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February 2014 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Griffins weather the storm...
By Jason Kasiorek
March 1, 2014

From mid-January to mid-February the Griffins slogged through the roughest stretch of games since coach Blashill took over. The recall of Jurco, Sheahan and Emmerton, following on the heels of Glendening and Nyquist slowed down the vaunted offense. Backstop Petr Mrazek was also in the NHL leaving backup Thomas McCollum to shoulder the load. Key veterans including the captain significant spent time on the sidelines nursing injuries. The result was a 3-8-1 record over a 12 game span and some major league adversity.

It appears the Griffins have weathered the storm as a four game winning streak and an offensive explosion (13 goals in 3 games) shows the team is headed in the right direction. The strong play of Calle Jarnkrok, Teemu Pulkkinen and Andrej Nestrasil has been a big part of the turnaround. Nestrasil especially has worked his way from spare part fourth liner to first line fixture in the space of a few months. The uptick also coincides with the return of captain Jeff Hoggan to the lineup as well as the return to form of all-star netminder Petr Mrazek.

Grand Rapids posted a 6-4-0-1 record which ran their season total to 34-17-2-3 for 73 points. This point total put them securely in first place in the Midwest division. They are also one point behind Texas for the top spot in the Western Conference. Overall the Griffins sit in 3rd place 7 points behind 1st place Manchester who have played three more games. Grand Rapids continues to score goals and has the 4th ranked offense in the loop, scoring 3.21 goals per game (180), they also sport the #1 rated defense surrendering 2.48 goals per game. Van Andel Arena supports the second highest average attendance in the league at 7900 per game, just behind the Hershey Bears.

The following is a review for February:

OFFENSE - The first line has been a work in process since Nyquist graduated to the NHL. Tomas Jurco made things click for awhile and then he too was summoned to the bigs. Calle Jarnkrok and Teemu Pulkkinen have auditioned several other wingers including Mitch Callahan before striking gold with center Andrej Nestrasil. The trio has scored in bunches the last several games and has elevated Nestrasil's game to a new level. The second line had a tough month offensively, accounting for only 4 goals and 8 points. Most recently this trio has consisted of captain Jeff Hoggan on one wing and Landon Ferraro on the other, centered by Cory Emmerton.

Mitch Callahan has bounced around the lineup to take advantage of his improved play and offensive surge. He has spent most of his time however on a line with center David McIntyre and either Jordan Tootoo or Triston Grant. The line has provided a physical presence as well as relentless forecheck. The fourth line has featured Martin Frk and Trevor Parkes flanking Louis-Marc Aubry. This line has held its own defensively and has provided some timely scoring as well as a physical presence with Parkes using his speed to knock the puck loose.

February Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Calle Jarnkrok11 3 9 12 0 4 20Two-way forward starting to hit his stride offensively.
Teemu Pulkkinen 11 6 2 8 2 3 28Sneaky sniper scores big goals.
Andrej Nestrasil11 1 5 6 2 0 22Spare part comes on big, makes top line click.
Martin Frk 10 1 4 5 6 1 6Struggling rookie showing signs of adjusting.
Mitchell Callahan 11 3 0 3 12 -1 32Pesky grinder still scoring big goals.
Trevor Parkes 9 2 1 3 13 3 15Making the most of his time in the lineup.
Cory Emmerton 10 2 1 3 2 -2 25Veteran forward struggling through offensive slump.
Jeff Hoggan 9 1 2 3 0 -4 23Captain battling through injury filled campaign.
Landon Ferraro 9 1 1 2 11 -5 18Statistics don't reflect value on the ice.
David McIntyre 11 1 1 2 8 -2 15Gritty center brings compete level, still looking for scoring.
Triston Grant 4 0 2 2 5 2 5Truculent banger having a hard time staying in the lineup.
Louis-Marc Aubry 10 1 0 1 4 -3 19Hulking forward still has not shown he belongs.
Jordan Tootoo 6 0 1 1 6 -3 13Speedy agitator trying to fight through injuries.

DEFENSE - For most of the month the Griffins were able to roll the same three tandems. Veteran Nathan Paetsch played with rookie Alexey Marchenko at even strength and on the penalty kill. Rugged defensive rearguard Brennan Evans was paired with Ryan Sproul at even strength and a variety of partners on the penalty kill. Adam Almquist spent most of the month with Xavier Ouellet and then Nick Jensen as well as seeing a lot of time on the powerplay with Teemu Pulkkinen on the other point. With Marchenko's ankle injury, Gleason Fournier was pressed into service and didn't miss a beat.

February Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Adam Almquist 11 0 7 7 14 0 28Diminutive rearguard ups the ante on the powerplay.
Nathan Paetsch10 0 2 2 20 -3 22Veteran blueliner weathers tough month.
Brennan Evans 9 0 2 2 11 7 13Defensive rock keeps finding new ways to contribute.
Alexey Marchenko 9 1 0 1 4 -4 6 Tough break for rookie rearguard as ankle injury ends season.
Ryan Sproul 9 0 1 1 4 -4 12Fab freshman trying to reagin offensive touch.
Nick Jensen 9 0 1 1 4 5 7Smooth skater growing into role.
Xavier Ouellet9 0 0 0 2 -6 8Steady first year man runs into rough stretch.
Gleason Fournier 3 0 0 0 0 2 1Safety net pressed into service and doesn't disappoint.

GOALTENDING - Mrazek returned from Detroit at the start of the month and picked up a win in his first game back to extend his AHL streak to 10 straight wins. Then the reality and rust from riding the pine in Detroit reared its head and the all-star netminder dropped three contests in a row. He rebounded to win his last four starts including a 29 save shutout that his team won 1-0 in the shootout. His numbers for the month 2.31 GAA and 91.8% save percentage leave him in the top five in both categories. Thomas McCollum got a well deserved break and then was relegated to the backup role. He split his 3 decisions in February (1-1-0-1) but posted a 1.98 goals against and a 93.3 save percentage.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins penalty kill continues to thrive and after years of being a liability has become a strength. Ranked 4th overall (86.4%) the team has killed off 209 of 242 powerplay chances and continues to rise. The home and road units are both ranked 6th and are within a percentage point of each other, 86.3% and 86.4% respectively. Mitch Callahan and Calle Jarnkrok are one of the top two tandems with Corey Emmerton and Landon Ferraro seeing the majority of the time as the other.

The powerplay has been up and down a bit in the new year, but seems to be bouncing back as of late. At home the team has connected on 22.8% of their chances (26 for 114) good enough for 6th in the AHL. On the road they have had a harder time converting, with a 16.4% scoring percentage (19 for 116), ranked 14th. Overall they sit in the 10th spot at 19.6% (45 for 230). Pulkkinen, Jarnkrok, Jurco and Hoggan are all tied with 6 powerplay goals for the team lead. Adam Almquist has 19 powerplay points and Ryan Sproul has 4 goals with the man advantage. Mitch Callahan and Andrej Nestrasil have recently been added to the powerplay and have paid immediate dividends as Callahan notched 4 goals, and Nestrasil chipped in 6 points.

THREE STARS OF THE MONTH - First Star - Calle Jarnkrok - Jarnkrok had a hard time living up to his advanced billing early in the season. A splendid two-way center, his offense got untracked last month as he scored 12 points in 11 games and was a big piece in the four game winning streak at the end of the month.

Second Star - Teemu Pulkkinen - Pulkkinen kept up his hot hand, tallying 6 goals and 8 points on the month. The deceptive winger has a knack for appearing at just the right time to fire his quick release on net for a scoring chance. He has improved his consistency and has cracked the 20 goal mark in his first full AHL season.

Third Star - Andrej Nestrasil - Nestrasil just keeps getting better. He established himself in the lineup by playing a strong defensive game and showing he could win faceoffs. He made the most of an opportunity to play with Jarnkork and Pulkkinen and has started to produce offensively. As his confidence has grown, he has tried to do more with the puck and as of late has been working the dangle much like Jurco did last season before his breakout.

CURRENT INJURIES - Willie Coetzee - Knee - Indefinite... D Alexey Marchenko - Ankle - Out for the season... D Xavier Ouellet - Undetermined...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - C Cory Emmerton assigned by Detroit (NHL)... F Alden Hirschfeld signed to PTO by Grand Rapids (AHL)... RW Tomas Jurco assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Riley Sheahan assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Mikael Samuelsson recalled by Detroit (NHL)... F Hirschfeld released from PTO... RW Jurco assigned to Slovakian Olympic Team (OLY)... RW Teemu Pulkkinen recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Adam Almquist recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Emmerton Recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Sheahan recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Pulkkinen assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Almquist assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Emmerton assigned by Detroit... C Sheahan Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Jurco re-assigned from Slovakian Olympic Team (OLY)... RW Jurco recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Sheahan recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Gleason Fournier recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Fournier assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Ryan Sproul recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Sproul assigned by Detroit (NHL)...

KEY STATS - Teemu Pulkkinen is 13th in scoring in the AHL with 47 points... Adam Almquist is 5th in defenseman scoring with 38 points... Petr Mrazek is 4th in GAA with a 2.18 average, Teammate McCollum is 9th with a 2.29 GAA... Mrazek (.924) and McCollum (.923) are also 4th and 5th in the league in save percentage... McCollum is tied fro 7th with 19 wins... Pulkkinen is tied for 6th with 23 goals, while Mitch Callahan is tied for 11th with 21... Almquist is tied for 5th in assists with 36... Almquist is also tied fro 9th with 18 powerplay assists... The Griffins have 4 players in the top 20 in plus-minus, Brennan Evans is tied for 6th at +20, Calle Jarnkrok and Pulkkinen are tied for 8th at +18 and Callahan is tied for 18th at +15... Pulkkinen (158) and Callahan (157) are 13th and 14 in shots on goal...

IN THE PIPELINE - With all of the recalls to Grand Rapids and the return of Marek Tvrdon to the WHL, there are only three players from the organization playing regularly with the Walleye. All three are defensive players, not a strong suit of the Toledo club, and it reflects statistically for all three. Netminder Jared Coreau saw action in five games, turning in an 0-3-0-1 record. The low point of his season may have come in the last game, when he was blitzed for 7 goals in just over 46 minutes of play. His numbers continue to rise with a bloated 4.74 goals against average and a less than stellar 85.7% save percentage. Physical Max Nicastro missed some time with injuries but added 3 assists in 8 games with a -5 defensive rating, one of the better on the club during that span. Towering defender Richard Nedomlel continue to work at improving his consistency and tallied a goal and three assists in 11 games along with a -3 rating.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Several Griffins were called up to the NHL without seeing a game last month. Enjoying their first NHL recalls were D Ryan Sproul, D Gleason Fournier and RW Teemu Pulkkinen who all came up at the end of the olympic break, but were sent back to the AHL before making their NHL debuts. Current stats as of 3/1/14:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 558 15 23 27 7
Adam Almquist, Detroit 21 0 1 0 -1
Joakim Andersson, Detroit 54 7 6 13 10 -10
Chad Billins, Calgary 2 0 2 2 0 -1
Sheldon Brookbank, Chicago 32 13 4 33 4
Carlo Colaiacovo, St Louis 12 02 2 8 -1
Chris Conner, Pittsburgh 19 41 5 2 -3
Danny DeKeyser, Detroit 44 311 14 26 8
Patrick Eaves, Detroit 25 2 3 5 2 -4
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 28 3 2 5 4 -4
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 9 0 2 2 4-1
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 40 1 8 9 32 11
Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay 56 20 21 41 14 2
Luke Glendening, Detroit 34 0 4 4 8 -8
Darren Helm, Detroit 28 7 5 12 6 3
Jiri Hudler, Calgary 60 14 29 43 16 1
Tomas Jurco, Detroit 21 4 5 9 10 1
Chris Kelly, Boston 37 5 5 10 24 -1
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 50 1 10 11 22 -11
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 49 48 12 18 0
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 58 6 33 39 40 3
Brian Lashoff, Detroit 54 1 3 4 24 -1
Ville Leino, Buffalo 41 0 12 12 6 -9
Alexey Marchenko, Detroit 1 0 0 0 2 2
Chris Mueller, Dallas 1 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 54 8 3 11 128 -9
Kris Newbury, Philadelphia 4 0 1 1 7 0
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 35 15 12 27 8 7
Xavier Ouellet, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Quincey, Detroit 60 3 6 9 66 -6
Riley Sheahan, Detroit 20 4 8 12 2 4
Brendan Smith, Detroit 49 1 12 13 50 -3
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 55 15 30 45 34 -24
Tomas Tatar, Detroit 51 14 12 26 16 6
Jordan Tootoo, Detroit 10 0 1 1 5 -3

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit 23 14-4-3 2.48 .915
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 35 13-13-9 2.60 .914
Joey MacDonald, Calgary 7 3-3-1 3.17 .885
Petr Mrazek, Detroit 7 1-3-0 1.64 .924

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids slides into the last full month of the regular season with 13 games on tap, but only four of those are at home. They start out in Abbotsford, British Columbia for a contest against the Heat. Then its back home for a three game series featuring the Chicago Wolves, and a pair against the Iowa Wild. Next it is off to San Antonio and then a tough weekend with two contests against rival Oklahoma City and the Barons. The Griffins get a few days off before a two game rematch on Iowa's home ice. Then its a bus ride to Illinois for contests against the Wolves in Chicago and the IceHogs in Rockford the next day. The team gets a one day respite with a rematch against the IceHogs at Van Andel arena before finishing the month with a sunday afternoon tilt in Milwaukee.