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February 2008 Griffins Report
Addition of McCarty re-energizes team...
By Jason Kasiorek
February 1, 2008

The signing of Darren McCarty could not have come at a better time for Grand Rapids. The veteran winger, in the midst of an NHL comeback attempt, provided the leadership and experience to steer this ship through troubled waters in February. D-Mac did a little of everything to keep this from being a disastrous month in Grand Rapids. On the ice he tallied almost a point per game, and led the way physically, throwing hits and dropping the gloves when needed. He also helped calm and refocus a club with five regulars in Detroit, to stay in the hunt for the elusive 8th playoff spot in the conference. The team exhibited a lot more resiliency than earlier in the season; a trait attributed to McCarty's leadership and veteran presence in the room.

Grand Rapids will have an uphill battle to secure a post-season berth, especially with their top players summoned to the NHL. Leading scorer Mark Hartigan will not be back to the AHL this year, and top defenseman Jonathan Ericsson may not return either. Sparkplug Darren McCarty will join the Wings at the end of his conditioning stint on March 9th, further depleting the offense.

The Griffins notched a 6-7 record in February, but are losing ground in the hunt for the last playoff spot. Grand Rapids is currently 5th in the Northern Division, 13th of 15 teams in the Western Conference with a 24-29-2-5 record. This leaves them 15 points out of a playoff spot with 20 games remaining.

The following is a review for February:

OFFENSE - With the addition of McCarty, the griffins offense suddenly grew more potent, averaging almost three goals per game. The defacto number one line included the surging McCarty centered by Ryan Oulahen with a variety of left wingers including the departed Mark Hartigan, and Swedish wunderkind Mattias Ritola. This line accounted for 13 goals and 11 assists in February, and played well at both ends of the ice. The second line was Mark Cullen between Darren Helm and Carl Corazzini, and while they posted similar scoring totals (9 goals and 14 assists), they also carried a team worst -28 defensive rating between them. The third line became more effective as the month went on, featuring Evan McGrath flanked by Jamie Tardif and Francis "Frankie" Lemieux. This trio posted 7 goals and 8 assists, but more importantly played well defensively and provided some physical play and energy for the team. Rounding out the forward corps were rookie Jozef Fojtik, defensive forward Randall Gelech, and newcomer Tyler Redenbach.

February Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Mark Cullen13 4 6 10 10 -9 35Bouncing back from injury induced slump.
Darren McCarty11 5 49 21 -1 24Comeback player breathed life into team.
Evan McGrath13 2 5 7 2 4 15Stepped up offensive contributions.
Darren Helm11 1 6 7 8 -7 40Offense slowly coming to talented speedster.
Mark Hartigan83 3 6 4 0 24Team's leading scorer moves to NHL.
Carl Corazzini13 4 2 6 2 -13 51Tough month for hard working veteran sporting a -13 rating in 13 games.
Ryan Oulahen134154-2 33Hustling forward moved to offensive role with newcomer McCarty.
Jamie Tardif13 2 2 4 23 2 39Offense still AWOL but physical play stepped up.
Mattias Ritola11 1 3 4 8 2 16Strong two-way play and creativity are evident.
Francis Lemieux8314101 17Scrappy winger rescued from the scrap heap.
Randall Gelech911270 6Defensive presence needs to go back to the basics to find his game.
Josef Fojtik70222-212Rookie sniper getting first look in AHL.
Tyler Redenbach10022409Hasn't contributed much as he looks to find his place.

DEFENSE - Things went from bad to worse for the Griffins defense in February. Already missing veteran Brad Ference to an injury, the griffins' blueline lost Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson, and Garrett Stafford for significant time due to NHL recalls. This meant that youngsters Tom Galvin, Jon Insana, and Jakub Kindl shouldered a lot more responsibility and ice time. They acquitted themselves pretty well, even helping the team record a shutout win over Manitoba. Rookies Cleve Kinley and Jason Jozsa were added from the ECHL and Russ Moyer from the Muskegon Fury to fill in.

February Thumbnails:

Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Garrett Stafford 9 2 6 86 3 13Sandwiched best month around first NHL callup.
Jonathan Ericsson 8 1 3 4 15 0 15Strong play at both ends of the ice coincided with NHL debut.
Jon Insana 13 0 4 4 8 -4 7Stepped up in the absence of teams top four.
Jason Jozsa 5 0 2 2 0 -2 5Unheralded blueliner filled in well enough to earn contract.
Cleve Kinley 7 0 2 2 2 -2 9Defensive game much improved in second AHL stint.
Kyle Quincey 6 10 1 17 2 12Returned from NHL with physical game in full force.
Tom Galvin 13 0 1 1 2 1 7Steady stay at home rearguard played well with increased ice time.
Jakub Kindl 13 0 1 1 17 -8 12Taking his lumps with a team worst -27
Russ Moyer 2 0 0 0 0 -2 0Injury derailed first AHL look.

GOALTENDING - With all-star Jimmy Howard summoned to Detroit for most of the month, the job fell to Adam Berkhoel and a collection of backups. Berkhoel continued his erratic season, alternating great games with poor ones, but in the end managed to win 4 of 9 starts for the month including his first AHL shutout. Cody Rudkowsky and Dan Turple both played parts of a game in relief of Berkhoel, with neither making much of an impression. Jimmy had a slow start to February and then battled through injury and fatigue to record a win after being sent back from Detroit (NHL).

SPECIAL TEAMS - The much maligned powerplay is on the rise, moving from 29th to 22nd overall (49 for 320, 15.3%). It has really shown improvement at home going 6 for 25 in February to rank 13th in the league at 16.7% as opposed to the 26th ranked road unit at 14.1% (24 for 170). Corazzini leads the way with 10 goals with the man advantage. Cullen and Hartigan are tied with 8, while on the back end Stafford has five and Ericsson has 4. The Griffins penalty-killing unit is ranked in the middle of the pack at 16th overall (268 for 324, 82.7%). The home and road units are ranked almost identically at 82.7% (82.8% at home). The main penalty killers are Tardif, Oulahen, Helm, Cullen and Corazzini.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Darren McCarty. McCarty came into the room with more question marks than anything else, and for the most parts silenced his critics with his impact both on and off the ice. He has put up nearly a point per game, played a gritty physical game and even dropped the gloves when needed. His biggest impact has been in the room and on the bench, where his leadership and experience have made the difference. This team came to life when he arrived, and hopefully doesn't go back to sleep when he leaves.

ROOKIE WATCH - Ritola has really began to stand out in a positive way. His speed and creativity really open up the ice, and he is one of the team's best two-way players. Helm continued his strong play, and should continue to improve, especially after he adds some muscle to his wiry frame over the offseason. At this point Kindl is showing small signs of improvement but is on the hard side of the learning curve. He has started to become more involved on the powerplay, but his defensive game is way off, and he needs to use his skills more consistently. Kinley returned from the ECHL and showed off some good defense to go along with his mobile, puck moving game. Jozsa and Fojtik showed enough in spurts to earn contracts, and Moyer was injured before really making an impression.

CURRENT INJURIES - Brad Ference - Wrist Surgery, Out for the Season... Russ Moyer - Leg, day-to-day

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - RW Darren McCarty signed to PTO... D Darrell Hay released from PTO... LW Francis Lemieux acquired from Montreal (NHL) for RW Brett Engelhardt... LW Josef Fojtik Released from PTO and Signed to Standard Players Contract... G Jimmy Howard recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Kyle Quincey recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Fojtik Assigned to Flint (IHL)... G Cody Rudkowsky signed to PTO... D Cleve Kinley recalled from Texas (ECHL)... G Rudkowsky released from PTO... G Dan Turple assigned by Atlanta (NHL)... D Jonathan Ericsson recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Mark Hartigan recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Jason Jozsa signed to PTO... D Garrett Stafford recalled to Detroit (NHL)... D Russ Moyer Signed to PTO... RW McCarty released from PTO... McCarty signed 1 yr contract with Detroit (NHL)... McCarty assigned by Detroit (NHL) on two week conditioning stint... G Howard assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Stafford assigned by Detroit (NHL)... G Turple recalled by Atlanta (NHL)... D Quincey assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Jozsa released from PTO and signed to SPC...

KEY STATS - Jimmy Howard is among the top 20 netminders in the league in a couple of categories: tied for 15th in Wins with 18... tied for 11th with 2 Shutouts... tied for 5th with 4 Shootout Wins... Mark Hartigan is tied for 14th with 23 goals... Jakub Kindl has the second worst +/- rating in the league at -27...

IN THE PIPELINE - Mike Walsh continues to plug away in Dayton (ECHL), putting up 3 goals and 3 assists in 10 games this month with a -2 defensive rating. The good news is that he took 35 shots in that span and is much more involved offensively.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - The Griffins sent 4 more players to the NHL this month, with Quincey and Howard making their season's debut, and Ericsson and Stafford making their NHL debut's. Current stats as of 3/1/08:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Kevyn Adams, Chicago15 0 1 1 11 -5
Maxim Afinogenov, Buffalo 38 7 11 1830 -10
Sean Avery, Rangers 39 10 14 24 112 6
Darryl Bootland, Islanders (Min) 4 0 1 1 2 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 31 0 5 5 53 3
Wade Brookbank, Carolina 24 1 1 2 67 4
Pavol Demitra, Minnesota 51 13 26 39 16 2
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 36 0 3 3 46
Matt Ellis, Los Angeles 36 2 4 6 12 2
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 3 1 0 1 0 -4
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 65 17 13 30 24 17
Mark Hartigan, Detroit 9 1 0 1 2 -1
Shane Hnidy, Boston 56 1 3 4 49 -3
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 64 11 24 35 18 11
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 64 11 15 26 26 1
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 61 4 5 9 31 1
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 48 5 20 25 32 16
Joel Kwiatkowski, Atlanta 4 0 11 2 -4
Josh Langfeld, Nashville 2 0 00 0 0
Brett Lebda, Detroit 64 3 10 13 362
Derek Meech, Detroit 240 3 3 2 -2
Glen Metropolit, Boston 62 11 16 27 26 6
Mark Mowers, Anaheim (NWT) 17 1 0 1 8 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 606 13 19 146 1
Kyle Quincey, Detroit 60 0 0 4 -3
Karel Rachunek, Devils 41 4 8 12 40 5
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 58 24 50 74 34 23
Garrett Stafford, Detroit 2 0 0 0 0 0
Pete Vandermeer, Phoenix 1 0 0 0 0 0
Todd White, Atlanta 64 14 23 37 32 -11
Jason Williams, Chicago 24 9 13 22 12 3

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 4 0-2-0-0 2.13
Patrick Lalime, Chicago 24 12-9-1-0 2.61
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 0 0-0-0-0 0.00
Drew MacIntyre, Vancouver 2 0-1-0-0 2.95

UP NEXT - March begins with a Sunday afternoon home contest against the Lake Erie Monsters followed by the first of three Wednesday night home games versus the Marlies. Then it's on to Milwaukee and then a rematch in the Monsters barn. The Griffins return home for a pair against Toronto and Lake Erie followed by a home and home against the Marlies. A late month East Coast swing finds Grand Rapids in Rochester and Syracuse before returning home to finish off the season series with the Monsters. The final weekend of the month starts at home facing Milwaukee and Rochester before finishing on the road against the archrival Wolves.