rampage with 55 points but have a slightly lower point percentage.

The Moose began their busy week with a 3-2 win over the Admirals on Monday. Nelson Nogier broke the scoreless tie, midway through the second period, as his shot from the point deflected off the leg of a Milwaukee defender and got in behind the goaltender. The lead was doubled just 52 seconds later when Logan Shaw finished off a nice rush with Seth Griffith and Jansen Harkins.

The Admirals came back to cut the lead in half a minute into the third period. They then gifted the game by scoring into their own empty net with less than two minutes remaining in the game. The lead was cut to 3-2 with 32 seconds left in regulation, but the Moose were able to hang on. Mikhail Berdin made 29 saves in the win.

The following day, defenseman Tucker Poolman learned he was being recalled by the Winnipeg Jets. Poolman, who had his recent eight-game point streak snapped on Monday, leads all Moose defensemen with 17 points.

Tucker Poolman Winnipeg Jets
Tucker Poolman’s play has him back in the NHL. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

They began their six-game road trip with a Wednesday matinee at the Toronto Marlies with a 4-3 defeat. The Moose found themselves trailing by a pair of goals at the end of the first period.

Defenseman Jimmy Oligny got the Moose on the board about six minutes into the second period. He poke-checked the puck free and then raced in all alone to beat Michael Hutchinson for his first goal with Manitoba. Unfortunately, the Marlies answered with two more goals to take a 4-1 lead into the second intermission.

The Moose made this interesting late in the game as Shaw scored off of a rebound with just over three minutes left in regulation. They kept bringing the pressure and Nogier scored his second goal in as many days, but with only one second left on the clock.

Logan Shaw Manitoba Moose
Logan Shaw has the MVP for the Moose this season. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

From there, the Moose headed to Quebec for a two-game set at the Laval Rocket that began with a 3-0 loss on Friday night. The Rocket scored twice before the game was seven minutes old and added a third goal early in the second period. The Moose got 24 shots on goal, but they could not figure out how to get any past Michael McNiven.

Saturday’s rematch did not go much better as the Moose lost 3-1 to the Montreal Canadiens farm team. For the second straight game, the Rocket opened the scoring with an early shorthanded goal.

The Moose tied the game with their only tally of the weekend about 10 minutes later. Felix Girard was first to get to a rebound from an Alexis D’Aoust shot and he buried it for his second goal of the season. The game remained tied until Michael Chaput scored two and a half minutes into the third period. The Rocket added an insurance goal 10 minutes later to complete the weekend sweep.

Player of the Week: Shaw led the Moose on the score sheet once again with three goals and four points. He is the first player on the team to score 40 points this season. He has a huge lead in goals with 23. Harkins is second with 11 and J.C. Lipon is the only other play to have 10.

JC Lipon, Manitoba Moose
JC Lipon is quietly having a great season in Manitoba. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The Week Ahead: Wednesday, Feb. 27 @ Marlies; Friday, March 1 @ Belleville Senators; Saturday, March 2 @ Senators

It is so hard to predict how the Central Division will eventually shake out before the end of the regular season. One thing is for sure, we will have fun watching it play out over the next six weeks.