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March 2014 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Smoke and Mirrors, but still winning...
By Jason Kasiorek
April 1, 2014

Coach Blashill and his staff were dealt another blow with the departure of Calle Jarnkrok to Nashville, and the subsequent recalls of Emmerton, Tootoo, Pulkkinen, Ferraro, Mrazek, and finally Callahan to the parent Red Wings. This left the club with a bottom six that had all been in Toledo earlier in the season and an amateur tryout from LSSU, and yet the team didn't miss a beat. Andrej Nestrasil became the latest spare part to step up and give notice, posting 7 goals and 13 points in 13 games, anchoring one of the top lines and the powerplay. Mitch Callahan posting 15 points of his own, continuing a breakout season, and enjoying an NHL game of his own.

Adam Almquist is flirting with the franchise record of points by a defenseman after posting 12 last month, while defensive partner Paetsch had 10 of his own as the blueline stepped up offensively to carry the load. Backup Thomas McCollum held the fort with Mrazek in Detroit, and then Mrazek took over the league lead with a stellar stretch when he returned.

The Griffins put together a solid 9-3-0-1 record in 13 games which left them with a 43-20-2-4 record overall. Their 92 points put them firmly in 1st place in the Midwest Division 6 points ahead of the rival Chicago Wolves. The team also sits in 2nd place in the Western Conference, 3 points behind the Texas Stars and 3rd in the AHL, 2 points behind Manchester. With the dilution of offensive talent, the team has slipped to the 6th best offense in the AHL at 3.22 goals per game (222 goals for), and have the #2 defense surrendering 2.45 per game (169 goals against). The comfy confines of Van Andel Arena continue to be full, with the 4th highest average attendance in the league, 8018 fans per game so far.

The following is a review for March:

OFFENSE - As can be imagined with all of the regulars out of the lineup, the lines have changed quite a bit. As a result it is tough to talk about regular lines. Here are the lines from the last stretch of games at the end of the month. Cory Emmerton was centering sniper Teemu Pulkkinen and hardnosed Mitch Callahan as the defacto number one line. Andrej Nestrasil was the usual pivot for the second line, behind slumping Martin Frk and speedy Landon Ferraro who has also lined up in the middle at times. The captain, Jeff Hoggan was on the portside of gritty David McIntyre, while Jordan Tootoo played on the right. The fourth line was featured swingman Gleason Fournier on the wing, centered by hulking Louis-Marc Aubry and new Griffin Colin Campbell. Triston Grant was slipping time in the press box as a frequent veteran scratch, but played effectively when in, while tryouts Alden Hirschfeld and Travis Novak filled in in the middle of the month. Trevor Parkes buzzes around the ice banging opposing players with glee, and is an energetic forechecker, but has not been able to string the offense together at this level to play everyday.

March Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Mitchell Callahan 13 5 10 15 2 8 35Grinding winger finally earns first NHL recall.
Andrej Nestrasil13 7 6 13 10 2 38Transforms from 4th line to 1st as confidence grows.
Teemu Pulkkinen 8 7 1 8 4 2 29Redhot Sniper gets 4 games NHL audition.
Jeff Hoggan 13 3 3 6 4 1 38Veteran leader still an impact player.
Cory Emmerton 5 2 4 6 0 5 9Forward posts point per game pace following NHL stint.
Jordan Tootoo 11 2 3 5 24 -1 39Agitating forward brings intensity and effort.
David McIntyre 13 2 3 5 11 2 26Gritty center anchors bottom six.
Martin Frk 13 1 4 5 4 -1 13Underwhelming rookie can't take advantage of extra icetime.
Landon Ferraro 10 3 1 4 6 0 31Speedy forward takes polished defensive game to NHL.
Triston Grant 7 2 0 2 14 -2 14Character veteran takes one for the team as frequent scratch.
Alden Hirschfeld8 1 0 1 5 0 11Former camp tryout gets longer audition.
Colin Campbell6 1 0 1 5 1 7Physical winger makes impression in short audition.
Travis Novak6011604ECHL fill-in takes advantage of injuries and recalls.
Trevor Parkes 8 0 1 1 2 0 7Banger having hard time making consistent impact.
Louis-Marc Aubry 13 0 1 1 0 3 14Another unimpressive month for gangly forward.

DEFENSE - The longtime defensive pairing of Nathan Paetsch and Adam Almquist was reunited for last month and saw a lot of time in all situations. Paetsch provides the defensive presence to allow Almquist's offensive exploits. The second pairing continues to be Brennan Evans and Ryan Sproul at even strength with Sproul seeing time on the powerplay and Evans a staple on the penalty kill. Nick Jensen has moved smoothly into the spot vacated by Alexey Marchenko's injury and has made strides in his game playing with Xavier Ouellet. Gleason Fournier has played swingman for most of the month, dressing as a seventh defenseman or fourth line winger as the situation demands. Max Nicastro was summoned from Toledo (ECHL) for depth and rookie Marc McNulty was brought in on an amateur tryout to begin learning what it takes at the next level.

March Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Adam Almquist 13 2 10 12 2 6 8Offense online as rearguard raises game down the stretch.
Nathan Paetsch13 2 8 10 4 8 22Veteran steps up at the right time.
Nick Jensen 12 0 7 7 0 7 11Rookie rearguard quiet but efficient.
Ryan Sproul 13 2 4 6 17 -6 14Numbers are misleading for improving blueliner.
Xavier Ouellet13 0 3 3 2 5 21Steady freshman rebounding from off month.
Gleason Fournier 9 0 2 2 2 -2 9Smooth skater shows versatility with time on the wing.
Brennan Evans 13 0 1 1 6 -7 5Off month statistically for veteran defender.

GOALTENDING - Mrazek had another extended stint in Detroit this month, but dialed his AHL game up another notch upon returning. Posting a 6-1 record to reach the 20 win plateau yet again, he also had a miserly 1.49GAA and .936 save percentage. This streak lowered his goals against to 2.04 on the season, putting him comfortably in the league lead. His 92.6% save percentage was good enough for 2nd. McCollum had an up and down month turning in a 3-2-0-1 record for the month with a 2.64 GAA and a .901 save percentage. He ranks in the top ten in most categories for the season.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Grand Rapids boasts the 4th best penalty killing unit in the AHL, killing off 85.6% of opponents powerplays. They have had a bit more success at home where they are ranked third at 87.1% (122 for 140) than on the road where they are 7th at 84.1% (127 for 151). Up front Mitch Callahan and Cory Emmerton are one forward pairing on the penalty kill with Landon Ferraro and most recently David McIntyre the other.

The powerplay has risen to 6th in the AHL over the last month, clicking at 21.4% (61 for 285). At home they have struck at 22.7% (29 for 128) which ranks them 4th, while on the road they are 8th at 20.4% (32 for 157). Up Front Teemu Pulkkinen (9 goals+9 assists), Mitch Callahan (7g+4a), Cory Emmerton (1g+9a), Andrej Nestrasil (7g+6a), Landon Ferraro (4g+6a) and Jeff Hoggan (6g) are staples up front. Adam Almquist (2g+25a), Ryan Sproul (4g+9a) and Nathan Paetsch (2g+13a) usually man the back end.

THREE STARS OF THE MONTH - First Star - Andrej Nestrasil - Nesty picked up the scoring slack, but even more importantly he has come into his own as a player at this level. He has gained the confidence to make plays and combined with his anticipation, he gives the other teams fits by stealing the puck almost at will. His versatility also adds to his value as he can play all three forward positions, including being a live wire in the faceoff circle.

Second Star - Mitch Callahan - Callahan found a new gear last month when it was needed, scoring five goals to put him within sight of 30 for the season, but also adding 10 assists in just 13 games. He remains one of the teams best penalty killers and his defense has not suffered for his offensive surge. He was finally rewarded with a one game NHL recall and didn't disappoint.

Third Star - Adam Almquist - Almquist recovered from a rough stretch midseason and is again putting up offensive numbers while at least being credible in his won end. Posting 12 points in 13 games has also put him within striking distance of the franchise record for defenseman of 56 set by Bryan Helmer.

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

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - C Cory Emmerton recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Calle Jarnkrok traded to Nashville (NHL) by Detroit (NHL)... RW Teemu Pulkkinen recalled by Detroit (NHL)... F Alden Hirschfeld signed to PTO... RW Pulkkinen assigned by Detroit... G Petr Mrazek recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Matt Federico signed to ATO... G Federico released from ATO... G Jared Coreau recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... C Emmerton recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Kevin Lynch recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... C Lynch re-assigned to Evansville (ECHL)... RW Pulkkinen recalled by Detroit (NHL)... F Travis Novak signed to PTO... RW Jordan Tootoo recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Landon Ferraro recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Colin Campbell signed to ATO... RW Tootoo assigned by Detroit... D Adam Almquist recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Coreau assigned to Toledo... G Petr Mrazek assigned by Detroit... D Almquist assigned by Detroit... LW Pulkkinen assigned by Detroit... C Ferraro assigned by Detroit... RW Mitch Callahan recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Max Nicastro recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... D Marc McNulty signed to ATO... C Emmerton assigned by Detroit... RW Callahan assigned by Detroit... F Novak released from PTO... G Jake Paterson signed to ATO...

KEY STATS - Teemu Pulkkinen is 14th in scoring in the AHL with 55 points... Adam Almquist is 3rd in defenseman scoring with 50 points... Pulkkinen is 2nd in rookie scoring... Pulkkinen is tied for 4th with 30 goals, while Mitch Callahan is tied for 11th with 26... Almquist is tied for 3rd in assists with 46... Almquist is also 3rd with 25 powerplay assists... Cory Emmerton is tied for 2nd with 3 shorthanded goals... Emmerton is 2nd in first goals with 7... Callahan is 7th in plus minus at +23 and Pulkkinen is tied for 11th at +20... Callahan (192) and Pulkkinen (187) are 12th and 16th in shots on goal... Ryan Sproul is 2nd in rookie defense scoring with 30 pts... Pulkkinen leads all rookies in goal scoring with 30... Petr Mrazek leads the league in GAA with a 2.04 average, Thomas McCollum is 7th with a 2.35GAA... Mrazek is 2nd in the AHL with a 92.6% save percentage, just a few spots ahead of McCollum (tied for 6th) at 92.0%... McCollum is tied for 6th with 22 wins, one more than teammate Mrazek (21 wins) who is tied for 10th...

IN THE PIPELINE - The Griffins moved several players from their ECHL affiliate in Toledo last month. Center Kevin Lynch was re-assigned to Evansville (ECHL), while defenseman Max Nicastro was recalled and forwards Travis Novak and Alden Hirschfeld were signed to PTO's again. That left massive blueliner Richard Nedomlel and netminder Jared Coreau. Nedomlel continued his development, notching 1 goal and 4 assists in 13 games. A physical player, Nedomlel has cut down on the number of bad penalties he takes and posted a -5 defensive rating, which on a team as bad as the Walleye is pretty good. Coreau continued what can only be considered a frustrating season as he only counts one win on the season despite playing in 18 games, and that win came 4 months ago in November. The rookie goaltender lost all three decisions in March, but posted his lowest GAA so far, 2.98 for the month to lower his season number by a third of a goal to 4.17.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Teemu Pulkkinen, Mitch Callahan, Landon Ferraro and Calle Jarnkrok were the latest Griffins to make their NHL debut last month. Current stats as of 4/1/14:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 638 16 24 29 1
Adam Almquist, Detroit 21 0 1 0 -1
Joakim Andersson, Detroit 63 8 9 17 10 -11
Chad Billins, Calgary 3 0 2 2 0 -3
Sheldon Brookbank, Chicago 42 24 6 50 3
Mitch Callahan, Detroit 1 0 0 0 0 0
Carlo Colaiacovo, St Louis 18 13 4 12 0
Chris Conner, Pittsburgh 19 41 5 2 -3
Danny DeKeyser, Detroit 59 416 20 28 8
Patrick Eaves, Detroit/Nashville 30 2 3 5 2 -7
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 42 3 2 5 4 -7
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 18 0 2 2 4-2
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 48 1 10 11 34 2
Landon Ferraro, Detroit 4 0 0 0 2 0
Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay 56 20 21 41 14 2
Luke Glendening, Detroit 49 0 5 5 16 -10
Darren Helm, Detroit 35 10 7 17 10 1
Jiri Hudler, Calgary 68 16 33 49 16 1
Calle Jarnkrok, Nashville 6 1 4 5 2 5
Tomas Jurco, Detroit 29 5 6 11 10 -2
Chris Kelly, Boston 53 8 8 16 32 5
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 59 1 14 15 22 -7
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 49 48 12 18 0
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 73 7 38 45 44 -1
Brian Lashoff, Detroit 68 1 4 5 32 -2
Ville Leino, Buffalo 52 0 12 12 8 -14
Alexey Marchenko, Detroit 1 0 0 0 2 2
Chris Mueller, Dallas 8 0 0 0 0 -1
Chris Neil, Ottawa 69 8 4 12 178 -11
Kris Newbury, Philadelphia 4 0 1 1 7 0
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 50 27 18 45 14 8
Xavier Ouellet, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 0
Teemu Pulkkinen, Detroit 3 0 0 0 2 0
Kyle Quincey, Detroit 75 4 8 12 84 -5
Riley Sheahan, Detroit 35 6 15 21 6 6
Brendan Smith, Detroit 64 4 14 18 62 -6
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 69 19 42 61 44 -23
Tomas Tatar, Detroit 66 18 16 34 30 9
Jordan Tootoo, Detroit 11 0 1 1 5 -3

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit 25 16-4-3 2.52 .912
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 47 18-18-11 2.71 .909
Joey MacDonald, Calgary 9 4-4-1 3.16 .881
Drew MacIntyre, Toronto 1 0-0-0 0.00 1.000
Petr Mrazek, Detroit 8 1-4-0 2.01 .916

UP NEXT - The Griffins play four of their last 7 games at home starting with a three game homestand featuring the Iowa Wild and a pair of games against the Hamilton Bulldogs. The team then travels to Charlotte for a pair of contests versus the Checkers. Grand Rapids closes out the home portion of their schedule with a friday night tilt with the Lake Erie Monsters, and then travels to lake Erie the next night to return the favor. Next up - the playoffs!