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October 2011 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Veterans keep ship afloat during early season troubles...
By Jason Kasiorek
November 1, 2011

The Griffins did not get off to the start they wanted, stumbling out of the gate to a 5-5 record. They had lots of leaks in the ship, from non-functional special teams to slumping snipers in Tomas Tatar and Frankie Pare to a contingent of rookies trying to find their way. Luckily they have also had some quality veterans in the lineup to pick up the slack until the rest of the team starts firing on all cylinders. Ace netminder Joey MacDonald has been just short of perfect in the early going, and speedy winger Chris Conner has almost single-handedly provided the offense. The other bright spot was the emergence of rookie Gustav Nyquist who has leapfrogged up to the top of the organization's prospect list with a strong fall.

Grand Rapids currently sits 2nd in the North Division and 10th in the Western Conference with a 5-5-0-0 record good enough for 10 points. The team is ranked 27th in goals scored with 24 goals in 10 games (2.4 per game) and is 13th in goals against at 2.9 per game (29 goals allowed in 10 games). They are trailing the Toronto Marlies by two points despite the .500 record.

The following is a review for October:

OFFENSE - The Griffins were offensively challenged for most of October with one line providing the lion's share of the scoring. That line featured Chris Conner and Gustav Nyquist flanking Joakim Andersson. The trio accounted for 9 goals and 19 assists in 9 games this month. The number two line has had a hard time getting untracked, but has the potential to score a lot of big goals. Snipers Tomas Tatar and Frankie Pare are the wings for veteran setup man Jamie Johnson on the 2nd unit which posted 4 goals and 5 assists in October. Two-way center Brent Raedeke anchors the third line with rookie Trevor Parkes and emerging scorer Willie Coetzee on either side. These three skaters notched 4 goals and an assist while providing energy and speed. The fourth line has been rotated around quite a bit as coach Fraser tries to get his lineup set. Former first-round pick Landon Ferraro has looked impressive centering the line when he has been healthy, but missed a large chunk of the month with a concussion. Other players in the mix include Marc-Louis Aubry who has played both center and wing on the unit and enforcer Mitchell Callahan who missed four games with a suspension and has to prove he can play enough to stay in the lineup. Andrej Nestrasil started the season in Toledo but struck for 2 goals and an assist after an injury recall. Adam Estoclet saw action in a couple of games being dispatched to Toledo (ECHL).

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Chris Conner 9 5 8 13 4 1 24Speedy vet off to red-hot start.
Gustav Nyquist 9 4 5 9 2 1 26Super rookie's hot start leads to NHL recall.
Joakim Andersson 9 0 6 6 6 0 10Defensive forward pressed into service on scoring line.
Tomas Tatar 9 2 2 4 2 -2 33Slumping sniper gripping the stick too tight.
Willie Coetzee9 3 0 3 0 -2 24Slick shooter still finding his way.
Jamie Johnson 9 2 1 3 4 -4 15Another slow start for veteran pivot.
Andrej Nestrasil 5 2 1 3 0 -1 6Making the most of his chance after recall from Toledo.
Frankie Pare 9 0 2 2 2 -3 22Streaky scorer trying to get untracked.
Brent Raedeke 9 1 0 1 6 0 8Second year center steps up his game.
Trevor Parkes 9 0 1 1 0 0 12Doesn't look out of place while adjusting to pro game.
Landon Ferraro 3 0 1 1 2 -2 1Rookie center looked effective before concussion.
Mitchell Callahan 5 0 0 0 27 -3 5First year enforcer needs to show he can play too.
Louis-Marc Aubry 7 0 0 0 4 -2 12Hulking forward learning on the job.
Adam Estoclet 4 0 0 0 2 -1 4Assigned to Toledo after losing numbers game.

DEFENSE - The Griffins have been blessed, at least on paper, with three strong defensive tandems. The 1a pairing in the early going has been captain Garnet Exelby with top prospect Brendan Smith. Steady veteran Doug Janik and Logan Pyett have been the 1b more often then not. The third duo has featured gritty Greg Amadio with the emerging Brian Lashoff. Travis Ehrhardt saw some time in Smith's place early before suffering a shoulder injury that will keep him on the shelf for 5-6 weeks. Puck-mover Sebastien Piche was ticketed for Toledo but has hung on in the #7 spot for now.

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Doug Janik 9 1 1 2 13 2 8 Steady vet anchors defensive end.
Brendan Smith6 0 2 2 18 -1 10Top prospect looking for offensive game.
Garnet Exelby 9 0 1 1 40 -2 10 Gritty captain brings physical defensive game.
Logan Pyett 9 0 1 1 4 0 17 Offensive rearguard struggling at both ends.
Travis Ehrhardt 3 0 0 0 9 -1 5Battling for time before being felled by shoulder injury.
Sebastien Piche 3 0 0 0 5 -1 2Saved from a trip to Toledo by injuries and recalls.
Greg Amadio 9 0 0 0 32 -2 6Wily veteran still steady in his own end.
Brian Lashoff 9 0 0 0 2 -4 6Two-way defender needs to be more assertive.

GOALTENDING - Joey MacDonald has put on a goaltending clinic between the pipes for Grand Rapids in the early going. He is among the league leaders in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts. Most importantly he has kept the team in games they had no business being in and got them wins despite an anemic offense and a non-existent powerplay. Jordan Pearce won the backup job based on the hot finish he had to last season, sending Thomas McCollum to the ECHL. After giving up 7 goals in his last start however, he had better pick things up or start looking over his shoulder. The Alaska native is winless in three appearances on the season with a 5.06 GAA and .844 Save Percentage.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Despite all of the talent on the Griffins roster, the team's slow start has been fueled in large part by its abysmal special teams. The home powerplay is dead last in the league having scored just 1 goal in 20 chances (5%), and the road unit isn't much better at 26th (5 for 39 - 12.8%). Overall they are 30th of 30 teams at 10.2% (6 for 59), the good news is they have nowhere to go but up. The penalty killing units are slightly better ranking 19th overall at 80% (36 for 45). Grand Rapids is seeded slightly higher on the road (15th) than at home (18th), but have killed off penalties at the same efficiency with identical 80% ratings. Chris Conner has also tallied the team's two shorthanded goals while giving up none.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Defense - Joey MacDonald. MacDonald has gotten it done in the early going for the Griffins, potting all 5 of the team's wins through 11/1. He looks to be at the top of his game, frustrating shooters and making key saves when the team needs it. His play however is a double-edged sword, as the better it is, the more likely he will get a look with the struggling Wings.

Offense - Chris Conner. Conner does it all in all three zones. His 13 points in 9 games lead the team by a large margin, he was one of only two forwards on the team who was a plus, and he led the league in shorthanded goals. His speed and aggressiveness with or without the puck make him a dangerous asset on the forecheck where he causes turnovers at will. The veteran's greatest trait however may be his consistency as he brings the same game every night.

CURRENT INJURIES - Travis Ehrhardt - Shoulder 5-6 weeks... Chris Minard - Concussion - Indefinite...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - C Brent Raedeke, RW Trevor Parkes, C Louis-Marc Aubry, RW Frankie Pare, RW Andrej Nestrasil, C Jamie Johnson, RW Willie Coetzee, RW Mitchell Callahan, D Sebastien Piche, D Gleason Fournier, G Thomas McCollum, D Brendan Smith, LW Tomas Tatar. C Gustav Nyquist, D Travis Ehrhardt, C Joakim Andersson, C Landon Ferraro, D Brian Lashoff, G Jordan Pearce, G Joey MacDonald, D Logan Pyett, LW Chris Conner, D Garnet Exelby and D Doug Janik assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Joey Martin Signed to ATO... F Nick Oslund signed to ATO... C Matt Pelech Signed to PTO... RW Adam Estoclet, D Bryan Rufenach and D Greg Amadio added to roster after being released from Detroit training camp... C Pelech released from PTO... LW Martin released from ATO... F Oslund released from ATO... G McCollum assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Fournier assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Rufenach assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... RW Nestrasil assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Brendan Smith recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Smith assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Andrej Nestrasil recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... G MacDonald recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G MacDonald assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Gustav Nyquist recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Fabian Brunnstrom assigned by Detroit (NHL)... RW Adam Estoclet assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... LW Nyquist assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Brendan Smith recalled by Detroit...

KEY STATS - Chris Conner is tied for 4th in AHL scoring with 15 points... Gustav Nyquist is tied for 5th in rookie scoring with 9 points... Conner is third in the AHL with 10 assists... Conner is tied for first with 2 shorthanded goals... Conner is tied for 4th with 2 first goals... The Griffins boast three players in the top 16 in penalty minutes: Greg Amadio is 5th (43), Garnet Exelby is 8th (40) and Mitchell Callahan is 16th (32)... Callahan is also the leading rookie penalty minute leader... Tomas Tatar is tied for 13th in shots on goal with 34... Joey MacDonald has the 6th best GAA in the AHL at 2.09... MacDonald is also 4th in save percentage at .934... MacDonald leads the AHL with 2 shutouts and is tied for second with 5 wins... MacDonald is 4th in minutes played at 458:40... MacDonald is 3rd in saves with 226... Chris Conner is tied for the 8th longest assist streak of the season at 4 games (6 assists)... Grand Rapids has the 4th best attendance in the AHL at an average of 6,320... Greg Amadio is tied for second with 5 major penalties... Andrej Nestrasil is tied for third in rookie shooting percentage at 33.3%...

IN THE PIPELINE - Rookie blueliner Bryan Rufenach has struggled to adjust to the pro game in Toledo. So far he has posted one assist in five games with a team worst -7 defensive rating. Fellow first year defenseman Gleason Fournier appears to be making the adjustment much faster, leading the team in defensive scoring with a goal and two assist in 5 games with a -1 rating and 12 shots on goal. Netminder Thomas McCollum has settled down a bit after a rocky start to the season. He currently shows a 1-2 record in four appearances with a 3.03 GAA and .892 save percentage.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Twenty-five former Griffins have graced the rosters of NHL team's rosters so far this season. Red Wings rookie winger Gustav Nyquist made his NHL debut on 11/1/11 to become the most recent. Current stats as of 11/1/11:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 101 1 2 5 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim 11 01 1 21 1
Mark Eaton, NY Islanders 9 0 1 1 20
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 3 0 1 1 00
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 7 1 1 2 21
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 10 0 1 1 7 3
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 10 2 5 7 4 3
Alexandre Giroux, Columbus 8 1 0 1 6 -2
Darren Helm, Detroit 10 1 1 2 0 3
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 9 2 2 4 10 1
Chris Kelly, Boston 11 3 4 7 7 3
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 10 0 2 2 4 3
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 11 15 6 6 -2
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 10 1 1 2 2 -4
Ville Leino, Buffalo 10 1 1 2 0 -4
Derek Meech, Winnipeg 2 0 0 0 4 1
Jan Mursak, Detroit 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 13 3 4 7 52 0
Kris Newbury, Rangers 6 0 0 0 24 2
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 1 0 0 0 0 0
Scott Parse, Los Angeles 5 2 0 2 121
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 11 2 6 8 14 1
Mattias Ritola, Tampa Bay 5 0 0 0 6-2
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 13 6 9 15 10 -4

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 7 4-2-1 1.84 .928

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids has a busy month ahead for November with 11 games on tap. The good news is that eight of them are in the comfy confines of Van Andel Arena. The slate starts out with home games against Lake Erie, newcomers the Charlotte Checkers, and The Rockford IceHogs. Then they head out for the weekend with tilts against Hamilton and Rochester before returning home for a five-game home stand. This home stand will feature contests with San Antonio, Milwaukee, Hamilton and a pair against The Oklahoma City Barons. The Griffins finish the season in Toronto against the Marlies.