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January 2008 Griffins Report
Winds Of Change Blow As Playoff Hopes Dwindle...
By Jason Kasiorek
February 1, 2008

The quest for more consistent offense led GM Bob McNamara to shake up the lineup in January, banishing forwards Mike Walsh, Neil Clark, and Adam Keefe while welcoming newcomers Tyler Redenbach and Josef Fojtik. More changes are on the horizon, as Brett Engelhardt and Randall Gelech have not produced as expected and have grown tired of being spotted in and out of the lineup. Former NHL'er Darren McCarty has been offered a contract and is expected to sign soon, providing the impetus for even more change.

Another part of that change - unheralded defenseman Tom Galvin turned his responsible play into a two-year contract with the Griffins. He has been a steadying influence on whomever he has been paired with, most recently helping the struggling Jakub Kindl to his best stretch of the season.

With a 4-5-0-2 record in 11 games in January, the Griffins are fifth in the North division, one point behind Hamilton for 4th and 5 points out of the last playoff spot. They are currently 13th of 15 teams in the Western Conference.

The following is a review for January:

OFFENSE - The Griffins were outscored 27-37 during the month of January, a direct result of the forwards not putting the puck in the net on a regular basis and getting caught gambling too often. The first line for Grand Rapids has been sniper Mark Hartigan centering Carl Corazzini and Mattias Ritola. This line accounted for 12 goals and 13 assists in 11 games last month. Slumping center Mark Cullen is the pivot on the second line, usually lining up with speedy rookie Darren Helm and Jamie Tardif. With only 7 goals between them, this troika was a disappointment offensively last month but they played well in their own end. The third combo was Evan McGrath flanked by Ryan Oulahen and a variety of wingers including the aforementioned Keefe, Clark, Gelech, Engelhardt and Tardif.

January Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Mark Hartigan117 5 12 24 -4 44Streaky forward carried the team offensively.
Carl Corazzini11 4 5 9 0 -2 28Consistent scorer an ace at both ends of the ice.
Mark Cullen11 3 3 6 8 -3 24Veteran center mired in two month slump.
Ryan Oulahen1123562 18Still waiting for offense to round out, the rest of his game is solid.
Mattias Ritola11 1 34 4 12 -1 10Super talent more involved, still not showing up on scoresheet.
Jamie Tardif11 2 2 4 17 -1 27Scoring fell off as feisty winger was bounced around lineup.
Darren Helm10 2 1 3 0 -1 25Impressive rookie plays well in all three zones.
Randall Gelech90224-1 12Defensive presence needs to go back to the basics to find his game.
Evan McGrath11 1 1 2 6 -6 22Took a step back this month, needs to do more at both ends of the ice.
Josef Fojtik10006-12Rookie sniper getting first look in AHL.
Tyler Redenbach1000000Offensive minded forward trying to fit in.
Neil Clark50005-1 1Physical winger sent out for more seasoning.
Adam Keefe700026-1 3Pugilist fell out of favor with organization, now re-united with former coach.
Brett Engelhardt100006-723Bottom fell out, going scoreless with team low -7.

DEFENSE - Defensive struggles combined with injuries have made things easy for opposing teams to run up the score on the Griffins lately. Veterans Brad Ference (Out for the season) and Garrett Stafford missed significant time in January, and even a 6 game stint by NHL graduate Derek Meech couldn't make up for that. The normal defense pairings included Jon Insana paired with Jonathan Ericsson, Kyle Quincey with Stafford or newcomer Darrell Hay, and rookie Jakub Kindl paired with either steady Tom Galvin or Meech.

January Thumbnails:

Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Garrett Stafford 4 1 3 40 4 3 Injuries derailed strong stretch from offensive rearguard.
Jonathan Ericsson 11 1 3 4 10 3 10 Strong month for sensational sophomore, offense still lagging.
Tom Galvin 11 1 3 4 4 0 12 Tryout defenseman scores first AHL goal, earns two year contract.
Jakub Kindl 11 1 3 4 8 -3 7 Gradually improving, but still a long way to go.
Kyle Quincey 11 03 3 21 -5 31 Inconsistent season on the upswing.
Derek Meech 6 1 1 2 0 -7 11 Veteran blueliner provided leadership, but played to mixed reviews.
Jon Insana 11 0 0 0 2 -1 6 Strong skating defenseman improving, needs to regain offensive touch.
Darrell Hay 2 0 0 0 0 -2 3 ECHL veteran looks to recovers from rocky home debut.

GOALTENDING - Howard missed some time with an injury, but returned early to shore things up between the pipes. He won his first three games after returning, and then suffered three straight losses to close the month, surrendering 4 goals in each contest. Berkhoel saw his winless streak extended to over three months, dropping all three contests he played. He lost two in shootouts that he played well enough to win, but in the third he gave up six goals to Peoria.

SPECIAL TEAMS - One of the biggest reasons for the Griffins' poor record is their abysmal powerplay, tied for last in the league at 13.4% overall (35 for 262). It is slightly better at home (21st, 19 for 136) at 14%, than on the road where it is rated 28th (16 for 126) at 12.7%. Hartigan (6 PPG), Corazzini (7), Cullen (5), Stafford (3) and Ericsson (4) are staples with the man advantage.

Thankfully the penalty killing units have been better than that, ranked a middle of the pack 13th overall at 83.7% (221-264). The home unit is just slightly better at 84.4 % (108-128) good enough for 15th, while the road unit is ranked 14th at 83.1% (113-136). Oulahen, Tardif, Hartigan, and Helm are generally called on to fend off the man advantage.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Jonathan Ericsson. The second year blueliner has continued to make slow and steady progress at becoming a dominant player. He has all the tools that make scouts drool: size, speed, soft hands, on-ice vision, a mean streak, and a cannon of a shot (clocked at 100.1 mph at the recent AHL all-star game). This month he was tops among the Griffins rearguards with a +3 while notching a goal and three assists and playing steady in his own end.

ROOKIE WATCH - Helm scored on his first AHL penalty shot this month, and while his offensive game has dried up, his all around play keeps him a regular in the lineup. He uses his speed well, plays in all situations, and is defensively sound. Ritola continues to play well at both ends of the ice, and is starting to be rewarded on the scoresheet more consistently. Kindl has continued to struggle in his development. He enjoyed one of his best stretches of the season, and then fell on hard times dipping to -20 on the season.

CURRENT INJURIES - Brad Ference - Wrist Surgery, Out for the Season... Garrett Stafford - Broken Finger, Day-to-day....

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - D Garrett Stafford short-term injury... LW Mark Hartigan assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Derek Meech assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Mike Walsh Assigned to Dayton (ECHL)... G David McKee signed to PTO... G Jimmy Howard short-term injury... G McKee released from PTO... G Howard returned from injury... D Meech recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Stafford returned from injury... D Tom Galvin signed two-year contract with Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Darrell Hay signed to PTO... LW Neil Clark released from PTO... RW Adam Keefe traded to San Antonio (AHL)... C Tyler Redenbach loaned to GR by Phoenix (NHL)... LW Josef Fojtik signed to PTO...

KEY STATS - Jimmy Howard is among the top 20 netminders in the league in several categories: 20th in Goals Against Average at 2.63... 17th in Save Percentage at .913... tied for 5th in Wins with 16... tied for 7th with 2 Shutouts... tied for 1st with 4 Shootout Wins... Mark Hartigan is tied for 9th with 20 goals... Recently departed Adam Keefe was 13th with 124 penalty minutes...

IN THE PIPELINE - Defenseman Cleve Kinley continues to be a key cog for the ECHL's top team, the Texas Wildcatters, helping them to a 34-4-3-4 record. The speedy rearguard enjoyed a good month at both ends of the ice, posting a 13-1-7-8-21-2 line for the month. The recently demoted Mike Walsh didn't transition back to the ECHL as smoothly as he would have liked, scoring a goal and 3 assists to go with a minus 4 defensive rating in the ten games he played for Dayton.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski made his season debut for the Atlanta Thrashers as did Josh Langfeld for the Nashville Predators this month. Current stats as of 2/1/08:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Kevyn Adams, Chicago15 0 1 1 11 -5
Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo 38 7 11 1830 -10
Sean Avery, Rangers 29 4 11 15 87 -1
Darryl Bootland, Islanders (Min) 4 0 1 1 2 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 26 0 4 4 44 2
Wade Brookbank, Carolina 12 0 1 1 22 2
Pavol Demitra, Minnesota 38 10 21 31 12 1
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 36 0 3 3 46
Matt Ellis, Detroit 33 2 4 6 10 3
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 53 15 11 26 22 19
Mark Hartigan, Detroit 8 1 0 1 2 0
Shane Hnidy, Anaheim 45 1 3 4 45 -2
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 53 11 21 32 16 13
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 52 8 13 21 14 2
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 49 3 4 7 23 0
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 48 5 20 25 32 16
Joel Kwiatkowski, Atlanta 3 0 11 0 -2
Josh Langfeld, Nashville 2 0 00 0 0
Brett Lebda, Detroit 52 2 9 11 328
Derek Meech, Detroit 120 0 0 0 -2
Glen Metropolit, Boston 51 10 12 22 22 6
Mark Mowers, Anaheim (NWT) 17 1 0 1 8 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 525 13 18 127 2
Karel Rachunek, Devils 34 1 8 9 36 5
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 46 19 41 60 30 20
Todd White, Atlanta 54 10 21 31 24 -11
Jason Williams, Chicago 20 7 12 19 10 0

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Patrick Lalime, Chicago 17 8-6-1-0 2.48
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 0 0-0-0-0 0.00
Drew MacIntyre, Vancouver 2 0-1-0-0 2.95

UP NEXT - February finds the Griffins in the midst of some extended road trips. They start out the month with a pair in Iowa, then a week off, and another pair on the road against Lake Erie, before finishing up the trip versus the Americans in Rochester. The next stretch is five home games, facing off against rivals Lake Erie, Milwaukee, former Griffins coach Greg Ireland and the San Antonio Rampage, and a two game set with the Manitoba Moose. Grand Rapids finishes the month on the road in Quad City, Hamilton and Peoria.