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October 2009 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Griffins slow start gives way to five game winning streak...
By Jason Kasiorek
November 1, 2009

Grand Rapids started out the season facing some of the same problems as the parent Detroit Red Wings. A large turn over in personnel meant that coach Fraser already had his work cut out for him in getting this team play together. Add into that a lack of pre-season games, and injuries and recalls costing the team Ryan Oulahen, Justin Abdelkader, and latecomer Brad May. What you got was a 1 and 4 start to the season, including a pair of blow-outs at the hands of the San Antonio Rampage.

Looking for a shot in the arm, Grand Rapids added AHL Vet Patrick Rissmiller for the season from the New York Rangers, and NHL veteran Michael Nylander for two weeks from the Washington Capitals. The result was immediate as the Griffins ripped off a 5 game winning streak behind a suddenly potent offense and two red hot goaltenders. Highlights of the streak included a hat trick for Captain Jamie Tardif and a shutout for starter Daniel Larsson.

Grand Rapids currently stands 5th in the North Division, 5 points behind 4th place Abbotsford. Their 12 points also leave them in 7th place in the Western Conference 2 behind the 6th place San Antonio Rampage. After scoring 11 times in their first five games, they racked up 20 goals in the next five. Defensively they allowed 20 goals in the first five games, and only 8 in the next five.

The following is a review for October:

OFFENSE - It took a few games to get things sorted out up front, but things appear to have fallen into place as of late. Captain Tardif has enjoyed a spot on the top line with Nylander and a collection of wingers, most recently Dick Axelsson. This trio has done most of its damage on the powerplay. The second line has been a standout at both ends of the ice, with Kris Newbury centering Mattias Ritola and Jan Mursak. These three play a banging, forechecking game, and use their speed and puck handling skills to capitalize on turnovers.

The third troika features Evan McGrath centering Francis Pare and John Vigilante. This unit is responsible defensively and uses its speed to jump into the holes and create good offensive opportunities. The fourth line is made up of Rissmiller and Jeremy Williams, playing with a rotating cast of characters, lately it has been Tomas Tatar. Cory Emmerton has played in 9 out of 10 games to start the season, but has been unimpressive, and has bounced around the lineup, looking for a home. Francis Lemieux has had some injury issues, and has not played well enough to stay in the lineup when he has seen the ice. Banger Mike Walsh rounds out the forward corps.

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Kris Newbury 10 3 5 8 58 -2 16Feisty veteran provides scoring and snarl.
Evan McGrath 10 3 3 6 4 0 15Gamer showing off two-way play and grit.
Jamie Tardif 10 4 2 6 4 -4 27Captain leading by example with hustle and hard work.
Michael Nylander 5 1 5 6 0 1 6NHL playmaker peps up powerplay.
Mattias Ritola 10 1 4 5 4 -4 25Puck magician still hasn't found the range.
Dick Axelsson7 2 2 4 2 1 13Speedy rookie can skate, score and play with an edge.
Jeremy Williams 10 4 0 4 12 -2 31Sniper still looking for his comfort zone.
Cory Emmerton 9 0 3 3 2 3 4Slow Start for talented prospect.
John Vigilante 9 2 1 3 0 -1 14Speedy grinder impresses with hustle and touch.
Jan Mursak 10 3 0 3 6 2 20Chippy winger turning heads with two-way play.
Patrick Rissmiller 5 2 1 3 0 2 11Rangers farmhand adds grit and experience.
Francis Pare 8 0 2 2 0 1 7Speedy forward looking to beat sophomore slump.
Tomas Tatar 5 1 1 2 0 2 9Rookie wunderkind presses for spot on roster.
Mike Walsh 4 1 0 1 0 0 2Banging role player plays well in limited time.
Francis Lemieux 5 0 1 1 10 -2 9Gritty winger fights injuries and inconsistency to regain his spot.

DEFENSE - With the injury to Andy Delmore, offense has been tough to come by for this group. Doug Janik has been paired recently with Sebastien Piche with some success, while Jakub Kindl has gone through several partners before being re-united with Sergei Kolosov. Travis Ehrhardt has been solid with Logan Pyett, and has earned a lot of ice time and responsibility. Paul Crosty split his time between forward and defense mainly providing muscle and size.

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Doug Janik 10 1 5 6 15 4 8Veteran blueliner surprise scoring leader.
Jakub Kindl 9 0 4 4 10 0 2Consistency and defensive struggles mar game.
Logan Pyett 10 0 2 2 6 -3 12 Sophomore rearguard slowly improving.
Andy Delmore 6 2 0 2 8 0 21Veteran puck mover felled by knee injury.
Travis Ehrhardt 8 0 1 1 13 3 10Steady rookie claims regular spot with strong play.
Sebastien Piche 6 0 0 0 4 -1 10Freshman d-man still finding his game.
Paul Crosty 5 0 0 0 21 -4 6 Enforcer added much needed presence to lineup.
Sergei Kolosov 9 0 0 0 0 -2 7 Hulking defenseman overcoming slow start.

GOALTENDING - Aside from a pair of disastrous games in San Antonio, this has been the team's strength in the early going. If you remove the 5 goals on 6 six shots in one of those games from Daniel Larsson's record, he is sporting a 1.75 GAA with a 94.9% save percentage. The second year cage cop looks to be completely recovered from the concussion that bothered him at the end of the season and has been dominant in the early going. His battery-mate Thomas "Bullwinkle" McCollum has been equally impressive, and applying the same criteria (removing the Rampage game and the 7 goals allowed) he would show an even more miserly 1.65 GAA and .936 save percentage in his first five decisions.

SPECIAL TEAMS - After a rough start on the road (rank 21st 2 for 21 9.5%), the Griffins benefited from the addition of Nylander by scoring at an amazing 30.3% (10 for 33) with the man advantage at home, good for 3rd in the AHL. This left them third overall at 22.2% (12 for 54). Tardif (3ppg), Newbury (2ppg), Williams (2ppg), and Ritola (1ppg) are the big players so far on the powerplay.

As with the powerplay, there is quite a disparity between the home and road penalty killing numbers. On the road the first five games of the season, Grand Rapids killed off 19 of 26 powerplays (73.1%) ranked an abysmal 25th. At home, that number is a bit more respectable was the 10th best unit in the AHL at 91.7% (22 of 24). Overall they rank 20th of 29 teams at 82%, a mark that must improve if they are to keep climbing in the standings.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Michael Nylander. A tough decision this month, but there is no denying this team came alive when Nylander was assigned by Washington. The veteran NHL scorer brought some swagger back to the powerplay, and showed a lot of the young forwards on this team that they can score. He also potted a goal and five assists in the five games he played, all Griffins' victories. He is due to be recalled before the next game, but hopefully he leaves the team with some confidence in the offensive zone.

ROOKIE WATCH - Ehrhardt has been the best of this bunch, playing a very steady game at both ends of the ice. He has earned time on the penalty kill, and plays bigger than his size. Fellow blueliner Piche has not made much of an impact, rotating in and out with enforcer Crosty. Axelsson missed some time with an injury, but has showed off some great skill, speed and a feisty disposition. Tatar keeps making the decision on whether to send him to the OHL harder and harder. While he has not been dominant, he has played well and does not look out of place. McCollum has played beyond his years in the first month of the season. He looks to have ice water in his veins and has pushed Larsson for playing time.

CURRENT INJURIES - D Andy Delmore, Knee - day-to-day... C Ryan Oulahen, Hip - January...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - D Brett Peterson, D Justin DaCosta, LW Francis Lemieux and C John Vigilante Signed 1 yr. contracts with Grand Rapids... LW Mike Walsh Signed PTO... LW Tomas Tatar, RW Jamie Tardif, RW Johan Ryno, D Sebastien Piche, D Sergei Kolosov, D Travis Ehrhardt and D Logan Pyett assigned by Detroit... D Justin DaCosta assigned to Muskegon (IHL)... C Dan Charleston and D Paul Crosty signed to PTO's... G Jordan Pearce assigned by Detroit... D Andy Delmore, D Doug Janik, D Jakub Kindl, RW Jeremy Williams, C Kris Newbury, C Mattias Ritola, C Evan McGrath, C Frankie Pare, C Cory Emmerton, LW Jan Mursak, LW Dick Axelsson and G Thomas McCollum Assigned by Detroit... RW Ryno Re-assigned to Sweden... C Charleston released from PTO... LW Brad May Signed to PTO... G Daniel larsson assigned by Detroit... G Jordan Pearce assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... C Justin Abdelkader assigned by Detroit... LW May released from PTO and signed by Detroit... C Abdelkader recalled by Detroit... C Michael Nylander assigned on condition stint by Washington (NHL)... LW Patrick Rissmiller assigned by New York Rangers (NHL)...

KEY STATS - Kris Newbury is 7th in the AHL with 58 penalty minutes... Jamie Tardif is 8th in powerplay goals with 3... Michael Nylander is 5th in powerplay assists with 5... Evan McGrath is tied for 5th in game winning goals with 2... Jan Mursak is tied for the league lead with 2 insurance goals... Jeremy Williams is tied for 2nd in unassisted goals with 2... Patrick Rissmiller is tied for 2nd in empty net goals... Nylander and Francis Pare are tied for 7th with 1 shootout goal... Pare is also tied for the league lead in shootout winners... Doug Janik is tied for 13th in defenseman scoring with 6 points...

IN THE PIPELINE - Netminder Jordan Pearce has had a rocky start to his pro career, as a member of the ECHL's Toledo Walleye. Pearce was rocked for 12 goals against in his last two starts and may lose playing time to Chicago prospect Alec Richards. Defenseman Justin DaCosta, toiling with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the IHL has counted an assist and is +2 in 6 games.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Scott Parse and Aaron Gagnon became the latest Griffins alumni to make the NHL. Current stats as of 11/1/09:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 9 1 1 2 4 0
Sean Avery, Rangers 10 2 4 6 15 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim 4 0 0 0 10 -2
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 14 1 3 4 6 7
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 10 1 3 4 0 4
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 11 3 5 8 4 -3
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 11 2 4 6 4 -6
Aaron Gagnon, Dallas 1 0 0 0 0 0
Alexandre Giroux, Washington 3 1 0 1 0 1
Darren Helm, Detroit 7 1 3 4 0 3
Shane Hnidy, Minnesota 14 0 3 3 18 0
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 12 0 6 6 4 0
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 13 1 1 2 8 -5
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 12 2 4 6 10 0
Brett Lebda, Detroit 9 1 1 1 10 -2
Ville Leino, Detroit 11 2 1 3 2 -2
Derek Meech, Detroit 4 0 0 0 4 -2
Glen Metropolit, Montreal 8 2 6 8 2 1
Chris Neil, Ottawa12 2 1 3 39 2
Scott Parse, Los Angeles 4 1 2 3 4 1
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 15 2 6 8 12 3
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 10 0 8 8 2 -1
Danny Syvret, Philadelphia 9 0 2 2 6 -1
Todd White, Atlanta 10 3 1 4 10 -5
Jason Williams, Detroit 12 2 5 7 2 -4

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 5 1-2-1 3.42 .879
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 2 0-1-0 4.14 .854
Joey MacDonald, Toronto 3 0-3-0 3.35 .875

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids starts the month at home against the rival Chicago Wolves, capping off a six game home-stand. They then travel to the Lake Erie Monsters for a Sunday afternoon game before returning for another four games at home. In the cozy confines of the Van Andel Arena, the Griffins will have a rematch with Lake Erie, followed by contests against Milwaukee, Rochester and Dallas. Next up are trips to Toronto against the Marlies and Chicago for a face-off with the Wolves. They finish off the month with a Friday home game vs Rockford, and a bus trip trip to Peoria to battle the Rivermen.