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December 2007 Griffins Report
Goaltender steps up to reclaim top prospect status...
By Jason Kasiorek
January 1, 2008

Regarded by most as the organization's top prospect, Jimmy Howard cast some doubts on that label, stumbling out to a rocky, inconsistent start to the season. The talk of training camp this fall was a leaner, meaner Howard who reported in the best shape in his career, ready to dominate the AHL and claim his spot in Detroit (NHL). After winning his first two starts, he compiled a 3-7-0-1 record through November, carrying a gaudy 3.33 GAA and an 89% save percentage, hardly the numbers expected from him. Enter Wings Goaltending Coach Jim Bedard who helped Jimmy regain his aggressive game and overcome some mechanical problems. The result: a 7-4-1-1 run including his first two shutouts of the season, a stellar 1.72 GAA for the month, and a 93.9% save percentage.

The Griffins had an up and down month putting together a 7-5-2-1 record in 15 games. The defense has tightened up after a porous start, allowing 30 goals in 15 games, a respectable average of two per game. Unfortunately the offense has continued to sputter only scoring an average of two goals per game. Things have not been helped by the recall of sniper Mark Hartigan, and a hamstring injury to Mark Cullen, taking two of the team's leading scorers out of the lineup.

At the end of December, Grand Rapids stood 4th in the Northern Division with a 14-17-2-3 record in 36 games. The Griffins were still on the outside looking in on the playoff race, sitting a distant 12th in the conference, 25th of 29 teams league-wide.

The following is a review for December:

OFFENSE - The Griffins regularly roll three lines with one extra forward weaved in and out. A lack of offensive production and the absence of top guns Mark Hartigan (recalled to NHL) and Mark Cullen (injury) has led to several different combinations being tried, but a couple have been together more often than not. Jamie Tardif has shown some chemistry with slick forward Mattias Ritola, playing either with Cullen or Carl Corazzini. These two youngsters are looking like the real deal and could be players to watch in the second half, combining good work in the offensive zone with responsible defensive play. The second line as of late has consisted of Evan McGrath between surging winger Brett Engelhardt and speedy freshman Darren Helm. Most of Engelhardt's points have come either on the powerplay or with other centers, and both he and Helm should benefit from the return of Hartigan and or Cullen to the lineup, dropping Mcgrath down a line. Ryan Oulahen has centered the third line with a variety of grinding wingers including Randall Gelech and either Neil Clark, Adam Keefe or Mike Walsh. This line has provided some grit, and bang, but has not chipped in much on the scorsheet.

November Thumbnails: .
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Brett Engelhardt145 3 8 11 2 32Went from the doghouse to the penthouse with assertive play.
Carl Corazzini15 4 4 8 4 1 53More offense expected from speedy winger.
Mark Hartigan825710531Strong play rewarded with extended look in NHL.
Jamie Tardif15 4 1 5 10 3 58Led team in shots on goal, great work on the penalty kill.
Mattias Ritola14 1 4 5 16 6 23Rookie progressing at both ends of the ice.
Evan McGrath15 3 1 4 8 -3 30Improving in small steps, more expected.
Ryan Oulahen15224101 38Bounced around the lineup due to injuries, effort remained constant.
Mark Cullen10 1 3 4 8 -2 28Injuries capped off a forgettable month for playmaking center.
Randall Gelech131014-1 16Defensive grinder needs to pick up consistency and is capable of more offensive contributions.
Darren Helm15 0 1 1 8 -5 34Rough month for rookie speedster, lack of size exposed.
Mike Walsh40002-33Energy winger a frequent scratch after defensive lapses.
Adam Keefe700027-1 5Feisty enforcer in the doghouse for undisciplined play. Gives 100% every shift.
Neil Clark90009-2 6Physical winger provides energy and looking more comfortable each game.

DEFENSE - Coach Stothers has finally gotten his defensive corps to be difference makers - in a good way. Most nights he dresses seven blueliner's meaning there are no set pairings from game to game. While they still have the occasional misadventure, veterans Brad Ference and Garrett Stafford have rebounded from less than stellar starts, while Kyle Quincey and Jonathan Ericsson have turned up the physical play, making the Griffins end a tougher place to play in. Jon Insana and Tom Galvin are steady but unspectacular, and rookie Jakub Kindl is starting to have more good shifts than bad. Offense from the blueline is still stuck in neutral, but the potential is there.

December Thumbnails:

Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Jonathan Ericsson 15 1 5 6 23 -1 19 Re-emergence of physical play leads to improved defensive game.
Garrett Stafford 15 0 5 5 6 2 27 Veteran defenseman finding his stride.
Kyle Quincey 15 12 3 20 1 41 Physical, gritty play keys return to form.
Tom Galvin 13 0 2 2 8 4 9 Versatile blueliner sees shifts at forward and defense.
Brad Ference 13 1 1 2 19 -1 13 Improved play derailed by wrist injury.
Jakub Kindl 15 1 1 2 16 -5 12 Improved defensive play, needs more work.
Jon Insana 15 0 1 1 17 0 25 Speedy rearguard fully recovered from early injury.

GOALTENDING - Winless since October 27th, Adam Berkhoel has not had the start he would have liked. The 4th year pro only had two appearance in December and played well enough to win one of them. Batterymate Jimmy Howard turned in one of the most torrid streaks of his young career, giving up two goals or less in 10 of his 13 starts and posting a 1.72 GAA for the month.

SPECIAL TEAMS - One of the major symptoms in this teams ailing offense is a woeful powerplay, clicking along at 13.5%, 26th of 29 teams. They are marginally better on the road (13 for 93 14%, 21st) than at home (15 for 115 13%, 28th). After scoring 9 goals in their last 50 chances at home (18%), their home percentage has actually gotten better in December. Corazzini (3), Engelhardt (2), McGrath, Kindl, Quincey, and Ericsson scored with the man advantage for GR. The Griffins penalty kill is rated 16th overall, killing off 174 of 208 chances (83.7%). At home they are ranked 14th (88 for 105 83.8%), and on the road they are 13th (86 for 103 83.5%). Grand Rapids routinely rolls three sets of penalty killers, with Tardif, Oulahen, Helm, Corazzini, Oulahen primarily used up front.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Jimmy Howard. A hot month dropped his goals against average from 3.33 to 2.54, nearly a goal per game. His 93.9% save percentage was the main reason the Griffins had a winning record for the month, keeping the team in games until the ailing offense could score a goal. Howard has been aggressive and strong in the net, challenging the shooters and keeping his focus despite seeing a lot of rubber.

ROOKIE WATCH - Forward Ritola continues to impress as his world class skills are finally starting to translate into some offense. The native of Borlange, Sweden more than doubled his season's output while raising his defensive rating to a forward high +9. Helm's great speed has made him an asset especially on the penalty kill, but despite good instincts, he has yet to make an impact on the scoresheet despite prime ice time. Newcomer Neil Clark has played well at both ends of the ice, and while still scoreless on the season, has even seen a few shifts on the powerplay. Kindl has made some improvements in his game, but still has a ways to go, at both ends of the ice. He is starting to use his size tow in some battles, but his team low -16 is a daunting statistic. Mike Walsh saw limited time, getting into only 4 games without much of an impact.

CURRENT INJURIES - C Mark Cullen - Hamstring... D Brad Ference - Wrist...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - LW Neil Clark Signed to PTO... RW Jamie Carroll Signed to PTO... RW Jamie Carroll Released from PTO... LW Mark Hartigan recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Hartigan assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Mark Hartigan recalled by Detroit (NHL)...

KEY STATS - Jimmy Howard is among the league leaders in several categories including: Tied for 18th among goaltenders with a 2.54 GAA... 14th in save percentage at 91.4%... Tied for 8th in the loop with 12 wins... Tied for 5th in shutouts with 2... Tied for second with 3 shootout wins... Mark Hartigan is tied for 18th in the AHL in goals with 13... Adam Keefe is 15th in penalty minutes with 98...

IN THE PIPELINE - Defenseman Cleve Kinley continues to be the team's lone prospect in the ECHL, playing for the Texas Wildcatters. Kinley (31-4-9-13-36-+16) continues to refine his defensive game raising his mark to plus 16, good for seventh in the league.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Netminders Drew MacIntyre, Joey MacDonald and Enforcer Wade Brookbank were all recalled to the NHL last month by their respective teams. MacIntyre made his NHL debut in relief for the Canucks. Current stats as of 1/1/08:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Kevyn Adams, Chicago15 0 1 1 11 -5
Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo 37 7 11 1828 -10
Sean Avery, Rangers 18 2 9 11 56 1
Darryl Bootland, Islanders (Min) 4 0 1 1 2 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 26 0 4 4 44 2
Wade Brookbank, Carolina 2 0 0 0 0 -1
Pavol Demitra, Minnesota 26 7 13 20 12 -4
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 36 0 3 3 46
Matt Ellis, Detroit 28 2 3 5 10 3
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 40 13 8 21 14 12
Shane Hnidy, Anaheim 33 1 2 3 30 2
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 40 10 17 27 12 11
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 38 7 11 18 12 5
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 36 3 3 6 19 4
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 36 2 17 19 26 10
Brett Lebda, Detroit 40 2 8 10 28 9
Derek Meech, Detroit 90 0 0 0 -2
Mark Hartigan, Detroit 8 1 0 1 2 0
Glen Metropolit, Boston 39 7 9 16 14 6
Mark Mowers, Anaheim (NWT) 17 1 0 1 8 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 383 7 10 98 0
Karel Rachunek, Devils 28 1 6 7 28 9
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 32 14 35 49 22 22
Todd White, Atlanta 40 9 14 23 20 -8
Jason Williams, Chicago 20 7 12 19 10 0

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Patrick Lalime, Chicago 10 4-5-0-0 2.52
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 0 0-0-0-0 0.00
Drew MacIntyre, Vancouver 1 0-0-0-0 4.44

UP NEXT - The Griffins begin the new year on the road with a three game trip to Hamilton, Syracuse and Quad City. Then its back to GR for a four game homestand featuring a pair of games against Peoria and two more against Rochester. Grand Rapids then makes its way to Chicago for a Sunday afternoon tilt against the arch-rival Wolves, followed by a match in Milwaukee. The Wolves return to Van Andel Arena to face the Griffins late in the month, with the Griffins closing out the month on the road against the Rivermen in Peoria.