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November 2009 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Prospects start to click as wins pile up...
By Jason Kasiorek
December 1, 2009

After a rocky start to the season trying to blend in a roster that experienced a 50% turnover from last season, it looks like things have finally started to stabilize. A nine game winning streak helped to bring the team from the basement back up to within striking distance of the division lead. Along the way several of the Red Wings top prospects started to play up to expectations, most notably Cory Emmerton (9 points in 10 games), Jakub Kindl (7 points in 9 games) Mattias Ritola (4 goals), Logan Pyett (4 points, +7), Jan Mursak (6 points, +4) and Daniel Larsson (5-1, 2.14 GAA). Rookie winger Tomas Tatar was the surprise of the month. A second round choice in the 2009 draft, Tatar had an impressive camp and signed with the Wings so he could stay in North America. He was expected to get a look in the AHL before being sent to the OHL for a dominant year of seasoning. Someone apparently forgot to tell that to Tatar who got his feet wet for about nine games (1 goal 1 assist) and then exploded for nine points in his next five.

The Griffins currently occupy the fifth spot in the North division, four points out of second place, despite having played the least number of games in the conference. Their 26 points are good enough for sixth in the western conference. The team's .650 winning percentage is the 6th best in the AHL where it currently sits in 12th place overall, a statistic muddied by the fact that most teams ahead of them have played three or four more games. Grand Rapids boasts the third best offense in the AHL at 3.35 goals per game, while occupying the 15th spot in goals against at 2.8 per game. They also have the third best attendance in the league at an average of 6,646 per game.

The following is a review for November:

OFFENSE - Coach Fraser mixes up the lines on a regular basis to keep things fresh, but several of the combinations are reunited frequently. The last few games have featured a #1 line of Tatar and Mursak flanking Emmerton or Patrick Rissmiller. This line has a lot of speed and creativity and has scored a lot of goals while still being defensively responsible. The second line has been centered by slumping Kris Newbury usually with Jeremy Williams on one side and a rotating cast of wingers most recently Francis Pare on the other. Ritola and Evan McGrath make up most of the third line with a variety of right wingers riding along. The fourth trio as of late consisted of John Vigilante and Jamie Tardif on the wings on either side of Rissmiller. Dick Axelsson was moved around in the lineup in an attempt to get him going prior to his injury. Grinder Mike Walsh has filled in on the third and fourth lines as needed. Extra forward Francis Lemieux was farmed out to the Las Vegas Wranglers and Michael Nylander returned to the NHL's Washington Capitals.

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Jeremy Williams 10 5 5 10 12 5 25Veteran scorer paces club in points.
Tomas Tatar 10 4 6 10 6 7 17Freshman phenom explodes offensively.
Cory Emmerton 10 5 4 9 2 8 22Two-way pivot turns up the intensity and scoring.
Patrick Rissmiller 10 2 6 8 0 6 19Gritty veteran helps at both ends of the ice.
Mattias Ritola 10 4 2 6 8 2 24Puck magician starting to show up on the scoresheet.
Jan Mursak 10 2 4 6 2 4 15Speedy forechecker effective in all zones.
Kris Newbury 10 1 4 5 6 -1 20Scoring drought not for lack of effort.
Francis Pare 10 0 5 5 2 6 19Diminutive sniper slowly rounding into form.
Evan McGrath 10 3 1 4 0 -1 12Offense falls off but play remains steady.
John Vigilante 10 1 3 4 2 1 19Two-way winger plays effective grinding game.
Jamie Tardif 10 2 0 2 11 -3 36Hard working captain not showing up on scoresheet.
Dick Axelsson7 0 1 1 4 -1 6Slumping rookie felled by injury.
Mike Walsh 2 0 0 0 0 -1 0Banging winger fills gets rare playing time.

DEFENSE - The Griffins' blueline stepped up this month scoring nearly twenty percent of the team's goals this month. Every regular except Paul Crosty scored at least one goal. The pairings were a little fluid earlier in the month but as of late have been steady. The 1A pairing has been steady Sergei Kolosov and Andy Delmore while the 1B pairing has been Kindl and veteran Doug Janik. The third set has featured the steadily improving Logan Pyett alongside enforcer Crosty.

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Doug Janik10 257 10 6 9Vet keeps up hot hand, earns NHL recall.
Jakub Kindl 9 1 6 7 6 2 20Top defensive prospect takes big step forward.
Logan Pyett 10 1 3 4 2 7 12 Second year man starting to produce at both ends.
Andy Delmore 10 1 3 4 8 2 24Scoring struggles offset by strong defense.
Sergei Kolosov 10 1 1 2 2 2 5 Defensive ace scores first points of the season.
Paul Crosty 10 0 2 2 48 -2 6 Veteran brings much needed physical presence.
Sebastien Piche 2 0 0 0 0 0 2First year defenseman fills in after conditioning stint.
Travis Ehrhardt 0 0 0 0 0 0 0Freshman has tough time breaking back into the lineup.

GOALTENDING - Daniel Larsson is well on his way to another all-star season, serving notice to the Red Wings that he is ready to take his game to the next level. This month the Swedish netminder racked up a 5-1 record and a miserly 2.14 GAA in 6 contests along with a gaudy .926 save percentage. His battery mate Thomas McCollum however, didn't fare quite so well. McCollum struggled a bit in November splitting his four starts and posting a decidedly poor 3.76 Goals against average, and a .857 save percentage. While none of the games were blowouts, Thomas was not as sharp as he has shown he can be.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins' offense has proven to be incendiary at times, so it should come as no surprise that the powerplay is near the top of the league. Boasting the 2nd ranked powerplay at 23.4% (22 goals in 94 chances); Grand Rapids has had a tremendous amount of success with the man advantage. They are the 4th best unit at home scoring over 1/4 of the time (26.8% 15 for 56), and still hovering around 20% on the road (18.4% 7 for 38) good enough for 7th. Williams (5ppg), Tardif (4) and Ritola (4) and Kindl (7 PPA) are some of the main culprits behind this success.

The penalty killing however is another story, bottoming out to 27th overall in the 29 team league at 76.8% (73-95) As bad as that is overall, they are dead last on the road managing to kill just 68.1% of their shorthanded situations. They are ranked a middle of the pack 15th at home (85.4%), but need a lot of improvement to be a contending team. As you might guess, nearly everyone has been tried on PK with varying rates of success as coach Fraser searches for the right combinations.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Tomas Tatar. The emergence of Tatar this month has taken most people by surprise. He has 9 points in his last five games, and appears to have good chemistry with frequent linemate Jan Mursak. Tatar has size, speed and skill and has turned up the timetable on his development curve.

ROOKIE WATCH - Aside from the emergence of Tomas Tatar, this month has been a mixed bag when it comes to the first year players on the roster. Tatar has been excellent since passing the nine game threshold to return to junior without using a year of his contract. Sniper Axelsson's play has fallen off, and he managed just one assist in seven games before being struck down with an injury. McCollum had a couple of tough outings, and while he has kept his team in every game this month, he has struggled to find consistency as he adjusts to the pro game. Ehrhardt and Piche have both been frequent scratches, and were farmed out to Toledo for conditioning stints this month.

CURRENT INJURIES - C Ryan Oulahen, Hip - January... LW Dick Axelsson, lower body - day-to-day...

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - D Doug Janik recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Janik assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL)... C Michael Nylander recalled by Washington (NHL)... LW Francis Lemieux assigned to Las Vegas (ECHL)... D/LW Paul Crosty released from PTO... D/LW Crosty signed to Standard Players Contract... G Sebastien Centomo signed to PTO... G Daniel Larsson recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Centomo released from PTO... G Larsson assigned to Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Sebastien Piche assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Piche recalled by Grand Rapids (AHL)... D Travis Ehrhardt assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... D Ehrhardt recalled by Grand Rapids (AHL)...

KEY STATS - Cory Emmerton and Doug Janik are tied for 8th in the AHL in +/- at +11... Patrick Rissmiller is one spot behind them at +10... Paul Crosty is 20th with 69 penalty minutes... Jeremy Williams is tied for 6th with 5 powerplay goals... Mattias Ritola and Jamie Tardif are tied for 11th with 4 PPG apiece... Jakub Kindl is 8th with 7 powerplay assists... Williams is 6th with 3 first goals... He is also 4th in unassisted goals at 2... Doug Janik is tied for 13th in defenseman scoring with 12 points... Tomas Tatar is tied for the fourth longest goal scoring streak of the season at 4 games... Kris Newbury has the longest assist streak of the season at 7 games... He is also tied for the fourth longest scoring streak... Daniel Larsson is 12th in the AHL with 8 wins... Larsson is also tied for 11th with one shutout... He is also 17th in save percentage at .921... Larsson leads the league in shootout percentage, a perfect 5 for 5 100%... Tomas Tatar is 4th in rookie +/- at +9... Grand Rapids is perfect in overtime, winning one contest outright, and the other two in shootouts...

IN THE PIPELINE - Netminder Jordan Pearce continued his rocky welcome to the pro ranks, losing all five of his decisions this month with an ugly 4.57 GAA. Defenseman Justin DaCosta has bounced around, moving from Muskegon (IHL) to Dayton (IHL) and then landing on his feet in Utah (ECHL). He has a goal and two assists in 9 games on the season. Winger Francis Lemieux had a good start with the Las Vegas Wranglers this month, but was idled by an ECHL suspension and sits with 2 goals in 5 games played.

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Ryan Keller and Doug Janik became the latest Griffins alumni to make the NHL. Current stats as of 12/1/09:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit2331 4 12 1
Sean Avery, Rangers22 4 7 11 44 0
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim10 0 0 0 14 -4
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver0 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Eaton, Pittsburgh28 3 4 7 12 7
Matt Ellis, Buffalo22 1 3 4 4 3
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit24 3 7 10 16 -4
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 11 2 4 6 4 -6
Aaron Gagnon, Dallas 1 0 0 0 0 0
Alexandre Giroux, Washington5 1 2 3 4 5
Darren Helm, Detroit21 3 4 7 4 3
Shane Hnidy, Minnesota 24 0 6 6 39 -1
Douglas Janik, Detroit 1 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Keller, Ottawa 2 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Kelly, Ottawa 24 2 8 10 18 0
Tomas Kopecky, Detroit 25 1 2 3 10 -6
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 21 5 8 13 18 3
Brett Lebda, Detroit 23 1 4 5 16 -2
Ville Leino, Detroit 25 3 2 5 2 -5
Derek Meech, Detroit 10 0 0 0 4 -2
Glen Metropolit, Montreal 20 5 7 12 2 1
Chris Neil, Ottawa22 4 1 5 76 3
Scott Parse, Los Angeles17 1 6 7 8 1
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 28 3 12 15 33 2
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 22 2 13 15 8 -1
Danny Syvret, Philadelphia13 0 2 2 8 -3
Todd White, Atlanta 24 3 8 11 18 -8
Jason Williams, Detroit 15 2 5 7 4 -5

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 13 7-4-1 2.56 .907
Patrick Lalime, Buffalo 3 0-2-0 4.55 .836
Daniel Larsson, Detroit 0 0-0-0 0.00 .000
Joey MacDonald, Toronto 3 0-3-0 3.35 .875

UP NEXT - The Griffins start out December on the road against Lake Erie before settling in for a five game homestand featuring contests against Conference rivals Rockford, Peoria, San Antonio, Lake Erie, and the Milwaukee Admirals. Then it's on the road until Christmas, visiting the Toronto Marlies, Peoria Rivermen, San Antonio Rampage, Texas Stars, and Houston Aeros. Grand Rapids will host the always-popular Chicago Wolves the day after Christmas, and then a rematch with Peoria. The last week of the year starts in Milwaukee and then finishes up on New Years Eve against Hamilton.