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January 2009 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Howard's hot streak helps overcomes offensive rollback...
By Jason Kasiorek
February 1, 2009

The Griffins won three straight overtime games in the latter part of the month, one a 1-0 shootout win backstopped by netminder Jimmy Howard. With the team's offense waning, the veteran netminder picked up the team and carried them to a 5-1-1-1 record. We have seen this before from Howard, who is notorious for incendiary hot and cold streaks, but the hope is that the competition between Jimmy and surging partner Daniel Larsson will make it a preview of things to come.

Injuries to Jonathan Ericsson, Frankie Pare and Darren Helm among others and the recalls of Ville Leino, Aaron Downey, Justin Abdelkader and Helm to Detroit (NHL) have left the lineup in state of flux. Other players have had to step up to keep the team among the league leaders. Most notable has been the play of Ryan Oulahen, Mattias Ritola and defenseman Sergei Kolosov, who all stood out and raised their games in January.

Grand Rapids turned in a respectable 9-3-1-1 record for the month to keep them near the top of the league. They currently sit second in their division and conference, three points behind the Manitoba Moose. They are also in third place overall, just 2 points behind Hershey for 2nd and boast the league's fourth best offense and number three defense.

The following is a review for January:

OFFENSE - Due to injuries, recalls and slumps, the vaunted Griffins offense has gone dormant. The team scored 40 goals in 14 games, less than 3 per game, quite a drop from last month. The most effective line in January was the two Frankie's line with Pare at center flanked by Frankie Lemieux and Evan McGrath. The trio accounted for 10 goals and 16 assists including Lemieux's second hat trick of the season. Abdelkader centered the second line with Mattias Ritola on one side and Darren Haydar or Jan Mursak on the other. This line had no problem putting up points, but had some problems defensively on the month. Leino bounced around, spending part of the month with Cory Emmerton and Jamie Tardif, and then on the wing with Abdelkader and Downey. Both those lines were brutal defensively and were broken up. Tardif split time with Oulahen and Helm on a scoring line, While Aaron Gagnon came in at center with Downey and Mursak to form the fourth line.

January Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Darren Haydar 14 3 10 13 10 -3 32Powerplay wizard had a much improved month.
Francis Pare 13 6 5 11 0 3 31Super rookie continues to be dangerous offensive threat.
Mattias Ritola 14 4 7 11 6 -2 47 Two-way battler starting to show up on scoresheet more often.
Evan McGrath 14 1 9 10 2 2 20Hard working winger thriving as setup man.
Ville Leino 12 3 6 9 6 -8 30Puck magician gets first recall to NHL, finally.
Ryan Oulahen 14 5 1 6 4 3 34Griffins Mr. Everything steps up for big month.
Justin Abdelkader 12 4 2 6 6 -10 35 Rookie center hit the wall, starting to rebound.
Francis Lemieux 14 3 2 5 4 0 28Streaky grinder notches second hat trick.
Jamie Tardif 13 2 3 5 20 3 34Versatility keeps gritty winger bouncing around lineup.
Darren Helm 7 1 4 5 8 0 12Injuries put speedster on the shelf for most of month.
Aaron Gagnon 11 1 4 5 8 3 13Defensive specialist making the most of limited ice time.
Cory Emmerton 9 0 3 3 6 -2 18Not getting it done despite quality ice time and linemates.
Aaron Downey 13 1 0 1 15 -3 8Veteran banger going through the motions this month.
Jan Mursak 8 0 1 1 4 0 17Hard working rookie just can't seem to find the range.

DEFENSE - With one glaring exception, the defense showed improvement in January, most notably the breakout performance of Sergei Kolosov. The 6-5 blueliner scored his first three AHL goals, and stepped up the rest of his game to gain the title of most improved player. His usual defense partner Garrett Stafford continues to tease with his ability and disappoint with his lack of consistency. Former ace Ericsson battled through injuries (Shoulder, knee and wrist) but looked much closer to form when he was in the lineup. His usual partner Logan Pyett has tightened up a questionable defensive game to regain a regular spot in the lineup. Jakub Kindl appears to be regressing as his defensive game has fallen apart (-8 this month), and now his offense seems to be slipping as well. Partner Tom Galvin's numbers have taken a beating but he has slowly put his game back together in spite of it. Jason Jozsa has filled in where needed, but has lost his regular spot in the rotation.

January Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Jonathan Ericsson 11 1 4 5 8 2 18Top blueliner hobbled by injuries again, but looking better.
Jakub Kindl 14 0 5 5 12 -8 26Defensive game fell apart for gifted rearguard.
Sergei Kolosov 13 3 1 4 4 1 15 Most improved player in January.
Garrett Stafford 14 1 3 4 6 -1 20Offensive defenseman capable of much more.
Tom Galvin 14 0 2 2 6 -6 14Numbers look worse then they are paired with Kindl.
Logan Pyett 12 1 0 1 0 2 18 Much better in his own end, earning regular ice time.
Jason Jozsa 6 0 0 0 6 1 3 A spare part the last month, played well when in.

GOALTENDING - Jimmy Howard dug deep and turned up his game a notch, producing one of his legendary hot streaks. The reigning AHL player of the week turned in a 5-1-1-1 record in 8 decisions with a miniscule 1.86 GAA and a stellar 93.9% save percentage. Howard was at his best stopping 40 plus shots in a three game span to record a 1-0 shootout win and a 3-2 win over Quad City. Backup Daniel Larsson took a backseat to his red hot battery-mate, posting a 4-2 record and a pedestrian 2.67 GAA.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins continue to boast the leagues top penalty killing unit, killing off 89.2% of the opposition's chances. The home unit has been particularly effective shutting down the other team 92.5% of the time, while the road unit is a respectable 7th clipping along at 84.8%. Grand Rapids has also managed 7 shorthanded goals, led by Helm with two. Ryan Oulahen is the ace of the PK group, usually alongside either Helm or Gagnon. Ritola, McGrath and Lemieux round out the forwards, while Kolosov, Stafford, Ericsson and Kindl are regulars on the back end.

Grand Rapids also sports the AHL's number three powerplay scoring at a rate of 20.5%. On the road that percentage dips to 19.8%, good enough for a seventh place tie with Worcester. Rated 4th at home, the man advantage group has tallied 34 powerplay goals in 28 games with a stunning 20.9% efficiency. Captain Haydar leads the way with 8 goals, closely followed by the departed Landon Wilson (7), Abdelkader (6), and Ritola and Leino with five each. Kindl, Stafford (3 each), Ericsson (2) and Kolosov (1) all have powerplay markers from the blueline.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Ryan Oulahen. Oulahen's numbers don't necessarily jump out at you especially with the prolific scorers on this team. But being as he is usually cast in a defense role, 5 goals in 14 games is pretty significant. Ryan is one of the biggest reasons behind the team's number one penalty killing unit, as he is the first to answer the call and usually is out for more than half of the kill. In the last month, the 4th yr forward has stepped up his game to become a force in all three zones. He has been rewarded with better line mates and has taken advantage of his opportunities.

ROOKIE WATCH - As mentioned previously, Kolosov took the biggest step forward this month. While he has slowly and steadily improved, things took a dramatic turn towards the end of the month when his game took off. Besides scoring his first three career goals, his intensity level and confidence both came on-line and he legitimately moved into the top four. Fellow blueliner Pyett tightened up his game to become a regular again, but is still looking for his much heralded offense. Pare just kept scoring, with 11 points in 13 games, moving up the league rookie leader board. Abdelkader had an up and down month as he struggled to break through the endurance wall. His offense started to pick up, earning him an NHL recall, but his team worst -10 was a cause for concern. Larsson had a pair of less than stellar outings in January (by his standards), but rebounded strongly. Emmerton was in and out of the lineup and despite good minutes on a scoring line, managed only three assists in nine games. Mursak still has not been able to get going this season, and with time running out on his season, he may have to wait until next year.

CURRENT INJURIES - D Jonathan Ericsson Wrist, day-to-day...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - D PJ Atherton assigned to Ontario (ECHL)... G John Ceci signed to 1yr contract... Ceci assigned to Muskegon (IHL)... RW Ville Leino recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Aaron Downey recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Downey assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Justin Abdelkader recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Abdelkader assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Darren Helm recalled by Detroit (NHL)...

KEY STATS - Frankie Pare is tied for 10th in +/- at +16. That total is also good enough for 4th among rookies... Darren Haydar is tied for 14th with 8 powerplay goals...He also is 11th in game winning goals with 4... Darren Helm is tied for 7th with 2 shorthanded goals...Ryan Oulahen is tied for 5th with 2 shorthanded assists... Justin Abdelkader and Jason Jozsa are tied for 7th in overtime goals... Mattias Ritola is tied for 9th with 2 unassisted goals... Cory Emmerton and Ville Leino are tied for 2nd with 2 shootout game winners... Pare is 14th in shooting percentage at 20.5%, which is also good enough for 2nd among rookies... Daniel Larsson is tied for 10th with 16 wins... Larsson is also 2nd in shutouts with five while Jimmy Howard is tied for fifth with 3... Howard is 6th in goals against average with a 2.38 GAA just a step ahead of Larsson who is rated 8th at 2.42... Larsson is tied for 6th in save percentage at 92.2%... Pare is 12th in rookie scoring just 5 points back from first place... Jakub Kindl is tied for 7th place in defenseman scoring... Pare is tied for 5th in rookie goal scoring with 15...

IN THE PIPELINE - The Griffins have three players under contract who are playing at a lower level. Defenseman Brett Peterson notched 5 assists in 13 games for the Phoenix Roadrunners of the ECHL last month, giving the 6'2 210 pound defender more points than he had all of last season. PJ Atherton is toiling for the Ontario Reign (ECHL) where he had a rocky month. The offensive blueliner scored only two goals and five points in ten games and was a dismal -8 to boot. Goaltender John Ceci was signed in January and immediately sent to the Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL). He was lit up in his only start, and hasn't gotten much playing time since then.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Aaron Downey, Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader all made their 1st NHL appearances of the season this month. For Leino it was his first game, and he didn't disappoint, scoring his first NHL goal in highlight reel fashion and following up with an assist the next night. Current stats as of 2/3/09:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 2 0 0 0 0 0
Sean Avery, Dallas (NWT) 23 3 7 10 77 2
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 15 0 0 0 25 1
Wade Brookbank, Carolina 27 1 0 1 40 0
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver 37 13 12 25 6 2
Aaron Downey, Detroit 1 0 0 0 2 0
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 39 1 2 3 24 2
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 27 4 1 5 8 1
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 50 6 16 22 28 4
Darren Helm, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 0
Bryan Helmer, Washington 12 0 3 3 2 -1
Shane Hnidy, Boston 44 2 7 9 36 3
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 50 17 23 40 8 7
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 48 6 8 14 32 -4
Krys Kolanos, Minn 19 3 3 6 163
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 49 2 7 9 26 -1
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 48 2 25 27 32 -3
Brett Lebda, Detroit 43 4 7 11 36 5
Ville Leino, Detroit 2 1 1 2 2 2
Darren McCarty, Detroit 13 1 0 1 25 -2
Derek Meech, Detroit 22 1 3 4 8 -8
Glen Metropolit, Philadelphia 45 1 9 10 9 -4
Chris Neil, Ottawa41 2 4 6 127 -12
Kyle Quincey, Los Angeles 45 3 24 27 36 0
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 48 18 21 39 40 -9
Todd White, Atlanta 51 14 30 44 16 9
Jason Williams, Atlanta/Columbus 48 9 14 23 10 -7
Clay Wilson, Columbus/Atlanta 5 0 1 1 0 -2
Landon Wilson, Dallas 19 2 6 8 19 6

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 11 2-7-1 3.17
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 37 11-21-4 3.27
Drew MacIntyre, Nashville 0 0-0-0 0.00

UP NEXT - Having played most of its home slate already, the Griffins are on the road for most of February starting out the month in Quad City. A pair of home games against the Chicago Wolves and Lake Erie Monsters gives way to a five game trip with stops in Toronto,