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February 2009 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Griffins weather the storm...
By Jason Kasiorek
March 1, 2009

The reality of being the farm team for an NHL club is that your best players can and will be recalled, usually when they are playing their best. The Griffins bid adieu to two of their top scorers in Ville Leino and Darren Helm for the month of February. The hit to the offense was compounded by the continuing injury saga of ace blueliner Jonathan Ericsson and at various times Mattias Ritola, Frankie Lemieux, Jimmy Howard and Tom Galvin. But the Griffins stepped up and fought through the adversity to post a 5-6-0-2 record. As the team enters the home stretch the last six weeks of the season, they are returning to health and despite the tempest, are only three points out of first place overall.

Captain Darren Haydar has started to find his offensive stride as of late, firing 21 points in 13 games last month. He has been aided on the scoresheet by Justin Abdelkader who has come back from an NHL recall a changed player, chipping in 15 points of his own. Veteran blueliner Garrett Stafford has also picked up some steam with 13 points this month, while the additions of Darren McCarty, Leino and Helm from Detroit should provide a jolt of adrenaline. Rookie netminder Daniel Larsson has recovered from a small slump earlier in the month which should help mask the loss of Howard who injured a few games ago.

The following is a review for January:

OFFENSE - The lineup changed so often that it was difficult to follow without a program. The number one line normally featured Ryan Oulahen and Haydar flanking Abdelkader and then later Emmerton. They clicked for 15 goals and 42 points in 13 games in February. The two Frankie's line stayed together until Lemieux was felled with an injury and replaced by Jamie Tardif but managed to ring up 10 goals and 21 points. The only constant on the third line was winger Jan Mursak, playing with either Emmerton or Adbelkader, first with Tardif, and then with Ritola when he returned from injury. Aaron Gagnon anchored the fourth line with call-up Mike Walsh on one side and Aaron Downey on the other. McCarty saw action all over the lineup in the two games he saw after being assigned on a conditioning stint.

January Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Darren Haydar 13 8 13 21 0 2 39Veteran sniper heats up at the right time.
Justin Abdelkader 13 5 10 15 17 4 34Power forward taken game to next level after NHL recall.
Cory Emmerton 13 4 6 10 0 -4 26Rookie Pivot stepped up play in absence of Helm and Leino.
Evan McGrath 13 4 4 8 6 -2 24Hard worker continues to produce.
Francis Lemieux 10 3 4 7 10 0 24Hustling grinder felled by knee injury.
Frankie Pare 12 3 3 6 4 -2 25Banged up sniper slows offensively.
Ryan Oulahen 13 2 4 6 8 2 30Defensive forward establishes career high in goals.
Mattias Ritola 6 0 5 5 4 -5 10Gritty forward rushed back from injuries to help.
Jan Mursak 12 2 2 4 7 0 22Underachieving rookie steps up due to injuries.
Aaron Gagnon 13 2 2 4 6 -1 21Grinding center anchors fourth line.
Mike Walsh 11 2 1 3 8 -1 9ECHL grad produces in limited ice time.
Aaron Downey 12 0 3 3 28 -5 5An unexpected NHL recall caps poor month.
Jamie Tardif 12 0 2 2 6 -6 33Talented winger trying to find his game.
Darren McCarty2 0 2 2 0 0 1Shaking the rust off priority #1 for veteran winger.

DEFENSE -The defense continues to be the team's achilles heal, further exposed by the injuries to Ericsson and Galvin. Jakub Kindl's game has fallen apart, his scoring dried up last month, following his defensive game which has been abysmal. Normal partner Tom Galvin suffered a serious knee injury a few games ago, and could leave a big hole. Garrett Stafford has never been considered a master in his own zone, but can usually hold his own, while his partner Jason Jozsa is only adequate. Rookie Sergei Kolosov's improvement has slowed, but he has become dependable in his own end, something that can not be said of his usual sidekick Logan Pyett who has a lot of work ahead of him. Newcomer Brett Peterson has been a pleasant surprise, displaying some nice speed and skill and could unseat Jozsa when Ericsson returns.

January Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Garrett Stafford 13 5 8 13 14 -4 31Veteran blueliner on a streak.
Logan Pyett 12 2 4 6 4 -4 12 Rookie rearguard improving, still need a lot of work.
Jakub Kindl 12 0 3 3 12 0 13Offense fell off as talented d-man struggles.
Tom Galvin 12 0 3 3 2 5 6Defensive gem likely lost for season.
Sergei Kolosov 12 1 0 1 6 0 13 Continues to imporve at both ends of the ice.
Brett Peterson 6 0 1 1 0 1 7Speedy Rookie fill-in doesn't look out of place.
Jonathan Ericsson 2 0 0 0 4 2 2Returned from injuries and was recalled to Detroit.
Jason Jozsa 12 0 0 0 6 -4 13 Filled in due to injuries, but did not show much.

GOALTENDING - Larsson had a rocky month behind the team's porous defense, turning in his worst stretch in the AHL. He struggled to a 2-3-0-1 record and a sub par 3.91 GAA, one and a half goals per game higher than his season average, and a brutal 83.5% save percentage. He looked to be returning to form as the month came to a close, and showed a lot of heart by making a surprise start while ill, in place of the recently recalled Howard. His partner Jimmy Howard faired little better, following up his torrid January with a 3-3-0-1 record and a 3.30 goals against average. The month ended on a sour note for the veteran netminder as he was blown out in his only NHL start this season, and then suffered a serious injury in a game upon returning to the AHL.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Grand Rapids has had a lot of success with their special teams this season. The last stretch has seen the Powerplay unit move up to 2nd overall in the league at 21.5%, enjoying a nearly identical success rate at home (3rd overall, 21.1%, 41 for 194) and on the road (2nd overall, 22.1%, 29 for 131). Haydar normally mans the point for the majority of the man advantaged, and he has 13 pp goals to show for it. Stafford (6) and Kindl (3) normally take turns manning the other point, but the return of Ericsson (2) may change that. Up front Abdelkader (8), Wilson (7), Leino (6), McGrath (5), Ritola (5) and Helm (4) have accounted for most of the damage.

The road penalty killing unit took a big hit last month falling from 7th to 16th (80.7%, killing off 109 of 135 chances). The home unit concinures to hold down the number one spot on the leaderboard at a stunning 91.1%, killing off 143 of 157 chances. The home ice dominance was enough to keep them tied for first overall with an 86.3% kill rate. Ryan Oulahen and Aaron Gagnon are usually the first group of forwards out while shorthanded, but Ritola, Abdlekader and Tardif get quite a bit of work. On the blueline, Stafford, Kolosov, Kindl and Galvin normally divide up the time.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Darren Haydar. Haydar went on quite a tear in February, stepping up his game when the team needed it most. The veteran forward piled up an amazing 8 goals and 13 assists in just 13 games, also registering a team high 39 shots on goal. His increased presence helped take some of the pressure off the lineup that was missing several key performers. He also improved his much maligned defensive game, posting a +2, the first month he hasn't been a minus this season. The AHL's all time career playoff scorer is getting hot at just the right time as the teams eyes the post-season.

ROOKIE WATCH - Pyett, Peterson, Emmerton, Leino, Mursak, Pare, Abdelkader, Kolosov, Larsson

CURRENT INJURIES - D Tom Galvin - Knee, Long Term... LW Frankie Lemieux - Knee-hip, Day to day... G Jimmy Howard, Concussion - knee, Undetermined...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - C Justin Abdelkader assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Darren Helm recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Mike Walsh signed PTO... D Brett Peterson recalled from Phoenix (ECHL)... G Jimmy Howard recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Joel Martin signed PTO... G Howard assigned by Detroit... G Martin released from PTO... RW Darren McCarty assigned by Detroit (NHL)... G John Ceci recalled from Muskegon (IHL)...

KEY STATS - Darren Haydar is 12th in goals with 24... he is also tied for 6th in assists with 40... and is 5th in points with 64... Haydar is tied for fourth in power play goals with 13 and tied for 5th in powerplay assists with 22... Garrett Stafford is tied for 14th in powerplay assists with 19... Darren Helm is tied for 14th with 2 shorthanded goals... Haydar is 2nd in first goals with 8... Franics Pare is tied for 2nd in Insurance goals with 4... Justin Abdelkaders overtime tally leaves him tied for ninth in OT goals... Cory Emmerton and Ville Leino are tied for 7th with 2 shoot-out winners apiece... Pare is 9th in shooting percentage at 20% just ahead of teammate Landon Wilson who is 17th at 19.5%... Justin Abdelkader is tied for 3rd in rookie scoring with 44 points... Pare is 14th with 38 points... Abelkader and Pare are both tied for 4th in rookie goal scoring... Abdelkader is tied for 10th in rookie assists, Emmerton is tied for 12th... Pare is 6th in rookie plus minus at +14... Stafford is 5th in defenseman scoring with 38 points... Kindl is 18th with 30 points... Daniel Larsson is 9th in wins with 20... Larsson is 2nd in shutouts with 5... Jimmy Howard is tied for 7th with 3... Howard is tied for 17th in save percentage at 91.3%...

IN THE PIPELINE - PJ Atherton was the lone Griffins contracted player to not get a recall in February.The offensively gifted blueliner posted 4 goals, 5 assists and 45 shots in 14 games for the Ontario Reign (ECHL). Unfortunately he also posted a -6 defensive rating for the month, making him -14 since the first of the year.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Ville Leino may have been the hottest Griffins alumni last month, raising his surprising rookie totals to 5 goals and 4 assists in 13 games. Jonathan Ericsson made his season debut for Detroit, becoming the 35th former Griffin to suit up for an NHL game this season. Current stats as of 3/4/09:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 2 0 0 0 0 0
Sean Avery, Rangers 23 3 7 10 77 2
Sheldon Brookbank, NJ/Anaheim 27 0 1 1 51 1
Wade Brookbank, Carolina/Tampa Bay 27 1 0 1 40 0
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver 50 17 22 39 14 8
Aaron Downey, Detroit 2 0 0 0 7 0
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 52 2 4 6 26 5
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 39 5 4 9 8 3
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 1 0 1 1 0 1
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 64 7 25 32 32 13
Alexandre Giroux, Washington 11 1 1 2 6 4
Darren Helm, Detroit 16 0 1 1 4 -7
Bryan Helmer, Washington 12 0 3 3 2 -1
Shane Hnidy, Boston 57 3 9 12 38 8
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 64 20 30 50 16 5
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 62 7 10 17 34 -8
Krys Kolanos, Minn 19 3 3 6 163
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 61 5 11 16 36 2
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 62 3 36 39 38 -1
Brett Lebda, Detroit 49 5 8 13 40 8
Ville Leino, Detroit 13 5 4 9 6 5
Darren McCarty, Detroit 13 1 0 1 25 -2
Derek Meech, Detroit 30 2 3 5 12 -11
Glen Metropolit, Phili/Montreal 57 4 10 14 17 -2
Chris Neil, Ottawa44 2 4 6 127 -12
Kyle Quincey, Los Angeles 60 3 31 34 51 0
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 62 22 28 50 65 -15
Todd White, Atlanta 64 17 39 56 22 -10
Jason Williams, Atlanta/Columbus 62 12 19 31 14 -6
Clay Wilson, Columbus/Atlanta 5 0 1 1 0 -2
Landon Wilson, Dallas 19 2 6 8 19 6

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 1 0-1-0 4.07 .857
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 16 2-9-2 2.91 .903
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 42 12-24-5 3.30 .900
Drew MacIntyre, Nashville 0 0-0-0 0.00 .000

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids starts the month on the road in Toronto before returning for a one game homestand featuring the Rockford IceHogs. Next up is a trip to Texas with games against Houston and San Antonio followed by a three games in three night weekend at home versus Peoria and Milwaukee. After four days off, the boys play a pair at home against the Marlies and then depart for an eight game road trip. This trip starts in Lake Erie against the monsters and then proceeds to Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk before closing out the month with a pair in Philadelphia against the Phantoms.