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February 2010 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Playoff dream over, now chasing franchise futility record...
By Jason Kasiorek
March 1, 2010

The Grand Rapids Griffins playoff hopes, long on life support, have now turned terminal. The struggling AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings finds themselves 13 points out of the latest playoff spot in the Division with only 18 games remaining. For a team that has only managed 7 wins in the last two months (27 games) that seems insurmountable. Now the team turns its sights to avoiding setting franchise marks for the worst season in its 14-year history. The previous holder of that distinction was the 2007-08 club, coached by Mike Stothers, which staggered to a 31-41-2-6 mark, a miniscule .438 win percentage and an out of the playoffs 70 points. This years Griffins will need 16 points in its last 18 games to tie that mark. As stated above that is not likely to happen unless this team starts playing to their potential - and soon.

The good news is the addition of NHL defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and the return of defensive rock Sergei Kolosov should make a big difference on the backend. The addition of NHL'er Brad May should give a jolt of leadership and confidence to a brittle room, and another month of Justin Abdelkader will keep the offense humming. Slumping veteran Jeremy Williams put up 16 points in 14 games and Mattias Ritola meshed with Abdelkader to post 11 points in February. Tomas Tatar showed signs of finding his touch around the net as of late, and Logan Pyett has continued his rise through the ranks to a valuable two-way defenseman.

The Griffins started the month 3-2 before hitting the skids and posting a 1-8 record the rest of the way. The offense perked up, connecting for 44 goals in 14 games, or just over 3 per game. The problem as always this season was that they gave up 49 during the same span including 16 in its last three games. Grand Rapids finds itself in the basement of both the Northern division and the western conference with 54 points in 62 games. Their 25-33-2-2 record is 13 points out of the last playoff spot in the conference and better than only two teams in the entire league. Despite their troubles, the team continues to hold the leagues fourth best attendance, averaging 6,648 through 33 home games.

The following is a review for February:

OFFENSE - The addition of Abdelkader has proven to be a catalyst for the offense, leading the scoring to increase by over a goal per game over last month. The number one line of Abdelkader, Ritola and captain Jamie Tardif has been dangerous this month, connecting for 12 goals and 17 assists. The number two line of Patrick Rissmiller between Jan Mursak and John Vigilante has been responsible at both ends while still managing to add 11 goals and 8 assists to the attack. Williams, Kris Newbury and Tatar have moved down a line and produced 11 goals and 21 assists against lesser competition, though it should also be mention that the trio was a combine -22, easily the worst on the team. Frankie Pare and Cory Emmerton are constants on the fourth line playing usually with Evan McGrath. McGrath was recently a healthy scratch for a few games, leaving the two to play with a rotating cast of centers like Abdelkader and Rissmiller.

February Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Jeremy Williams 14 5 11 16 4 -11 35Sniper scoring more but defense needs work.
Justin Abdelkader 14 5 6 11 28 2 23Power forward brings 'A' game in AHL return.
Mattias Ritola 14 4 7 11 100 30Two-way winger regains scoring touch.
Patrick Rissmiller 14 6 4 10 4 -7 36Veteran pivot gets it done at both ends.
Kris Newbury 13 3 7 10 19 -9 30Truculent center starts to find his game.
Francis Pare 14 5 3 8 0 1 40Slick sniper continues strong play.
Jamie Tardif 14 3 4 7 7 2 18Rewarded for selfless play with time on #1 line.
Tomas Tatar 14 3 3 6 4 -2 15Gifted rookie starting to get hot again.
Cory Emmerton 14 2 4 6 2 -1 14Defensive game improving, still waiting for offense to ignite.
Jan Mursak 14 2 4 6 17 -1 25An off month offensively for blooming goal scorer.
Evan McGrath 12 0 4 4 2 -4 21Disaster season gets worse with healthy scratch.
John Vigilante 14 3 0 3 6 4 19Gritty two-way forward continues stellar defense.

DEFENSE - The addition of Tollefsen should pay dividends the rest of the season, but for February, he and Kolosov were both in Vancouver playing for their respective countries and not having an impact on the Griffins blueline. This left Doug Janik and Logan Pyett to shoulder most of the burden. Jakub Kindl improved his defensive play but still made too many mistakes for a player with his pedigree. Travis Ehrhardt saw increased ice time in the top four for a while and acquitted himself well. Policeman Paul Crosty dressed because there was no other option, though he didn't see the ice very much. Former Eddie Shore trophy winner Andy Delmore has watched his effectiveness and intensity decline and found himself a healthy scratch for a few games leaving the Griffins with five defensemen. That does not say a lot for you when the coach would rather play short a man than have you in the lineup.

February Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Doug Janik14 281010 -5 23Veteran defender picks up slack offensively.
Logan Pyett 14 1 6 7 6 1 27 Continues impressive rise up the depth chart.
Jakub Kindl 14 0 5 5 21 -1 22Top defensive prospect still can't put it all together.
Andy Delmore 10 1 1 2 4 -1 10Lack of intensity leads to being a healthy scratch.
Travis Ehrhardt 9 0 1 1 6 -1 4Freshman improves defensive game as fill-in.
Ole-Kristian Tollefsen3 0 0 0 4 -1 4 Physical blueliner adjusting after Olympics.
Sergei Kolosov6 0 0 0 0 -1 4 Stay at home ace welcomed back after Olympics.
Paul Crosty 8 0 0 0 12 0 5 Rugged rearguard goes to the bench after limited duty.

GOALTENDING - Thomas McCollum continued his rocky initiation into the pro ranks, losing all 5 games he appeared in this month with a gaudy 4.14 GAA and 86.1% save percentage. He hasn't necessarily looked as bad as those numbers would indicate, but he has not looked as confident or sharp as he did earlier in the season. His crease partner Daniel Larsson however has started to turn his season around, producing a 4 and 5 record with a 2.84 GAA and 90.7% save percentage. Despite being pulled early in his last start, the second year netminder kept his team in several games they did not deserve to be in this month and has displayed the mental toughness to shrug off the nightly bombardments he faces behind this porous defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins have done some heavy lifting in regards to their abysmal penalty killing unit, raising their ranking from dead last to 27th overall (211 for 266; 79.3%). This was mostly a product of their home unit killing off 22 of 25 powerplays in February to climb to 10th in the league at 85% (119 for 140). The road unit continues to occupy the bottom spot at 73% (92 for 126). Abdelkader, Ritola, Rissmiller, Vigilante, Tardif, Janik and Pyett are all regulars on the PK unit. Pyett leads the club with 2 shorthanded goals, followed by Tardif and Pare with one each.

The powerplay also has rebounded from last month's precipitous drop, rising from 20th to 14th at 17.9% (44 for 266). The home unit scored 7 goals in 22 chances to jump to 13th at 19.4% (26 for 134) while the road unit scored 6 in 30 chances to move from 19th to 17th at 16.1% (18 for 112). Williams and Rissmiller each have 8 powerplay tallies followed closely by Tardif and Ritola with 6. Newbury, Mursak and Tatar are tied with 3, while Logan Pyett leads the blueline with 2. Powerplay ace Andy Delmore is conspicuous in his absence from the list with no powerplay goals on the season.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Justin Abdelkader. The addition of Abdelkader changed the makeup of this team in several ways that were apparent from his first AHL shift of the season. His aggressive, physical game set the tone for the rest of the team, and caused opposing clubs to look over their shoulder when he was around. His offensive skills immediately ignited linemate Mattias Ritola to his best stretch of the season, and gave the Griffins a potent, consistent offensive line for the first time in a long time. The move also pushed Williams and Newbury down a line freeing them up from the opposition's best checkers and allowing them to start providing some offense as well. Most notably, however his leadership and attitude have brought a little swagger into the room and on the ice where it was desperately needed.

ROOKIE WATCH - Tatar has started to find his touch again after a slump coinciding with his return from the world junior championships. The gifted scorer went 2-2=4 in his last five games after scoring only 3 goals and 3 assists in the previous nineteen. Ehrhardt got into nine games last month while the team was short of defenseman, even getting some extended time in the top four. He held his own for the most part, but did not show much beyond that. McCollum continued to struggle between the pipes, taking his lumps behind a bad team.

CURRENT INJURIES - C Ryan Oulahen, Hip - March...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - D Andreas Lilja assigned by Detroit (NHL) on conditioning assignment... D Sergei Kolosov re-assigned to Belarusian Olympic Team... D Ole-Kristian Tollefsen assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Lilja recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Tollefsen re-assigned to Norwegian Olympic Team... D Kolosov and D Tollefsen returned from Olympics... LW Brad May assigned by Detroit (NHL)...

KEY STATS - Kris Newbury is tied for 19th in penalty minutes with 144... Jan Mursak is tied for 3rd with 6 first goals... Jeremy Williams is tied for 12th with 5... Cory Emmerton is tied for 7th with 3 unassisted goals... Emmerton is tied for 4th with 3 empty net goals... Mursak is tied for 6th with 2... Mursak is tied for 5th for the longest goal-scoring streak this season with a five game streak... Newbury is tied for the third longest assist streak at 7 games...

IN THE PIPELINE - Jordan Pearce, toiling for the Toledo Walleye turned in his first two pro shutouts, his only two victories on the month. That stat is more a product of his playing in front of a defensively deficient team than a statement of his play. In a recent game in Kalamazoo, he was the only reason his team wasn't blown out as spotty defensive play saw him lit up for 39 shots, several of which were point blank chances. Sebastien Piche added a goal and six assists in twelve games for the same team, also notching 25 shots on goal. His defensive game still needs work, but he also had an even defensive rating for February. Justin DaCosta, still under a two-way Griffins contract has been toiling for the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL after being released by Muskegon (IHL). The wayward defender produced a goal and 4 assists in 9 games for the Thunder with a plus one rating.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Darren Haydar becomes the newest Griffins Alumni to play in the NHL, getting into one contest with the Colorado Avalanche. Current stats as of 03/1/10:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit5033 6 35 -11
Sean Avery, Rangers57 7 15 22 119 -2
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim46 0 9 9 49 10
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver11 1 3 4 0 0
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh59 3 10 13 20 9
Matt Ellis, Buffalo51 2 5 7 8 4
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit46 3 8 11 36 -16
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 34 6 16 22 14 -4
Aaron Gagnon, Dallas 1 0 0 0 0 0
Alexandre Giroux, Washington9 1 2 3 4 3
Darren Haydar, Colorado1 0 0 0 0 0
Darren Helm, Detroit54 8 9 17 14 -1
Shane Hnidy, Minnesota 60 2 10 12 64 -1
Douglas Janik, Detroit 13 0 2 2 18 -3
Ryan Keller, Ottawa 6 0 0 0 0 -1
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 63 11 15 26 30 -5
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 -1
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 58 4 8 12 22 -4
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 27 5 8 13 22 0
Brett Lebda, Detroit 57 1 6 7 24 -7
Ville Leino, Detroit 42 4 3 7 6 -10
Derek Meech, Detroit 42 2 4 6 19 -9
Glen Metropolit, Montreal 57 13 11 24 24 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa49 7 9 16 142 1
Kris Newbury, Detroit 4 1 0 1 4 1
Scott Parse, Los Angeles48 8 13 21 20 9
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 61 5 20 25 57 5
Mattias Ritola, Detroit 5 0 0 0 0 0
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 41 15 18 33 16 -1
Danny Syvret, Philadelphia21 2 2 4 12 1
Todd White, Atlanta 54 5 16 21 24 -15
Jason Williams, Detroit 23 4 5 9 6 -6

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 43 21-13-8 2.28 .927
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 10 3-3-2 3.20 .895
Daniel Larsson, Detroit 0 0-0-0 0.00 .000
Joey MacDonald, Toronto 6 1-4-0 3.20 .892

UP NEXT - March marks the last full month of the Griffins schedule, especially with the playoffs seemingly out of reach. The team starts out on the road in Rochester before heading home for a pair of contests against the archrival Manitoba Moose. They will not play another home game for 20 days, visiting Hamilton (twice) Rochester, Manitoba (twice) and Milwaukee in that span. Grand Rapids finishes the month in the not so cozy confines of Van Andel Arena with games against Milwaukee, Texas and Rochester.