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January 2012 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Crowded lineup still not producing results...
By Jason Kasiorek
February 1, 2012

Thanks to an influx of players, the Griffins now have as much depth as they have had under Coach Fraser's tenure, leaving several regulars from earlier in the year fighting for spots in the lineup. Not many lineups can boast a 30 goal scorer on the third line like Grand Rapids can with Chris Minard playing behind Chris Conner and Tomas Tatar. Unfortunately the results on the ice have still been the same and the team is still struggling with consistency. With the Griffins running out of time and excuses, they need to figure things out now and start putting some 60 minute wins together or risk watching the playoffs from the golf course.

Grand Rapids managed a 5-4-0-2 record in January which left them third in the Northern Division 7 points behind 1st place Toronto but only one point ahead of fifth place Lake Erie. Their 44 points are good enough to rank them 12th of 15 in the AHL's Western Conference and 26th of 30 in the league with an overall record of 18-17-4-4. The Griffins are one of the AHL's highest scoring teams, notching 136 goals or 3.16 per game (6th overall). Unfortunately they are also ranked 28th in goals against having surrendered 3.21 goals per game (138). The second period seems to be the one that has done them in this season as the team has been outscored 45-56 after outscoring the competition in the first (46-38) and third (40-36). Grand Rapids is also ranked 1st in shots per game at 34.53 while allowing only 30.67. Despite their record, the Griffins also rank 5th in average attendance at 6863 per game.

The following is a review for January:

OFFENSE - With the return of Chris Conner, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist from Detroit and sniper Chris Minard from the injured list, the Griffins were able to dress three balanced scoring lines for the first time all season. The de facto first line saw Conner and Nyquist flanking Jamie Johnson. The trio combined for 7 goals and 18 assist in 11 games and revived Johnson who had a slow start to the month. Emerging center Joakim Andersson centered the next line, playing with Tomas Tatar and Frankie Pare towards the end of the month. The three skaters posted 8-12-20 totals but were not very consistent. Landon Ferraro drew the next line, centering Minard and Fabian Brunnstrom, with 9 goals and 11 assists combined on the month.

With the Griffins carrying so many extra bodies, the fourth line looked different pretty much every night as the coach tried to keep everyone ready to go until someone played to well to come out of the lineup. Louis-Marc Aubry, Brent Raedeke and Willie Coetzee played more games than they sat with Trevor Parkes, Mitchell Callahan and newcomer Mike Thomas rotating in and out of the lineup.

January Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Gustav Nyquist 9 3 7 10 4 5 22Slick rookie keeps scoring.
Fabian Brunnstrom11 2 8 10 4 4 41Creative playmaker finds the range.
Joakim Andersson 11 3 5 8 4 5 27Defensive center finds scoring touch.
Chris Conner 9 2 6 8 8 -2 17Vet leads team with 110% effort every game.
Jamie Johnson 11 2 5 7 8 1 13Sneaky sniper has off month.
Frankie Pare 11 2 5 7 0 -1 24Dynamic scorer must have more impact.
Tomas Tatar 11 3 2 5 9 5 33Two-way forward not showing up on scoresheet enough.
Willie Coetzee8 2 3 5 2 1 24Speedster having a hard time staying in lineup.
Landon Ferraro 8 2 3 5 0 1 14Talented rookie pivot making the most of his games.
Chris Minard7 4 0 4 0 2 20Veteran goal-scorer returns from concussion with a bang.
Brent Raedeke10 2 1 3 2 0 17Energy player strong defensively.
Louis-Marc Aubry 7 1 2 3 5 2 10Defensive gem working hard to earn regular spot.
Mitchell Callahan 7 0 1 1 9 -1 8Tough month for rookie pugilist.
Trevor Parkes 7 0 1 1 9 1 15Frequent scratch might be served by trip to Toledo.
Mike Thomas 2 0 0 0 5 -3 0Newcomer looking for spot in lineup.

DEFENSE - A quarter of the team's offense came from the blueline in January and the return of Travis Ehrhardt has made the group better defensively as well. Ehrhardt's return form a season long shoulder injury along with the emergence of Brian Lashoff have also had some other effects on the Griffins blueline corps, most notably pushing struggling Logan Pyett out of the top four, and pushing Greg Amadio out of the lineup and eventually to Springfield. The pairings for the month saw some flux but seem to have settled down as of late. Doug Janik has been playing with Brendan Smith, while Lashoff and Ehrhardt have teamed together on an effective tandem. Captain Garnet Exelby has played with both Sebastien Piche and Pyett at times.

January Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Brian Lashoff 11 4 3 7 4 8 23Breakout month for physical rearguard.
Garnet Exelby 11 2 5 7 13 -1 9 Veteran defender brings offense and stays out of the box.
Brendan Smith11 3 3 6 10 3 30Needs to add consistency and intensity to skill set.
Doug Janik 11 1 2 3 10 4 22 Steady blueliner keeps on rolling.
Travis Ehrhardt 7 0 2 2 4 7 10Strong showing in return from injury.
Logan Pyett 9 0 1 1 6 -3 16 Offensive defenseman's game has fallen on hard times.
Sebastien Piche 2 0 0 0 5 -2 2Gritty puck mover looking good in limited duty.

GOALTENDING - With Jordan Pearce on the shelf and Thomas McCollum turning in a pair of shaky outings, Joey MacDonald got the lions share of the work last month. The veteran netminder, fully recovered from a concussion, served notice that he was back by putting up some stellar numbers including a 2.29 GAA and .926 save percentage in 9 appearances. He also posted a 4-3-2 record including a shutout, bringing him to three on the season. Backup Thomas McCollum came into the month on a roll and capped off a career best five game winning streak before reverting to form and giving up 10 goals in about 82 minutes of work over his next two starts. His numbers for January show a 1-1 record with a 4.51GAA and .869 save percentage.

SPECIAL TEAMS - With so many talented players on the roster it remains a mystery why the powerplay is so bad. The home unit scored 3 goals in 20 chances to drop to 25th at 15.5% (15 for 97), while the road unit fell from 14th to 19th after scoring only twice in 19 chances 16.3% (16 for 98). Overall the man advantage unit was ranked 23rd in the AHL at 15.9% (31 for 195). Key contributors were Johnson (5g), Nyquist, Tatar, Andersson and Lashoff (4g each), Conner, Pare, Smith, Janik and Brunnstrom (2g each) and Coetzee, Aubry, Nestrasil and Fournier (1g each).

At home the penalty killers had a rough month, giving up 4 goals in 19 chances to lower their season ranking to 17th at 82.1% (78 for 95). The road unit actually improved a bit climbing from 19th (81.2%) to 16th (81.9%), killing off 21 of 25 chances. They are 16th overall at 82% (155 for 189) and are tied for 5th with 7 shorthanded goals scored vs 10th for allowing 4. Conner and Smith are among the league leaders with 2 shorthanded goals apiece, with Johnson, Andersson and Raedeke each adding one as well.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Defense - Brian Lashoff. After a year lost to injury and recover, the lanky defender has turned on the light and found his game. Lashoff scored a team high 4 goals in January to go along with 3 assists in 11 games and a team best +8 defensive rating. The second year pro plays in all situations and has been rewarded for his strong play with more ice time.

Offense - Fabian Brunnstrom. The talented Swedish forward broke out in a big way last month, putting up 2 goals, 8 assists and a team leading 41 shots on goal in the eleven games he played. Brunnstrom worked through an early season scoring slump exacerbated by constantly going back and forth to Detroit, and looks to be finding the range now.

CURRENT INJURIES - Jordan Pearce - Ankle day-to-day...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - LW Chris Conner assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Joakim Andersson assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Conner recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Gustav Nyquist assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Conner assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Adam Estoclet assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... RW Jan Mursak recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Chris Minard assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Travis Ehrhardt returned from long term injury... D Greg Amadio traded to Springfield (AHL)... RW Mike Thomas acquired from Springfield (AHL)...

KEY STATS - Gustav Nyquist is tied for 10th in league scoring with 40 points... Brendan Smith is 16th in the AHL among defenseman with 23 points... Nyquist is 2nd in rookie scoring... Jamie Johnson is tied for 20th in the AHL with 16 goals... Nyquist is 12th in assists with 28... Chris Conner and Brendan Smith are tied for 6th with 2 shorthanded goals apiece... Garnet Exelby is 4th in penalty minutes with 130... Doug Janik is 7th in plus-minus at +16... Tomas Tatar is 10th in shots on goal with 137... Joey MacDonald is tied for 18th in save percentage at 91.3%... MacDonald is also tied for 2nd with 3 shutouts... Jamie Johnson is tied for the 2nd longest goal streak this season at five games... Frankie Pare is tied for the 7th longest assist streak at 6 games... Mitchell Callahan is tied for 3rd among rookies with 9 major penalties... Brendan Smith is tied for first in Defenseman Game Winning Goals with 3...

IN THE PIPELINE - Blueliner Bryan Rufenach picked up his scoring, posting a credible 2-6-8 total in 10 games, but his -6 during that time bringing him to -11 on the season will not help his cause. Fellow rookie rearguard Gleason Fournier, a teammate with the Toledo Walleye, continues to struggle with the adjustment to the pro game. The slick skating defenseman had 4 assists in 13 games and was -3 over that span. Toledo winger Andrej Nestrasil looks to have found his game in the ECHL and turned in a hot month with 2 goals and 10 assts in 13 games for the walleye. Overall he has 15 points in his last 14 games and could make a push for a second half recall to grand Rapids. Center Adam Estoclet rounds out the players under contract playing for the Walleye. Estoclet has fallen off his torrid scoring pace last month, recording only 7 points in 10 games, but registered 34 shots on goal in that span. Look for the first year pro to bounce back on the scoreboard next month as he continues to make the adjustment to the grind of the pro game.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Clay Wilson, Brett Lebda, Aaron Gagnon and Jan Mursak joined the ranks of Griffins Alumni to suit up in the NHL this season when they made their season debut's in January. Current stats as of 2/1/12:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 515 8 13 28 2
Joakim Andersson, Detroit 40 0 0 0 1
Sean Avery, Rangers 153 0 3 21 2
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim 48 05 5 46 6
Fabian Brunnstrom, Detroit 5 0 1 1 4 -2
Chris Conner, Detroit 7 1 2 3 0 2
Mark Cullen, Florida 6 01 1 2 2
Mark Eaton, NY Islanders 34 0 2 2 6-5
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 42 3 3 6 25-6
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 40 5 3 8 82
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 51 1 8 9 43 16
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 50 15 25 40 10 13
Aaron Gagnon, Winnipeg 2 0 0 0 0 -1
Alexandre Giroux, Columbus 9 1 0 1 8 -2
Darren Helm, Detroit 47 5 10 15 4 4
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 50 16 17 33 24 4
Chris Kelly, Boston 48 14 10 24 30 23
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 38 1 8 9 21 4
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 48 615 21 24 -11
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 51 11 11 22 28 -3
Brett Lebda, Columbus 4 1 0 1 2 -1
Ville Leino, Buffalo 40 4 8 12 8 -8
Derek Meech, Winnipeg 2 0 0 0 4 1
Chris Mueller, Nashville 4 0 0 0 0 -1
Jan Mursak, Detroit 3 0 2 2 0 2
Chris Neil, Ottawa 44 9 9 18 99 -7
Kris Newbury, Rangers 7 0 0 0 24 -1
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 5 0 1 1 2 1
Scott Parse, Los Angeles 9 2 0 2 141
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 46 4 18 22 52 -3
Mattias Ritola, Tampa Bay 5 0 0 0 6-2
Brendan Smith, Detroit 3 0 2 2 4 -1
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 53 20 30 50 24 0
Jason Williams, Pittsburgh 7 1 1 2 4 1
Clay Wilson, Calgary 2 0 0 0 2 0

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 43 31-11-1 2.01 .925
Drew MacIntyre, Buffalo 2 0-0-0 1.40 .944

UP NEXT - February is a busy month for Grand Rapids with 10 contests on the calendar including 8 on home ice. The month starts out with a pair of games against the Hamilton Bulldogs and the following weekend the Houston Aeros play a deuce at Van Andel arena. A Sunday tilt with the Rampage gives way to a road game in Chicago against the wolves. Then it's back on the bus for a series of home games against the Peoria Rivermen, Hamilton and Lake Erie Monsters. The Griffins finish the month on the road in Toronto with a match against the division leading Marlies.