Grand Rapids Griffins Central Logo

The System
Message Board
Contact Us
Training Camp
RSS Feed
November 2008 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Season of redemption as several griffins find their way...
By Jason Kasiorek
December 1, 2008

The second month of the season has featured some surprising stories as a group of secondary scorers have helped carry the offense. Slumps for Ville Leino, Justin Abdelkader, Mattias Ritola and Darren Haydar, and the loss of Landon Wilson left the team struggling for goals. Third year man Evan McGrath took advantage of the opportunity to raise his game and bring his linemates along with him. Aaron Downey, unsure of his future after his AHL demotion, woke up after being placed with McGrath and became an integral part of the clubs physical game, even chipping in some unexpected offense. Jakub Kindl rose from the ashes of a disappointing rookie season to vie for the title of best defenseman during the month, playing responsible in his own end and doing a great job running the Griffins powerplay. Highly touted rookie Cory Emmerton took a benching in stride and returned to play with a poise that belied his first year status. Towards the end of the month it looked like Ritola and Abdelkader were beginning to recover, but the team still needs to be concerned with the play of Haydar, Leino and all-stars Jonathan Ericsson and Jimmy Howard.

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.

Grand Rapids stands in in a tie for 4th overall in the league with 29 pts, good enough for a share of 2nd place in the North Division 1 point behind Manitoba who have played three less games. The Griffins have scored 73 goals and feature the leagues fourth best offense, but are in the middle of the pack defensively having given up 63 goals in 22 games.

The following is a review for November:

OFFENSE - Grand Rapids' red hot offense slowed down to three goals a game in November, still a potent number by any measure. Part of the reason for the let down was the cooling off of first year men Ville Leino and Justin Abdelkader and the departure of power forward Landon Wilson. The first line has ostensibly been Leino and Darren Haydar flanking Darren Helm, and the trio has put up 11-21-32 in fifteen games on the month but with a disturbing -8 defensive rating. The second line of Mattias Ritola, Cory Emmerton, and Jamie Tardif put up 6-12-18 in November but looked to be picking up the slack the last few games. Surging Evan McGrath, playing with Abdelkader and Aaron Downey have had a strong month posting 7-11-18 totals and providing a gritty, physical presence. The last trio has seen a little more flux, but lately has been Aaron Gagnon flanked by Jan Mursak and Ryan Oulahen and has been deployed in a more defensive posture but still managed to score 5 goals including a couple of shorty's. Francis Lemieux and Francis Pare have been in and out of the lineup, but things are more settled with the departure of Randall Gelech to Rochester (AHL).

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Darren Helm 14 5 8 13 4 -1 44 Inconsistency mars otherwise dominant play.
Evan McGrath 11 4 6 10 4 5 23 Coming into his own after changing game.
Ville Leino 13 0 10 10 6 1 34 Became a perimeter player after returning from injury.
Darren Haydar 14 6 3 9 6 -8 19Former MVP not playing at level expected.
Landon Wilson 8 5 4 9 22 -4 29 Power Forward and leader will be missed.
Cory Emmerton 13 0 9 9 8 -1 27 Responded with strong play after benching.
Mattias Ritola 15 4 2 6 4 0 37 Dangerous playmaker had an up and down month.
Ryan Oulahen 15 3 2 5 2 1 23 Defensive ace adding grit and scoring to game.
Justin Abdelkader 15 2 3 5 18 3 36 Cooled off after surprising hot start.
Francis Pare 7 2 2 4 6 1 9 Shifty scorer needs to add discipline.
Jamie Tardif 11 2 1 3 11 0 21 Agitating winger steps up game.
Aaron Downey 14 1 2 3 25 0 10 Grinder coming on strong.
Aaron Gagnon 9 2 0 2 4 0 16 Defensive forward making most of regular ice time.
Jan Mursak 10 0 1 1 4 -1 123 Speedster spinning his wheels without much to show.
Randall Gelech 3 0 0 0 0 -1 2 Spare part moved to Rochester (AHL).
Francis Lemieux 7 0 0 0 14 -2 9 Hustling winger laid low with knee injury.

DEFENSE - This unit's offense has improved since last month, but the defense still has a little way to go. Jonathan Ericsson has underachieved and still has not shaken his early season funk, usually paired with Logan Pyett or more recently Jason Jozsa. The number two pairing on paper has taken over as the top pairing with blossoming young star Jakub Kindl paired with underrated Tom Galvin. The third pairing has also played very well as of late with heady veteran Garrett Stafford playing with the rapidly improving Sergei Kolosov.

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Garrett Stafford 15 2 7 9 10 2 26 Offensive blueliner finding the groove.
Jakub Kindl 15 3 4 7 18 -3 27 Most improved player this month.
Tom Galvin 15 2 2 4 10 3 7Steady rearguard trades defense for offense.
Jonathan Ericsson 14 0 3 3 14 2 30 Another off month for organization's top prospect.
Sergei Kolosov 12 0 3 3 12 -4 7 Made big strides on intensity and competitiveness.
Jason Jozsa 7 1 0 1 4 0 3 Seems to have the upper hand on the sixth spot.
Logan Pyett 10 0 1 1 0 -3 10 On the outside looking in.

GOALTENDING - Daniel Larsson Continued his rise up the teams goalie ladder this month with some spectacular performances. He was 5-1-1 on the month with 2 shutouts and a 91.4% save percentage. Aside from being pulled in his first start of the month, he has outplayed incumbent Jimmy Howard. Howard has been up and down, and has been unable to string together a consistent series of strong performances. The fourth year netminder posted a mediocre 3-4-1 record with a sub .900 save percentage and a GAA of almost 3 per game.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Grand Rapids has been pretty consistent with the powerplay, firing along at 17.4 overall, with little difference between home and the road. They are ranked 18 at home and 9th on the road having scored 21 powerplay goals overall in 121 chances. Landon Wilson was the most effective with extra man (7 PP goals), but is no longer with the team leaving the duties to Abdelkader (3) Kindl (3) and Haydar (4). The Griffins have excelled on the penalty kill, sporting the number 2 unit in the league at 88.4%. The home unit has been better than the away, killing 96.4% of opponents powerplay chances. Helm, Ritola, Oulahen and Gagnon all have scored shorthanded goals and are regular members of the penalty killing unit.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Evan McGrath. Evan started the season as an extra, and his play the first few games he got into did little to change that. This month when he got his shot he was ready and responded with the best streak of hockey in his career. His game has changed as he had added some urgency and grit to it, and he is driving to the net and battling for position much more than in the past. McGrath posted 10 points in 11 games and was a team high +5 during that span, but more importantly he was a consistently reliable offensive threat and played hard every shift.

ROOKIE WATCH - Several of the Griffins rookies saw their stocks rise in November, chief among them forward Cory Emmerton who turned in 9 assist in 13 games after struggling the first few weeks of the season. Daniel Larsson has also noticeably improved and blueliner Sergei Kolosov has gained some traction and is showing some of his potential. Francis Pare got off to a great start scoring wise, but took a series of bad penalties and found himself on the outside looking in at the end of the month. He was joined by Logan Pyett whose struggles have landed him in the pressbox for the last part of the month. Justin Abdelkader cooled off after a scorching start, but was still contributing in other areas and had yet to see his icetime cut. Jan Mursak has had a tougher adjustment to the pros than was expected, and he is still looking for his offense to land his name on the scoresheet.

CURRENT INJURIES - LW Francis Lemieux - Knee, Day-to-day...

NOTEABLE MOVEMENT - G Isaac Reichmuth signed to PTO... G Reichmuth released from PTO... D PJ Atherton recalled from Las Vegas (ECHL)... RW Landon Wilson recalled by Dallas (NHL)... RW Randal Gelech recalled by Detroit (NHL) and re-assigned to Rochester (AHL)... D Atherton assigned to Ontario (ECHL)... C Darren Helm recalled by Detroit (NHL)... RW Darren McCarty Assigned by Detroit (NHL)... C Helm assigned by Detroit... RW McCarty recalled by Detroit...

KEY STATS - Ville Leino is tied for 10th in the AHL with 16 assists... Landon Wilson is 3rd in Powerplay goals with 7... He is also tied for 8th in first goals... Aaron Gagnon is tied for 12th in Shorthanded goals... Jason Jozsa is tied for second in overtime goals... Mattias Ritola is tied for first in unassisted goals... Cory Emmerton is tied for 5th in Shoot-out game winners... He is also 3rd in rookie assists with 12... Justin Abdelkader is 11th in rookie points with 14... He also is 3rd in rookie goal scoring with 9... Garrett Stafford is tied for 11th and Jakub Kindl is tied for 17th in defenseman scoring... Daniel Larsson is tied for 11th in wins with 7... He is also tied for third with 2 shutouts and 13th in GAA...

IN THE PIPELINE - Defenseman PJ Atherton has gotten into 4 games with the Griffins in between stints with Las Vegas and Ontario of the ECHL. The gifted puck mover had a goal and an assist in 8 games split between the two ECHL clubs in November and was +3 with 20 shots on goal.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Twenty Six Former Griffins saw time in the NHL during the first two months of the 2008-09 season. The two newest Griffins in the NHL are blueliner Bryan Helmer, recently signed and recalled by the Capitals, and Landon Wilson, plucked off this season's roster by Dallas. Current stats as of 12/1/08:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Sean Avery, Dallas 23 3 7 10 77 2
Sheldon Brookbank, Devils 13 0 0 0 7 0
Wade Brookbank, Carolina 25 1 0 1 33 0
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver 14 7 6 13 2 1
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh 15 0 0 0 12 0
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 7 0 0 0 0 0
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 23 2 6 8 16 -1
Darren Helm, Detroit 3 0 0 0 0 0
Bryan Helmer, Washington 2 0 0 0 0 1
Shane Hnidy, Boston 20 0 3 3 26 5
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 23 9 11 20 2 -1
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 22 1 3 4 6 -5
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 23 1 2 3 14 -3
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 22 2 11 13 18 -3
Brett Lebda, Detroit 20 1 2 3 14 -6
Darren McCarty, Detroit 13 1 0 1 25 -2
Derek Meech, Detroit 12 0 2 2 6 -4
Glen Metropolit, Philadelphia 22 1 6 7 7 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa17 2 1 3 50 -5
Kyle Quincey, Los Angeles 19 2 11 13 12 5
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 22 7 10 17 16 1
Todd White, Atlanta 23 7 14 21 8 1
Jason Williams, Atlanta 23 6 6 12 4 -5
Landon Wilson, Dallas 5 1 1 2 6 0

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 7 1-4-1-0 3.27
Joey MacDonald, Islanders 21 10-9-2-0 2.89

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids begins December at home with contests against the Toronto Marlies and Hamilton Bulldogs and then heads to Manitoba for a pair against the Moose. Then its back to the cozy confines of the Van Andel for a three game homestand featuring Syracuse, and a double dose of the Milwaukee Admirals. Next up is a rematch with the Amerks in Rochester before returning home for a weekend to face the Peoria Rivermen and Lake Erie Monsters. GR closes out the month with a game in Peoria and the traditional New Years Eve home game, this year featuring the Iowa chops.