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October 2008 Griffins Report
Hot start by rookie offense erases memory of last season...
By Jason Kasiorek
November 1, 2008

A quick start out of the gate including three straight 6 goal games has gone a long way to making fans forget last season. First year players Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino have led the way, meshing nicely with 2nd year men Mattias Ritola and Darren Helm, and veteran's Darren Haydar and Landon Wilson to propel the team to the AHL's second best offense at just over 4 goals per game. Grand Rapids is also the only team in the AHL without a regulation loss, putting up a 4-0-2-1 record in 7 games.

While the offense has been firing on all cylinders, the defense has been very questionable. The team has not done a good job of shutting down the opposition, and has been guilty of glaring turnovers and giveaways in their own end. The goaltenders have been hung out to dry far too often, and the club is in the bottom third in goals against.

The Griffins find themselves in 4th place in the North Division, 2 pts behind the division leading Hamilton bulldogs who have played two more games. They also stand in 8th in the Western conference, 3 pts behind Rockford who have also played 2 more games than Grand Rapids.

The following is a review for October:

OFFENSE - The Griffins prolific offense has been clipping along at a 4+ goals per game pace. Leading the way is the Griffins hottest line featuring Ville Leino and Darren Haydar centered by Darren Helm who have accounted for 7-16-23 totals in 7 games. Ritola and Wilson flank rookie Cory Emmerton on the second line, putting up 6-11-17 totals in the same span. The only constant on the team's third line is goal leader Justin Abdelkader, flanked by a variety of wingers including Francis Pare, Jamie Tardif, Evan McGrath and Francis Lemieux. The fourth line is centered by Ryan Oulahen with Aaron Downey on one side and a rotating cast of players on the left including Aaron Gagnon, Randall Gelech, and Jan Mursak.

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Ville Leino 7 4 6 10 0 6 18 First year forward proving himself NHL ready.
Justin Abdelkader 7 7 2 9 15 0 14 Surprise rookie scoring leader gets it done at both ends.
Mattias Ritola 7 3 5 8 4 1 17 Skilled forwards strong play rewarded on scoresheet.
Darren Haydar 7 3 5 8 0 -2 28 Veteran scoring leader dangerous on powerplay.
Landon Wilson 7 3 3 6 15 6 16 Gritty NHL vet providing leadership and scoring.
Darren Helm 5 0 5 5 0 2 18 Last years surprise picking up where he left off.
Ryan Oulahen 7 3 0 3 7 4 10 Defensive ace showing off clutch scoring.
Francis Pare 3 2 1 3 0 0 10 QMJHL sniper impressive in limited opportunity.
Cory Emmerton 7 0 3 3 0 2 15 Rookie playmaker still trying to find the range.
Jamie Tardif 4 1 0 1 0 -4 6 Feisty scorer fighting for regular lineup spot.
Evan McGrath 4 0 1 1 2 -2 6 Third year center struggling to find playing time.
Aaron Gagnon 2 0 0 0 2 0 1 Dallas farmhand the victim of the numbers game.
Francis Lemieux 3 0 0 0 2 -1 4 Trying to earn regular playing time with hustle and speed.
Randall Gelech 2 0 0 0 2 0 4 Hulking winger falling off the depth chart.
Jan Mursak 5 0 0 0 2 -1 3 Showing off great skill, but not showing up on scoresheet.
Aaron Downey 7 0 0 0 7 1 6 NHL enforcer not providing much on the ice.

DEFENSE - The team's weak spot this month, the defense was uncharacteristically error prone and did not account for much offense from the back end either. The first pairing started out as Jonathan Ericsson and Logan Pyett, but Pyett's struggles put too much of a cramp on Ericsson's game and steady Tom Galvin was moved up. The second pairing has been the steadily improving Jakub Kindl paired with Jason Jozsa or Pyett. Veteran Garrett Stafford has anchored the third pairing with usually Sergei Kolosov.

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Jakub Kindl 7 1 3 4 4 -1 16 Young blueliner has solid start defensively.
Jonathan Ericsson 7 0 4 4 14 3 17 Top defensive prospect must regain intensity.
Garrett Stafford 7 1 2 3 4 3 14 Veteran rearguard helping out at both ends.
Logan Pyett 6 0 3 3 0 3 5 Needs a lot of work in his own end.
Tom Galvin 5 0 2 2 10 1 3 Unheralded defenseman playing key role.
Jason Jozsa 4 0 0 0 0 0 2 Stay at home defender trying to claim a regular spot.
Sergei Kolosov 4 0 0 0 0 2 4 Needs to add some passion and intensity to game.

GOALTENDING - Both netminders have alternated between average and great, but neither has gotten a lot of help. Daniel Larsson is still adjusting the smaller rink and different style of play, but has turned in some solid performances. His consistency could use some work, as he will make an unbelievable save and then give up a softie on the next play. Jimmy Howard started out a little slow but has been very good his last two starts. He knows that he needs to play strong consistently to keep his spot in the organization.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Grand Rapids home powerplay unit ranked a middle of the pack 16th at 19% (4 for 21) while the road unit was in the top 10 at 15.8% (3 for 19) for an overall rating of 17.5% good enough for 13th. Abdelkader has been particularly effective on the first unit with Leino, Helm, Haydar and Ericsson. Wilson and Ritola have also done good work with the man advantage. The penalty-killing unit has been stellar in the early going, rated 3rd at home at 93.3% (1 for 15) and 12th on the road at 83.3% (3 for 18) for an overall rating of 6th at 87.9%. Oulahen and Tardif, Leino and Helm, and Ritola are among the usual penalty killers up front, with Ericsson-Galvin, Kindl-Stafford on the backend.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Justin Abdelkader. After a dominant collegiate career and a two game audition in the NHL last season, the organization expected him to be good, just not this good this quick. He is physically mature and uses his size to his advantage, whether that means setting up camp in front of the net, banging along the boards or dropping the gloves. Leading the club with 7 goals in 7 games, his offense has been an important part in the club being undefeated in regulation to start the season.

ROOKIE WATCH - PJ Atherton lasted just two games before being sent out to the ECHL for more seasoning. Fellow blueliner Pyett has struggled mightily in his own end and may be due for some time in the press box. Emmerton has shown a creative playmaking flair but his offense has not balanced out his defensive gaffes. Swedish netminder Larsson has had flashes of brilliance but must find his consistency. Mursak has also shown flashes of his enormous talent, but so far has not been able to get on the score sheet. AHL rookie scoring leader Abdelkader has gotten it done at both ends of the ice, but must learn to cut down on his penalties. Former Quebec League sniper Francis Pare has stolen the spotlight from a few other highly touted prospects with his electrifying creativity and scoring ability.


NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - G Daniel Larsson, D Sergei Kolosov, D Logan Pyett, D Jakub Kindl, C Evan McGrath, RW Jamie Tardif, RW Darren Haydar, RW Randall Gelech, and LW Ryan Oulahen assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D PJ Atherton, D Tom Galvin, D Jason Jozsa, LW Francis Lemieux, and C Francis Pare released from Detroit's (NHL) Training Camp... LW Josef Fojtik and D Brett Peterson Released from Griffins (AHL) Training Camp... C Aaron Gagnon assigned by Dallas (NHL)... LW Landon Wilson assigned by Dallas... D Garrett Stafford assigned by Dallas... C Mattias Ritola, LW Cory Emmerton, LW Justin Abdelkader and LW Jan Mursak Assigned by Detroit... D Jonathan Ericsson, LW Ville Leino and C Darren Helm assigned by Detroit... G Isaac Reichmuth signed to PTO... G Reichmuth released from PTO... G Jimmy Howard assigned by Detroit... C Darren Helm recalled by Detroit... Helm assigned by Detroit... D Atherton assigned to Las Vegas (ECHL)...

KEY STATS - Ville Leino is tied for 14th in league scoring followed closely by rookie Justin Abdelkader at 19th... Abdelkader is the rookie points leader in the AHL with 9... He also is 2nd in goals in the AHL and 7th in powerplay goals... Leino is tied for 16th in the league in assists with 6and is 1st in game winning goals... Landon Wilson is tied for 2nd in first goals... Francis Pare, Jamie Tardif and Leino are tied for 5th in insurance goals... Wilson and Leino are tied for 12th in plus/minus at +6... Mattias Ritola and Jonathan Ericsson are tied at 7th for the longest assist streak of the season at 4 games...

IN THE PIPELINE - Defenseman Brett Peterson, dismayed at not getting a longer look by the Griffins, called it quits just a few games into the season for the IHL's Flint Generals, saying his heart just wasn't in it.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Twenty Five Former Griffins saw time in the NHL during the first month of the 2008-09 season. Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators led the way with 12 points on the season, while netminder Joey MacDonald found himself as the starter with Islanders while Rick Dipietro was sidelined. Current stats as of 10/31/08:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Sean Avery, Dallas 10 1 5 6 33 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 1 0 0 0 7 0
Wade Brookbank, Carolina 9 0 0 0 7 1
Pavol Demitra, Minnesota 6 2 1 3 2 -2
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 11 0 0 0 8 2
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 7 0 0 0 0 0
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 11 2 3 6 6 -1
Darren Helm, Detroit 2 0 0 0 0 0
Shane Hnidy, Boston 10 0 1 1 0 2
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 11 2 5 7 0 -4
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 10 1 2 3 4 -1
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 11 0 1 1 4 -2
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 11 1 5 6 16 2
Brett Lebda, Detroit 11 0 0 0 4 -9
Darren McCarty, Detroit 4 0 0 0 5 -2
Derek Meech, Detroit 3 0 1 1 0 0
Glen Metropolit, Philadelphia 9 1 4 5 2 2
Chris Neil, Ottawa10 1 1 2 41 -2
Kyle Quincey, Los Angeles 6 1 2 3 6 3
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 10 5 7 12 4 -2
Todd White, Atlanta 10 2 8 10 6 0
Jason Williams, Atlanta 10 2 2 4 2 -4

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Patrick Lalime, Chicago 3 1-1-1-0 2.59
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 7 2-4-1-0 3.42

UP NEXT - The Griffins start out the month at home against Drew MacIntyre and the Milwaukee Admirals followed by a Friday night contest against Lake Erie. Then it's off to Peoria for a game against the Rivermen before returning to the Van Andel arena for a noon match up with the Houston Aeros and a battle with the Hartford Wolfpack. Grand Rapids hits the road midway through the month for a tilt in Quad city and a pair of games in Milwaukee. The Griffins then host Wilkes-Barre and former goalie Adam Berkhoel, before venturing to the windy city and the Wolves and then finishing up the road swing in Iowa against the chops. A trio of games at home to celebrate the holiday weekend sees GR facing off against Scott Parse and the Manchester Monarchs, Steve Martens and the Chicago Wolves, and the always-dangerous Rochester Americans. The Griffins close out the string of 15 games in 30 days in Chicago against the wolves.