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November 2011 Grand Rapids Griffins Report
Griffins digging playoff hole...
By Jason Kasiorek
December 1, 2011

These seem to be the days of the season that have done the Griffins in the last few years. As the team gets off to a slow start they dig such a deep hole they are unable to get out and earn a playoff berth. With just three wins to show for their last eleven contests, this team needs to find itself in a hurry if it wants to reverse a trend of 2 straight (and 3 out of 4) years on the golf course. The good news is that for all the adversity the team is facing in the early going, more players are starting to heat up. Chris Conner, Jamie Johnson, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Landon Ferraro to name a few, are all coming online at the same time. With the injury list shrinking and a group of players dispatched to Toledo, there is hope that the bottom two lines might develop some chemistry.

Grand Rapids put up a 4-7 record for November giving them an overall record of 8-11-1-0 on the season which ranks them 4th in the North Division, trailing Lake Erie by 3 points. Their 17 points also leaves them 14th of 15 teams in the conference and 28th of 30th teams in the AHL. The griffins currently have the 18th best offense (59 GF) and 18th ranked defense (61 GA). They are currently 8th in attendance averaging 6155 through 10 home games. The team has a better record on the road (5-5) than on home ice (3-6-1).

The following is a review for November:

OFFENSE - The month started with one line providing much of the offense, but towards the end was beginning to get contributions from elsewhere in the lineup. The top line continues to be Gustav Nyquist and Chris Conner flanking Jamie Johnson. This high powered trio combined for 12 goals and 22 assists in 11 games. Next was Joakim Andersson between Tomas Tatar and Frankie Pare. Tatar and Andersson were starting to show some signs of breaking out as the month closed, and the unit accounted for 9 goals and 13 assists for November. The third line was anchored by rookie Landon Ferraro who was coming on strong and winger Willie Coetzee. They got to play a few games with Nyquist and a few with Fabian Brunnstrom and were really starting to earn more time. The fourth line had a rotating cast of characters at various times including Brent Raedeke, Louis-Marc Aubry, Trevor Parkes, Andrej Nestrasil, Mitchell Callahan and tryout Nick Oslund.

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Gustav Nyquist 11 2 11 13 4 2 30Rookie continues ascension to top of leaderboard.
Jamie Johnson 11 8 3 11 0 5 21Top center explodes offensively.
Tomas Tatar 11 3 8 11 4 2 37Talented winger breaks out of slump in a big way.
Chris Conner 11 2 8 10 2 4 31Speedy scorer keeps up strong start.
Frankie Pare 11 2 4 6 2 0 26Flashy sniper still trying to get untracked.
Landon Ferraro 11 4 1 5 13 -1 14First year forward coming on strong.
Joakim Andersson 11 4 1 5 6 0 33Offense starting to pick up for two-way center.
Willie Coetzee10 1 4 5 5 -3 24Slick shooter still finding his way.
Fabian Brunnstrom4 1 2 3 2 0 10NHL ready scorer boosts Griffins lineup.
Louis-Marc Aubry 7 2 0 2 4 -1 11Lanky rookie showing glimpses of belonging.
Brent Raedeke8 1 1 2 4 -4 10Defensive center struggling to add offense.
Mitchell Callahan 6 1 0 1 14 0 6Rookie returns from ankle injury still trying establish game.
Adam Estoclet 1 0 0 0 1 -1 1Recalled from Toledo after ECHL scoring surge.

DEFENSE - The Griffins had a chance to look at some of the organizational depth at defense this month, dressing 10 different blueliners including a pair of rookies making their AHL debut. Doug Janik has been the team's best defenseman, picking up 9 points in 11 games at +5. He spent the month paired with the team's weaker defensive defensemen, splitting his time between Logan Pyett and newcomers Gleason Fournier and Bryan Rufenach. Feisty Garnet Exelby played mostly with Brendan Smith when he was here and Pyett when he was not. The third pairing generally featured emerging youngster Brian Lashoff, with truculent Greg Amadio, or Sebastien Piche when Amadio missed time with broken ribs.

November Thumbnails:
Player GPGAPTSPIM+/-ShtsNotes
Doug Janik 11 2 7 9 10 5 18 Steady vet at the top of his game.
Logan Pyett 11 0 7 7 8 3 35 Former WHL powerplay ace needs to find consistency.
Brendan Smith8 1 5 6 8 2 18Production picking up after making NHL debut.
Brian Lashoff 11 2 2 4 9 -4 17Finally healthy, starting to find his game and confidence.
Garnet Exelby 10 1 1 2 53 6 13 Gritty captain needs to watch his temper.
Greg Amadio 7 0 2 2 30 -1 5Defensive defenseman slowed by broken ribs.
Gleason Fournier 3 1 1 2 2 0 1Speedy shooter impresses in brief call-up.
Bryan Rufenach 3 0 1 1 2 -3 2Rookie puck mover has up and down AHL debut.
Sebastien Piche 5 0 1 1 2 -2 4Offensive rearguard looking to rebound after concussion.

GOALTENDING - Joey MacDonald was knocked out of action early in the month on a cheap shot by Charlotte forward Chris Terry. In the two games he did play, he was tracking well with a 1.20 Goals against average and .951 save percentage. He is out indefinitely with a concussion, but still resides around the league leaders on the leaderboard. Jordan Pearce initially shouldered the load but has been inconsistent at best. The Alaskan native was 1-3 in 6 appearances with a 3.14 GAA and an 88.1% save percentage. His lone win was his first shutout of the season. Thomas McCollum was recalled to backup Pearce but has ended up splitting time with him. He has been up and down alternating solid starts with not so good ones, ending the month with 2-3 record, 3.07GAA and 90.3% save percentage. Pearce is going to have to step up his game to avoid being supplanted by McCollum.

SPECIAL TEAMS - The Griffins special teams have been on the rise as of late the powerplay specifically is due in large part to the emergence of Johnson. In November the team scored 6 home powerplay goals, good enough to move from 30th to 23rd, nearly tripling the success percentage form 5% to 13%. The road unit also rose drastically from 26th (12.8%) to 18th (9 for 51 17.6%). Overall they have escaped the basement to rise to 23rd at 15.2% (16 for 105). Jamie Johnson leads the way with 3 man advantage goals, followed by Conner and Nyquist with a pair each, and Tatar, Andersson, Janik, Coetzee, Pare, Smith, Nestrasil, Brunnstrom and Fournier with singles.

The shorthanded units have also been on the upswing, climbing into the top half of the league at 81.8% (72 for 88) good enough for 15th. The road unit (13th, 82.9%) continues to be a bit better than the home (15th, 80.9%). The team has scored two shorties, both by Chris Conner, and given up one.

PLAYER OF THE MONTH - Defense - Doug Janik. Janik raised his game to a new level when the team needed it the most. He brought offense when the club wasn't scoring adding almost a point per game in November. When injuries, recalls, and suspensions decimated the Griffins blueline, he played with the rookies and covered for their mistakes. He is one of the premiere veteran defenseman in the league and his poise and experience settle the rest of the team down.

Offense - Jamie Johnson. Johnson had his best month as a Griffin, striking for 8 goals and 11 points. He has added some grit to his game and finally looks like he is ready to deliver on the promise of his advanced billing. He has his swagger back and makes the players around him better.

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

NOTABLE MOVEMENT - RW Adam Estoclet assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... LW Gustav Nyquist assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Brendan Smith recalled by Detroit (NHL)... Smith assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Fabian Brunnstrom recalled by Detroit (NHL)... G Thomas McCollum recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... RW Nick Oslund Signed to PTO... D Smith recalled by Detroit (NHL)... D Gleason Fournier recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... Fournier assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... Oslund released from PTO... D Bryan Rufenach recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... LW Brunnstrom assigned by Detroit (NHL)... LW Brunnstrom recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Brunnstrom assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Smith assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Fournier recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... LW Brunnstrom recalled by Detroit (NHL)... LW Brunnstrom assigned by Detroit (NHL)... D Fournier assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... RW Trevor Parkes assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... RW Andrej Nestrasil assigned to Toledo (ECHL)... LW Brunnstrom recalled by Detroit (NHL)... C Adam Estoclet recalled from Toledo (ECHL)... LW Chris Conner recalled by Detroit (NHL)...

KEY STATS - Jamie Johnson is tied for 10th in the AHL with 10 goals... Chris Conner and Gustav Nyquist are tied for 5th with 16 assists... Conner is 6th in league scoring with 23 points; Nyquist is tied for 7th with 22... Garnet Exelby leads the league with 93 penalty minutes while teammate Greg Amadio is 10th with 62... Amadio is tied for second with 8 major penalties... Conner is tied for 2nd with 2 shorthanded goals... Johnson is tied for 6th with 3 first goals... Landon Ferraro is tied for 2nd with 1 overtime goal on the season... Conner is tied for 2nd with 2 unassisted goals... Frankie Pare is tied for 4th in empty net goals... Brendan Smith is tied for 1st with 1 shootout winning goal... Thomas Tatar is tied for 8th with 70 shots on goal... Johnson is 10th in shooting percentage at 27% followed closely by Ferraro in 12th with 26.7%... Nyquist is 2nd in rookie scoring, 3 points off the lead... Nyquist is also first in rookie assists... Mitch Callahan is 3rd in penalty minutes among rookies and tied for first with 5 majors... Doug Janik is tied for 14th in defenseman scoring with 11 points... Johnson has the 2nd longest goal scoring streak in the league at 5 games... Joey MacDonald is 4th in save percentage at 93.0%... MacDonald is 5th in goals against at 2.17GAA and 3rd in shutouts with 2...

IN THE PIPELINE - Everyone in the pipeline has played a game for the Griffins this month. Defenseman Gleason Fournier saw action in 11 contests for Toledo (ECHL) notching a goal and 5 assists on 25 shots. He continues to find his game after having offseason shoulder surgery. Fellow Walleye blueliner Bryan Rufenach was on fire, scoring 7 goals and 3 assist in 9 games prompting his recall to the AHL. The rookie blueliner scored his first four goals of the season in the same game after going scoreless the first 6. Center Adam Estoclet was one of the Griffins last cuts and played well enough to earn a call-up, with 5 goals and 8 assists in 12 games. The rookie pro is currently the second leading scorer for Toledo (ECHL).

NHL ALUMNI WATCH - Thirty current or former Griffins have appeared on an NHL team's roster this season. The most recent was blueliner Brendan Smith who suited up for 3 games with the Red Wings. Current stats as of 11/30/11:

PlayerGP G A PTS PIM +/-
Justin Abdelkader, Detroit 222 3 5 18 1
Sean Avery, Rangers 102 0 2 21 2
Sheldon Brookbank, Anaheim 21 01 1 30 1
Fabian Brunnstrom, Detroit 4 0 1 1 2 -2
Mark Cullen, Florida 1 00 0 0 0
Mark Eaton, NY Islanders 16 0 1 1 4-1
Matt Ellis, Buffalo 17 1 2 3 40
Cory Emmerton, Detroit 18 1 1 2 64
Jonathan Ericsson, Detroit 22 0 2 2 19 2
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit 22 7 12 19 6 8
Alexandre Giroux, Columbus 9 1 0 1 8 -2
Darren Helm, Detroit 22 2 2 4 2 1
Jiri Hudler, Detroit 21 2 10 12 16 4
Chris Kelly, Boston 22 9 7 16 13 15
Jakub Kindl, Detroit 20 0 4 4 11 2
Tomas Kopecky, Florida 23 38 11 8 -4
Niklas Kronwall, Detroit 22 6 4 10 10 0
Ville Leino, Buffalo 24 2 4 6 4 -5
Derek Meech, Winnipeg 2 0 0 0 4 1
Jan Mursak, Detroit 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Neil, Ottawa 16 3 4 7 52 -1
Kris Newbury, Rangers 6 0 0 0 24 2
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit 1 0 0 0 0 0
Scott Parse, Los Angeles 9 2 0 2 141
Kyle Quincey, Colorado 24 3 11 14 22 -5
Mattias Ritola, Tampa Bay 5 0 0 0 6-2
Brendan Smith, Detroit 3 0 2 2 4 -1
Jason Spezza, Ottawa 24 9 14 23 16 -4

PlayerGP W-L-T GAA SV%
Jimmy Howard, Detroit 19 13-5-1 1.87 .930
Drew MacIntyre, Buffalo 2 0-0-0 1.40 .944

UP NEXT - Grand Rapids plays 12 games in September, split down the middle with 6 in Grand Rapids and 6 on the road. The month starts with a pair of contests at Van Andel arena against division rival Toronto and all-time rival Chicago. The team then heads out on a Great Lakes road trip with games in Milwaukee, Rockford and Chicago. GR then pops back home for a winning Wednesday tilt hosting Rockford before departing again for a pair in Lake Erie. Next up is another Wednesday game featuring Abbotsford before heading to a one off in Lake Erie. The Month closes at home with a game against the Peoria Rivermen, and the annual New Years Eve game against the Milwaukee Admirals.