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March 2011 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Desperation drives wins as playoffs approach...
By Jason Kasiorek
April 1, 2011

It is funny what a little desperation can do for a hockey team. As this one neared the final quarter of the season and saw itself in last place, the light switch clicked on for the first time this season. Suddenly the players were scoring, and the goaltender was stopping the puck. Jordan Pearce started very game and notched 8 wins to give him 19 on the season.

The offense clicked and was scoring in bunches with Frankie Pare, Ilari Filppula, Jamie Tardif, Tomas Tatar, Jamie Johnson and Jan Mursak all scoring around a point per game during the stretch. And then as quickly as it started it was over and the team dropped their last three in March and the first two in April to stand on the brink of not qualifying for the playoffs for the second year in a row. It would also be the third time in four years that the Red Wings farm club has been on the outside looking in.

The Griffins have clawed their way out of the basement and currently sit in 5th place in the North Division, one point behind the fourth place Toronto Marlies. With 80 points on the season, good enough for 12th in the conference, they find themselves 4 points out of the last playoff spot with 6 games remaining. After 74 games they have a 35-29-2-8 record and a .541 winning percentage. Their 220 goals rank them 11th in the AHL in offense, but they have surrendered 234, which is the 24th best total. The Griffins rank fifth in the AHL in attendance after 39 games with an average of 7149.

The following is a review for March:

OFFENSE - Grand Rapids got offensive contributions from all over the lineup this month as players on all four lines stepped up. Ilari Filppula centered the top unit with Tomas Tatar and Jamie Tardif for most of the month. The trio accounted for 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points in 13 games in March. Veteran pivot Jamie Johnson centered the second line between sniper Chris Minard and the explosive Frankie Pare. Pare led the way with 13 points of his won, but his line chipped in 14 goals and 14 assists during the month. The third line consisted of Joakim Andersson and Jan Mursak flanking Cory Emmerton. This line played strong two-way hockey and struck for 6 goals and 13 assists. Brent Raedeke centered the energy line, most often accompanied by the fearless Adam Keefe and big Brandon Straub. This trio managed 3 goals and 3 assists on the month, but kept the opposition pinned in their own zone with their speed, shot blocking and demon forechecking. Jordan Owens broke his arm in the first game of the month, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season. Blueliner Travis Ehrhardt filled in up front for part of the month, and Gustav Nyquist brought some offensive punch in the last couple of days after leaving college and turning pro.

March Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Frankie Pare 13 8 5 13 2 -2 38Flying Frenchman finds the range.
Ilari Filppula 12 2 10 12 2 -3 23Teams leading scorer keeps hot hand.
Tomas Tatar 13 6 5 11 6 -5 34Speedy sniper becoming impact player.
Jamie Tardif 13 5 6 11 8 -2 40Captain keeps up torrid scoring pace.
Jamie Johnson 11 2 7 9 4 3 13AHL vet leading secondary surge.
Jan Mursak 9 2 5 7 16 3 22Forechecking forward changing game to NHL style.
Joakim Andersson 13 2 5 7 6 2 18Responsible rookie starting to find scoring touch.
Chris Minard 13 4 2 6 4 3 54Snakebit sniper putting the puck on net, but not in.
Cory Emmerton 12 2 3 5 4 -6 26Defensive forward rewarded with 3-yr contract.
Brent Raedeke 12 2 2 4 0 1 13First-year forward making an impact with speed and tenacity.
Gustav Nyquist 2 1 1 2 0 0 4Hobey Baker finalist has immediate impact.
Brandon Straub 13 1 1 2 28 4 6Gritty banger good on the cycle.
Jordan Owens 1 0 1 1 0 1 1Broken arm shuts down season for speedy winger.
Adam Keefe 13 0 0 0 17 -4 10Fearless forechecker does anything to win.

DEFENSE - Veterans Greg Amadio and Derek Meech were arguably the teams number one defensive tandem again in March. They were closely followed by the 1B tandem of Doug Janik and Brendan Smith, but Smith continued to fight through injuries and wasn't in the lineup a lot. Logan Pyett would move up to the second pairing in Smith's absence, leaving normal defensive partner Sergei Kolosov to play with the rookie du jour, either Travis Ehrhardt or Brian Lashoff.

March Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Derek Meech 13 21 7 9 10 5 37 Puck moving rearguard picks up game down the stretch.
Brendan Smith8 3 3 6 6 4 18Injuries again derail promising string of games.
Doug Janik 12 1 5 6 22 9 21 Steady vet saves his best play for when the season in on the line.
Travis Ehrhardt 8 0 3 3 6 1 11 Swingman splitting time between forward and defense.
Brian Lashoff 5 0 1 1 2 -1 13Freshman can't find regular spot on blueline.
Logan Pyett 13 0 1 1 2 -3 29Struggling at both ends of the ice.
Sergei Kolosov 10 0 0 0 9 -10 11Nightmare season almost over for hulking defender.
Greg Amadio 13 0 0 0 31 0 8Griffins AHL man of the Year recipient.

GOALTENDING - With MacDonald still in Detroit and Thomas McCollum sent to Toledo to regain his confidence, the job continued to belong to Jordan Pearce. And he did not disappoint, turning in 8 wins in his first 10 starts of the month to finish with an 8-4-1 record. Despite starting the year in Toledo, and really only assuming regular duty after the first of the year, Pearce stands on the threshold of a 20 win season.

It's a good thing that he has played so well, because for most of the month, the Griffins had no one else to turn to. He was backed up by six other netminders, some for only one game, and it wasn't until the end of the month that the any of them saw a minute as former Notre Dame partner David Brown came in in relief twice.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins struck for 11 power play goals last month in 59 chances (18.6%), keeping them at 13th in the AHL for the season at 18.4% (59 for 321). The home unit is marginally better thanks to 8 goals scored in 38 chances last month (21%) boosting them to 11th in the loop at 19% (34 for 179). The road unit is ranked 13th at 17.6% (25 for 142). The Griffins have also allowed 6 shorthanded goals, the 6th lowest total in the league. Captain Tardif leads the way with 10 man advantage markers, followed by Filppula with 8, Tatar (6), Minard and Smith (5), and Emmerton and Meech at 4 apiece. Pare, Mursak and Pyett have 3 powerplay goals apiece.

The best thing you can say about the Griffins shorthanded unit is that it leads the league in shorthanded goals scored with 13. As far as killing penalties however, this unit statistically is not good. Ranked 21st overall in the AHL at 81.2% (285 for 351), a number that is buoyed greatly by the 9th ranked road unit at 84.3% (killing 161 of 191 chances). The home unit is 29th at 77.5%, having killed off 124 of 160 shorthanded opportunities. Ten different players have notched shorties this year for the Griffins with Tardif (3) and Mursak (2) each scoring more than one.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Defense - Jordan Pearce. Pearce has carried this team on his back, playing every game this month and winning eight of them. He has played better than this team has had a right to expect and has established himself as a legitimate prospect in the organization.

Offense - Frankie Pare. Pare has experienced an offensive rebirth in the second half, showing some great chemistry with Johnson. He potted 8 goals and 13 points in 13 games, and was dangerous almost every game. The consistency he was missing the last 18 months appears to be back in his game.

ROOKIE WATCH - Pearce been the best of the Griffins netminders this season and his play has turned heads. He was the go to guy for March and did not disappoint. Andersson has picked up his offensive game and is really looking like a gamer. If he can add some more touch to his already solid physical defensive game, he could be knocking on the NHL's door soon. Raedeke continues to earn minutes with his responsible play and has shown some flashes of offensive ability this month as well. Smith just needs to stay healthy, as he is an impact player when in the lineup. Nyquist stepped right into the lineup form college and didn't look like he missed a beat.

CURRENT INJURIES - Brendan Smith - Knee - indefinite... Jordan Owens - Broken Arm - indefinite...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - RW Adam Keefe released from PTO... Keefe signed to Standard Players Contract... G Joey MacDonald assigned by Detroit (NHL)... G Jimmy Spratt released from PTO... MacDonald recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Riley Gill signed to PTO... Gill released from PTO... G Brennan Poderzay signed to ATO... Poderzay released from ATO... G David Brown signed to PTO... MacDonald assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Jan Mursak recalled by Detroit (NHL)... MacDonald recalled by Detroit (NHL)... F Mike Hedden signed to PTO... C Gustav Nyquist signed to ATO... Nyquist signed 2-yr contract with Detroit (NHL)... Hedden released from PTO... Mursak assigned by Detroit (NHL)... Brown released from PTO... G Thomas McCollum assigned by Detroit (NHL)...

KEY STATS - Ilari Filppula is tied for 10th in league scoring with 62 points... Jamie Tardif is 10th with 27 goals... Filppula is 11th in assist with 42... Tardif is tied for 15th with 10 powerplay goals... Filppula and Frankie Pare are tied for 17th with 18 powerplay assists... Tardif is tied for 9th with 3 shorthanded goals... Pare is 5th with 5 first goals... Chris Minard is tied for first with 6 insurance goals... Greg Amadio is 10th in penalty minutes with 210... Derek Meech is 14th in plus/minus at +21... Joakim Andersson is tied for 2nd with 3 shorthanded assists... Tardif is 9th in shots on goal with 218, followed closely by Pare (10th) with 217 and Minard (17th) with 199... Meech is 18th in defensemen scoring with 37 points... Filppula and Jan Mursak are tied for 6th with 3 unassisted goals... Tomas Tatar is first in the AHL with 5 empty net goals... Minard is tied for 5th with 3 while Mursak, Pare and Filppula are tied at 13th with 2 each... Corey Emmerton and Filppula (Twice) are tied for the 12th longest assist streak in the AHL this season at 6 games... Tatar's 7-point game is still the single game high this season as are his +7 and Travis Ehrhardt's +6 (2nd)...

IN THE PIPELINE - Defenseman Sebastien Piche has kept up his hot hand offensively in the ECHL. The second year rearguard added 6 goals and 3 assists in 13 games this month with an astounding 53 shots on goal. Rookie sniper Willie Coetzee looks to be shaking off a slump that saw him score only 7 points in his last 17 games, notching 2 goals and an assist in his last four. Netminder Thomas McCollum was finally starting to bring his game around, posting a 7-5-1-1 record last month for Toledo with a 2.55 GAA and a .916 Save Percentage. Most Impressive was his 2 shutouts in his last four starts going 3-1 with a 1.50 GAA.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Netminder Thomas McCollum became the latest Griffin to play in the NHL this season when he jumped from the ECHL to make his NHL debut in a 10-3 rout by the St Louis Blues. Current stats as of 4/1/11:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 695 11 16 55 11
Sean Avery, Rangers 73 3 21 24 174 -2
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim 35 00 0 52 -7
Mark Eaton, NY Islanders 34 0 3 3 8-2
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 9 0 0 0 0-2
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 2 1 0 1 01
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 69 3 11 14 81 6
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 66 16 22 38 20 3
Aaron Gagnon, Dallas 19 0 2 2 0 -3
Darren Helm, Detroit 77 11 20 31 16 8
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 69 10 26 36 28 -4
Douglas Janik, Detroit 7 0 0 0 7 -2
Chris Kelly, Ottawa/Boston 76 12 13 25 33 -15
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 43 1 2 3 32 -3
Tomas Kopecky, Chicago 75 1427 41 54 -8
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 77 11 26 37 36 5
Brett Lebda, Toronto 41 1 3 4 14 -14
Ville Leino, Philadelphia 76 19 33 52 22 16
Chris Mueller, Nashville 15 0 3 3 2 0
Jan Mursak, Detroit 19 1 0 1 4 -3
Chris Neil, Ottawa 76 6 10 16 193 -12
Kris Newbury, Rangers 11 0 1 1 35 -1
Scott Parse, Los Angeles 5 1 3 4 05
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 21 0 1 1 18 -5
Patrick Rissmiller, Atlanta/Florida 8 0 0 0 0 -2
Mattias Ritola, Tampa Bay 31 4 4 8 11-5
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 58 17 31 48 26 -8
Garrett Stafford, Phoenix 2 0 0 0 0 0
Danny Syvret, Anaheim/Philadelphia 6 1 1 2 4 -3
Tomas Tatar, Detroit 9 1 0 1 00
Todd White, Rangers 18 1 1 2 2 -2
Jason Williams, Dallas 21 2 3 5 40
Jeremy Williams, Rangers 1 0 0 0 00
Clay Wilson, Florida 11 2 1 3 23

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 58 34-15-5 2.77 .908
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 7 0-5-0 2.96 .890
Joey MacDonald, Detroit 15 5-5-3 2.58 .917
Drew MacIntyre, Atlanta 0 0-0-0 0.00 .000
Thomas McCollum, Detroit 1 0-0-0 12.00 .625

UP NEXT - The Griffins are on the road for most of the month, playing only one game of the six on the schedule, at home. First on tap is a two game trip to British Columbia to face off against the Abbottsford Heat. Then it's back a little closer to home with a tilt against the Milwaukee Admirals and then the home finale, a rematch with Abottsford. Grand Rapids closes out the regular season with contests in Rockford against the IceHogs, and another meeting in Milwaukee.