October 2006 Griffins Report|
Slow Start at Home Puts Griffins in Unfamiliar Territory...
By Jason Kasiorek
Last season's record setting club exploded out of the gates, and carried a full head of steam until bowing out it the conference finals to Milwaukee. Expectations were understandably high for this year's version to pick up where they left off in pursuit of an AHL championship. Unfortunately a 65% turnover between then and now left the club struggling to gel in the early going.
The team has not been helped by the absence of second year man Valtteri Filppula, expected to be one of the main cogs in the Griffins offense. Filppula was assigned late because of an injury, and then recalled to Detroit after 2 games, and it remains to be seen when and if he will be back. The Griffins have also been hindered by the struggles of goaltender Stefan Liv as he adjusts to the North American game.
With a 4-3-1-1 record, the Griffins stand 2nd in the North Division, and a distant 6th in the Western Conference. Most disturbing is a losing record on home ice, and middle of the pack rated special teams.
The following is a review for October:
OFFENSE - Last season's strong suit, has been hit or miss for GR in the early going. Several line combinations have been tried with players being rotated in and out of the lineup. Veterans Kip Miller-Matt Ellis-and Josh Langfeld have played together most of the time and have done a good job of creating offense, generating shots, and playing responsible in their own end. The line combined for 10 goals and 12 assists in the first 9 games. Recently Darryl Bootland has been teamed with rookie phenom Evan McGrath to good success with a variety of left wingers most notably Matt Hussey. Eric Himelfarb has centered a third line with Oulahen on one side and either Brooks or Kolanos on the other. They haven't put up big numbers, but have used their speed to create turnovers and disrupt the other team. Also in the mix up front are Scott Barney, trying to get up to speed after missing training camp, Ryan Keller, and Edmonton farmhand Brock Radunske.
DEFENSE - Considered to be the Achilles heal last year, this is the area that looks the most improved. Derek Meech has come a long way since last season, playing with confidence and rarely making a mistake in his own end. He has been paired recently with Kyle Quincey who has struggled in his defensive zone play at times. The second pairing is steady veteran defender Dan Smith, and the talented youngster, Danny Syvret. The third pairing consists of surprising rookie Jonathan Ericsson and either the physical Jason Becket, or the speedy Tom Galvin. Scoring by the blueliners is down to start the season, but they all move the puck well, and the offense should pick up as thinks shake out.
GOALTENDING - Jimmy Howard had a tough first start and then settled down to go 3-1 in his next four. Howard has been solid if not spectacular on many nights this season, and looks to have recovered from his crisis of confidence at the end of last season. His battery-mate Liv had a rude awakening to the dream of his first AHL season. After winning his first game, he went 0-2-0-1 in his next 4, even getting pulled during his last start after giving up a shot from outside the blueline.
SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins vaunted powerplay got off to a good start on a season opening road trip with a 27.8% efficiency. But then fell back to earth with a 17.6% rating the next 6 games at home. This ranks them 9th in the AHL at just over 21%. The 8th rated AHL penalty killing unit has killed off 48 of 55 chances so far this season for an 87.3% success rate. When you take out the #2 rated road pk unit clicking for 95.8% (1-24), however you are left with a lackluster 15th at home, killing just 80% of the penalties (6-31).
PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Ellis. The little engine that could just keeps finding ways to improve. Ellis got off to a solid start offensively with a team leading 4 goals and 3 assists in nine games this month. He also leads the club with 37 shots on goal. The next nearest teammate is Langfeld with 30 in the same span.
ROOKIE WATCH - On the plus side, McGrath started to find his stride towards the end of the month, scoring his first professional goal, and then adding three assists in the next game. Ericsson leads the clubs defense with a plus 3 rating and has played better than expected in his own end. Galvin only saw action in three contests, but had two assists and a +2 to show for it. On the other side of the ledger, Goulet, assigned by Edmonton, was unable to make an impression and was re-assigned to the ECHL. Liv has had a rude awakening to the world of North American pro hockey. He was pulled from his last start, and has not looked good in his last three.
CURRENT INJURIES - None...
NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - Defenseman Nick Naumenko signed PTO... Defenseman Tom Galvin Signed PTO... Defenseman Jason Beckett Signed PTO... Right Wing Scott Barney signed 1 yr contract... Defenseman Jonathon Ericsson Assigned by Detroit... Center Valtteri Filppula Assigned by Detroit... Filppula Recalled by Detroit... Left Wing Stephane Goulet assigned to Stockton (ECHL)... Naumenko released from PTO...
KEY STATS -Ellis is tied for third with 1 shorthanded goal... Miller is tied for 6th with 5 powerplay assists... Langfeld is tied for 8th with 3 powerplay goals... Grand Rapids does not have anyone in the top 20 scorers in the AHL; Kip Miller is 34th with 9 points... The Griffins are 2-0-1-0 on the road and 2-3-0-1 at home...
UP NEXT - The Griffins start November with a rare four-game series against playoff rival Manitoba. Then it's on to a four game home stand featuring a 2 game set with Milwaukee and singles against Albany and Peoria. This is followed by a grudge match home-and-home against the Chicago Wolves. Two of the last three contests will be on the road as the Griffins face the Rampage featuring Bryan Helmer, Nick Martens, and possibly AHL MVP Donald MacLean, and the always tough Houston Aeros. The team will close out the month at home against Hamilton featuring former Griffins Eric Manlow and Danny Groulx.
Click Here for a look at the current roster.