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December 2009 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Defensive shortcomings highlight brutal stretch of games...
By Jason Kasiorek
December 1, 2009

The Griffins seemed to be making progress with an improved stretch of play in November, but December was not a kind month. Recalls and injuries induced a defensive freefall that saw the team battered several games in row. The team limped to a 5-10 record, but most disturbing was a five game losing streak which saw the team give up 25 goals including a pair of 7 goal games for the opposition. But even when things look their bleakest, there is a silver lining, in this case the development of a few of the prospects who stepped to the forefront. Jan Mursak and Frankie Pare stepped up to carry the Griffins offense, putting the parent Wings on notice that they were ready to be counted on. On the blueline, second year defenseman Logan Pyett has stepped up to become a prime time player, outshining uber-prospect Jakub Kindl.

Grand Rapids stands fourth in the Northern Division with an 18-16-0-1 record. It's 37 points are good enough for 9th in the western conference and 18th in the AHL. The Griffins are the fourth highest scoring team in the league at 3.2 goals per game, but are the 4th worst team in goals against at 3.26 per game. The team is 3rd in the AHL in attendance after 19 home games, averaging 6,543 per game.

The following is a review for December:

OFFENSE - As you might expect with the kind of skid the team has been in most of this month, the line combinations have been juggled around quite a bit. One of the constants is the first line featuring Rangers farmhand Patrick Rissmiller, usually with Mursak on one wing. Tomas Tatar spent a lot of time on the other wing before leaving for the WJC's, and the trio had a lot of success. Another line that has shouldered some of the load as of late featured Pare and Cory Emmerton with Jamie Tardif seeing time on the other wing. Washington assigned veteran Michael Nylander mid month, and after bouncing around from line to line filled in for Kris Newbury with Jeremy Williams on one side and most recently Francis Lemieux on the other. The fourth line has been made up of John Vigilante and a collection of fill-in players including Mike Walsh, Evan McGrath, David Rohlfs and Trent Daavettila to name a few.

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Jan Mursak 16 10 4 14 4 8 38Stepped up when the team needed him.
Patrick Rissmiller 17 6 8 14 6 2 30Dependable two way forward keys Mursak and Tatar.
Francis Pare 17 7 5 12 6 7 36Slick sniper has found the range.
Jeremy Williams 17 5 6 11 11 -9 48Sniper struggling to find his game.
Michael Nylander 10 0 9 9 8 -7 7NHL powerplay specialist still finding his way.
Kris Newbury 10 3 4 7 53 3 36Team leader missing due to recall and suspension.
Jamie Tardif 17 2 5 7 19 -3 31Hard working captain not showing up on scoresheet.
Cory Emmerton 17 1 6 7 6 -7 30Still showing glimpses of potential but needs more consistency.
Tomas Tatar 7 3 2 5 0 2 14Offense sorely missed while at World Junior Chamionships.
John Vigilante 17 2 3 5 2 -2 21Face-off ace never stops working hard.
Mattias Ritola 12 3 1 4 12 -4 31Hard working two-way player rewarded with NHL recall.
Francis Lemieux 7 0 4 4 4 -5 11Flashy forward recalled from exile in ECHL.
Evan McGrath 15 1 1 2 8 -10 20Veteran tried to play through injuries with poor results.
Trent Daavettila 1 1 0 1 0 0 2Recall makes the most of opportunity.
Mike Walsh 12 1 0 1 5 -3 10Grinder forced into action but more is expected.
Dick Axelsson3 0 0 0 0 1 2Talented winger deserts team to return to Sweden.
David Rohlfs 5 0 0 0 2 -4 5Fill-in doesn't make much of an impact.

DEFENSE - A rash of inuries and recalls left the Griffins blueline in turmoil in December. The club's best two defenseman were out of the lineup, Doug Janik in Detroit and Sergei Kolosov out with a concussion. Jakub Kindl took a step backward this month posting a team worst -10 in 12 games sandwiched around his first NHL action. Logan Pyett and Andy Delmore both stepped up this month turning in strong performances at both ends of the ice and were easily the team's best defenders. Rookie Travis Ehrhardt won the battle for 7th defender, pushing Sebastien Piche to Toledo, but his reward was being thrown to the wolves. Ryan Stokes and Tom Galvin were both added to the lineup to varying degrees of success. Paul Crosty split the month playing between forward and defense, and contributed physical play.

December Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Andy Delmore 17 1 9 10 2 8 38Defensive leader gets it done at both ends of the ice.
Logan Pyett 17 3 4 7 6 1 23 Solid blueliner's offensive game coming online.
Jakub Kindl 12 1 4 5 14 -10 23First NHL recall tempers defensive failings.
Doug Janik7 022 13 0 4Strong play earns steady vet long term NHL recall.
Travis Ehrhardt 13 0 2 2 9 -10 12Talented rookie takes his lumps during roster shortage.
Ryan Stokes 4 0 1 1 4 0 6Veteran AHL'er fills in admirably.
Sergei Kolosov 14 0 1 1 6 -4 10 Stay at home defender knocked out of lineup with concussion.
Sebastien Piche 1 0 0 0 0 0 2Rookie rearguard dispatched to Toledo (ECHL)
Tom Galvin 3 0 0 0 2 -5 4Familiar face underwhelming in emergency return.
Paul Crosty 16 0 0 0 42 -1 9 Team enforcer sticks up for smaller teammates.

GOALTENDING - It was a rough month between the pipes for both netminders. It can be argued however, that they had little help as the team's defense was virtually non-existant for large chunks of the month. Thomas McCollum won two of his first three appearances, but then fell off quickly, ending the month with a 4.11 goals against average and an 86.5% save percentage. The rookie netminder has struggled but has also shown flashes of brilliance, eluding to a bright future. Starter Daniel Larsson was also not immune to the team's defensive deficiencies tacking on 4 losses in his last 5 appearances and ending December with a 3.26 GAA and 88.5 SP.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The powerplay has slid a little bit as the offense has gone cold. Overall the Griffins slipped to third in the league at 20% (29 for 145), buoyed by the strength of their home unit which was ranked 7th at 21.8% (19 for 87). The road unit was 9th in the league at 17.2% (10 for 58). Jeremy Williams and Jamie Tardif led the way with 5 goals apiece followed by Rissmiller and Ritola each with 4. Kindl and Nylander led the team with 8 man advantage assists with Newbury at 7 not far behind.

The penalty killing has hit rock bottom and has started to dig deeper. The Griffins have the last ranked PK unit in the league killing off just 77.3% (96 of 130) of the penalties. The road unit is also ranked 29th at 66.7% (44 for 66) efficiency and the home unit is marginally better at 85.7% (72 for 84) good enough for 11th. Coach Fraser has tried several different combination to try and improve the numbers but so far little has worked. Pare, Ritola, tardif, Mursak, Vigilante and Kolosov are regulars when down a man.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Jan Mursak. Mursak has been the one player that has continued to shine during the clubs recent losing skid. He scored a whopping 10 goals and 4 assists in his last 16 games, including goals in 4 straight games. He also gets it done at both ends of the ice as his team high +8 make shows, and is one of the team's best forecheckers. He has re-established himself as one of the bright prospects on this team after a disappointing rookie season.

ROOKIE WATCH - Tatar spent most of the month loaned out to the Slovakian team at the World Junior Championships but managed 3 goals and five points in the seven games before he left. Ehrhardt got a lot of playing time thanks to Janik's recall and numerous injuries. He struggled at times, but was not the only blueliner that could be said about. McCollum started out OK, but things got rocky quickly the rest of the month. After giving up 11 goals in his last 59 minutes of play, he was re-assigned to Toledo to get his confidence back.

CURRENT INJURIES - C Ryan Oulahen, Hip - January... C Evan McGrath, Groin - Day-to-day... D Sergei Kolosov, Concussion - Day-to-day...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - D Jakub Kindl recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Kindl assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Sebastien Piche assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... C Michael Nylander assigned by Washington (NHL)... LW Tomas Tatar assigned to Slovakian Junior Team... C Kris Newbury recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Dick Axelsson suspended by team for returning to Sweden... D Doug Janik recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Frankie Lemieux recalled from Las Vegas (ECHL)... Newbury assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL)... LW Mattias Ritola recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Lemieux assigned to Las Vegas (ECHL)... Kindl recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Ritola and Kindl assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL)... Ritola recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW David Rohlfs signed to PTO... D Ryan Stokes signed to PTO... LW Lemieux recalled from Las Vegas (ECHL)... D Tom Galvin signed to PTO...

KEY STATS - Tomas Tatar is third in the AHL in rookie shooting percentage... Crosty is fourth among defensemen with 109 penalty minutes... He is also tied for second with 11 majors... Kris Newbury has the longest assist streak of the season at 7 games...

IN THE PIPELINE - Netminder Jordan Pearce has really turned his season around with Toledo (ECHL) and began to find traction towards moving up to the AHL. Pearce posted a 6-2 record and a 2.77 GAA with a .916 save percentage for December, nearly 2 goals a game less than his winless November. Francis Lemieux has made the most of his time in the ECHL (Las Vegas), netting 7 goals and 3 assists in 7 games last month.His strong play coupled with injuries and recalls paved the way for his return to the AHL late in the month. Sebastien Piche spent most of the month in Toledo (ECHL) after losing the 7th defenseman's slot to Travis Ehrhardt. The offensive rearguard posted 2 goals and 4 assists in 9 games along with a +6 rating. An elbowing suspension cost him a game earlier in the month.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Jakub Kindl and Mattias Ritola are the newest Griffins alumni to play in the NHL this season. Current stats as of 01/7/09:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit3933 6 29 -5
Sean Avery, Rangers38 5 13 18 82 2
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim27 0 6 6 39 4
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver0 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh41 3 4 7 16 9
Matt Ellis, Buffalo39 2 4 6 4 4
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit31 3 7 10 20 -7
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 16 3 5 8 8 -6
Aaron Gagnon, Dallas 1 0 0 0 0 0
Alexandre Giroux, Washington9 1 2 3 4 3
Darren Helm, Detroit35 6 5 11 8 0
Shane Hnidy, Minnesota 43 2 7 9 51 -3
Douglas Janik, Detroit 10 0 1 1 16 -1
Ryan Keller, Ottawa 6 0 0 0 0 -1
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 43 7 14 21 26 -1
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 -1
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 41 3 5 8 16 -5
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 21 5 8 13 18 3
Brett Lebda, Detroit 39 1 5 6 20 -5
Ville Leino, Detroit 37 4 3 7 4 -8
Derek Meech, Detroit 26 1 1 2 9 -4
Glen Metropolit, Montreal 39 10 10 20 16 -2
Chris Neil, Ottawa29 6 4 10 99 2
Kris Newbury, Detroit 4 1 0 1 4 1
Scott Parse, Los Angeles32 7 8 15 18 7
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 44 4 15 19 41 2
Mattias Ritola, Detroit 5 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 30 5 14 19 8 -5
Danny Syvret, Philadelphia18 2 2 4 12 2
Todd White, Atlanta 41 3 13 16 20 -15
Jason Williams, Detroit 15 2 5 7 4 -5

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 26 14-9-2 2.23 .923
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 7 3-2-1 2.60 .917
Daniel Larsson, Detroit 0 0-0-0 0.00 .000
Joey MacDonald, Toronto 6 1-4-0 3.20 .892

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids has 13 games on tap for the month of January. The boys in blue and whitestart out the month on the road against the Conference rival Rockford IceHogs before retuning home for contests against former captain Darren Haydar and the Lake Erie Monsters and the always dangerous San Antonio Rampage. Next up is a pair of road games in Rochester and Hamilton, followed by a four game homestand featuring the Peoria Rivermen, Hamilton Bulldogs, Rockford Icehogs and Toronto Marlies. Then a quick road trip into Illinois to visit the IceHogs and Chicago Wolves before finishing the month at home against the same two teams.