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October 2012 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Griffins stumble out of the gate...
By Jason Kasiorek
November 1, 2012

New Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill has his hands full trying to turn this team from outsider to playoff contender this season. Some of his challenges include erasing the team's reputation for not playing a full 60 minutes and getting the team to play together instead of as individuals which happened too often last season. He has already made strong inroads to the latter as the team appears to be playing as a unit with a plan. Unfortunately the other part has not been evident yet and has cost the team on several occasions. The clubs' offense is off and running with Nyquist, Tatar, Ferraro and Billins leading the way but the defense needs some help. Super rookie Petr Mrazek has been recalled from Toledo to help give the team some goaltending after last season's incumbents were unable to get that done.

Grand Rapids finished October with a 2-3-1-1 record for 6th points which left them 4th in the Midwest division. They were also ranked 13 of 15 in the Western conference and 23rd overall in the AHL. The Griffins have the 10th best offense at 3.43 goals per game, and the defensive was 29th out of 30 allowing 4 goals per game. The team fared better on the road the opening month with a 2-1 record versus a 0-2-1-1 record at home. Van Andel arena has the 7th best average attendance at 6,320 per game.

The following is a review for October:

OFFENSE - The Griffins have shown they still know how to score, and can do it in bunches. The first line has been Joakim Andersson centering Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, with Aubry seeing some shifts as well. The talented trio have accounted for 9 goals and 10 assists in 7 games. Landon Ferraro is arguably the second line center usually between captain Jeff Hoggan and sniper Frankie Pare. The line has tallied 7 goals and 5 assists in October but had a minus defensive rating during that time. The bottom two lines have been in a constant state of flux as coach Blashill tries to find the right combinations. Louis-Marc Aubry and Riley Sheahan have gotten most of the playing time at center with Brent Raedeke finding himself the odd man out or sliding in when Aubry is moved up to the wing. Trevor Parkes is a common linemate for Aubry along with the slumping Mitchell Callahan. Triston Grant and Tomas Jurco are often found flanking Sheahan.

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Gustav Nyquist 7 4 5 9 2 2 26Quiet forward just keeps scoring.
Tomas Tatar7 4 4 8 4 2 35Speedy sniper off to a great start.
Landon Ferraro 7 2 3 5 2 1 15Sophomore makes mark at both ends of the ice.
Jeff Hoggan 7 2 2 4 4 -2 13Last minute Captain adds effort, energy and a couple of goals.
Frankie Pare 7 3 0 3 0 -3 17Flying Frenchman slugs off usual slump.
Trevor Parkes 7 2 1 3 9 0 10Grinding winger adds impact.
Joakim Andersson 7 1 1 2 10 -3 14Two-way forward trying to regain last season's spark.
Louis-Marc Aubry7 1 1 2 6 -1 6Energy forward looking for consistency.
Tomas Jurco 7 1 1 2 2 -1 7Skilled sniper still trying to put it all together.
Triston Grant7 1 0 1 16 0 4Veteran enforcer brings grit and energy.
Brent Raedeke4 0 1 1 4 0 1Defensive center finds himself the odd man out.
Mitchell Callahan 5 0 1 1 11 1 1Gritty winger needs t find his game.
Riley Sheahan 6 0 1 1 2 0 4Physical forward looks better than numbers show.

DEFENSE - Five of the top six blueliner's are set with three players rotating through the sixth spot. More often than not, one of the pairings has been standout rookie Chad Billins paired with veteran Nathan Paetsch. The two offensive defenseman are good at moving the puck and have done a good job of keeping the puck in the attacking zone. Another regular pairing has seen Brian Lashoff paired with Brennan Evans in a physical defensive duo. This pairing has also seen a lot of time during the penalty kill. Brendan Smith is the last regular and he has been moved around pairings depending on who the sixth defenseman is. Adam Almquist looks like he know what to do with the puck, but is so slight and timid he can't always get it done. Max Nicastro and Gleason Fournier have not seen much time, but Nicastro's size and physical game looked to be earning him playing time before a elbow to the head took him out of the lineup.

October Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Chad Billins 7 0 8 8 4 -3 9Surprising debut for undrafted rookie rearguard.
Nathan Paetsch 7 1 3 4 2 3 17 Steady vet sees time in all situations.
Brendan Smith7 1 3 4 4 1 16Still looking for consistency and intensity.
Brian Lashoff 7 0 2 2 0 -3 8 Slow start for developing blueliner.
Brennan Evans 7 0 0 0 18 -3 6Stay at home defender still finding rhythm.
Adam Almquist 4 0 0 0 4 -1 2 Puck moving defenseman hasn't overcome size issue yet.
Max Nicastro 2 0 0 0 5 0 0Hulking freshman on the sidelines with injury.
Gleason Fournier 1 0 0 0 4 0 0Extra defenseman sees limited duty.

GOALTENDING - Neither of the two men between the pipes were very impressive in the early going for the Griffins. Pearce was winless in three appearances with a 4.38GAA and an 84.7% save percentage and has since been farmed out to Toledo (ECHL) in favor of rookie Petr Mrazek. Thomas McCollum was marginally better with 2 wins in 4 appearances, though one was a shootout win and the other an overtime win. His stats include a 3.13GAA, good enough for 36th in the AHL and a 89.1% save percentage, which ranks 40th.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins powerplay has been pretty effective in the early going scoring 8 goals in 32 chances for a 25% success rating, good enough for 4th in the AHL. The home unit has experienced a little more success with 5 goals in 19 chances (26.3%), but the 9th ranked road unit still scored at a credible 23.1% rate (3 for 13). Tatar leads the team with 3 man-advantage markers, closely followed by Nyquist with 2. Hoggan, Smith and Andersson each added a powerplay goal last month as well. Chad Billins leads the club with 5 powerplay assists, followed by Tatar (3), Nyquist (2) and Paetsch (2).

The flip-side to the special teams is the woeful penalty killing units which are in the bottom third of the AHL. Ranked 24th overall at 75% (stopping 30 of 40 chances), the team is 21st at home (19 for 25) and 22nd on the road (11 for 15). While they have not had success keeping the puck out of their own net, they do rank 4th with 2 shorthanded goals scored, courtesy of Ferraro and Parkes. Besides the two shorthanded scorers, Nyquist, Aubry, Lashoff, Smith and Paetsch have all been regulars on this unit, which has been hurt by inconsistent play by the netminders behind them.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Defense - Chad Billins. The undrafted free agent out of Ferris State has turned some heads the first month of his rookie campaign. A strong skater with quick feet and hands, Billins makes good decisions with the puck and moves it well. He is among the team and league leaders among rookies and defenseman and plays in all situations.

Offense - Tomas Tatar. Tatar looks like a different player than he did last year. He looks to have added a half step to his skating, and is taking the puck to the net and making things happen. He also seems much more relaxed and celebrates with gusto. He is a dynamic, exciting player to watch and looks to have gained some consistency.

CURRENT INJURIES - Max Nicastro - Upper Body - Day-to-DayÉ

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - LW Luke Glendening Signed 1-yr contract with Grand Rapids (AHL)... LW Triston grant Signed 1-yr contract with Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Nathan Paetsch Signed 1-yr contract with Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Chad Billins Signed 1-yr contract with Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Brennan Evans Signed 1-yr contract with Grand Rapids (AHL)... LW Tomas Tatar, C Riley Sheahan, C Brent Raedeke, RW Trevor Parkes, RW Francis Pare, LW Gustav Nyquist, RW Andrej Nestrasil, RW Tomas Jurco, C Landon Ferraro, RW Willie Coetzee, RW Mitchell Callahan, LW Damien Brunner, C Louis-Marc Aubry, C Joakim Andersson, D Brendan Smith, D Max Nicastro, D Brian Lashoff, D Gleason Fournier, D Adam Almquist, G Jordan Pearce, G Thomas McCollum and G Petr Mrazek assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Brunner re-assigned to EV-Zug (Swiss-A)... LW Tatar re-assigned to SHK Piestany (SLO)... LW Jeff Hoggan Signed to PTO by Grand Rapids (AHL)... G Mrazek, LW Glendening, RW Nestrasil and RW Coetzee assigned to T0ledo (ECHL)... LW Tatar assigned by Detroit (NHL)... G Mrazek recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... G Pearce assigned to Toledo (ECHL)...

KEY STATS - Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are tied for 12th in goals scored with 4 each... Chad Billins is 4th in league scoring with 8 assists... Nyquist is tied for 12th with 9 points... Tatar is tied for second with three powerplay goals... Billins is 3rd with 5 powerplay assists... Landon Ferraro and Trevor Parkes are tied for 3rd with 1 shorthanded goal... Ferraro is tied for the league lead with 1 shorthanded assist... Tatar is tied for 1st with 1 overtime game winner... Ferraro is tied for second with 1 unassisted goal... Tomas Jurco, Brendan Smith and Nyquist are tied for third with 1 shootout goal... Jurco is also tied for the lead with 1 shootout game-winning goal... Nyquist is 11th in shots with 26th... Billins is tied for 4th in rookie scoring with 8 points... Billins is also 2nd in rookie blueliner scoring and leads the AHL rookie rearguards with 8 assists... He also is 5th in defense scoring and 2nd in assists... Tatar has the fourth longest goal streak in the AHL this season at 4 games... Nyquist is right behind him at 3 games... Billins has the 4th longest assist streak at 4 games...

IN THE PIPELINE - Stunned at being sent down after being a regular AHL'er last season, Willie Coetzee has turned up the offense in the ECHL. He has notched 3 goals and 2 assists in 7 games with a team high 33 shots on goal. His -2 defensive rating however, shows there is still work to be done. Second year man Andrej Nestrasil is enjoying the most productive stretch of his career, leading the Walleye in scoring with 4 goals and 7 points. Rookie Luke Glendening is slowly making the adjustment to the pro game, counting 2 goals and an assist and a +2 defensive rating. The real gem however has been netminder Petr Mrazek who has been nothing short of phenomenal in the early going. The first year netminder posted a 2-1 record with a stingy 2.02 GAA and an AHL top five .944 Save percentage. His strong play led to his AHL recall at the end of the month.

UP NEXT - The Griffins have 11 contests on tap for November starting with a weekend on the road in Texas facing off against the San Antonio Rampage, Texas Stars and Houston Aeros. The Admirals then come to town for the annual matinee game on the 7th, followed by a Friday night grudge match against the Rockford IceHogs. The team then busses to Peoria to take on the Rivermen and then have 5 days over before traveling to Lake Erie for a Friday night tilt. Up next is favorite foe Chicago, then the team travels for a rematch with Peoria before returning home for a Sunday afternoon game featuring Milwaukee. The griffins finish the month at home with a Friday game featuring the Texas Stars.