With the month of February coming to a close, the Albany River Rats are playing their best hockey of the 2004-05 season. After losing a horrendous 16 of 17 games from Dec. 15th to Jan. 24th, the Rats have put together a streak in which they have only lost three of their last 11 games (8-2-0-1). The Rats torrid play over the last month has almost gotten them out of the basement in the East Division where they are only two points behind the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
The big key to the turnaround has been goaltending. Aside from a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of the Binghamton Senators, goaltenders Scott Clemmensen and Ari Ahonen have been playing outstanding over the last month, each earning their first shutouts of the season. NHL vets Dean McAmmond and Pascal Rheaume, along with fantastic rookie Zach Parise have also been leading the charge for the red hot River Rats as of late. Albany will look to end the month as hot as they started it with three games over the weekend at home against Binghamton and Bridgeport on Friday and Saturday and at Hershey on Sunday.
After such a quick start to the season, Aaron Voros cooled off considerably, as he was mired in a horrid scoring drought that dated back to November 24th (35 games). He finally was able to break out his funk with a goal, his 10th of the season, in Albany’s 7-5 win over Norfolk on February 21st. Despite the slump, Voros has been contributing in other ways, using his big body to crash and bang along the boards and in front of the net. He also ranks fourth on the team with 125 PIM’s.
Second year winger Tuomas Pihlman has continued to struggle to find the offensive touch that he displayed at the end of last season. Like Voros, he also endured a lengthy goal drought (33 games) that lasted until the end of January. He only has 4 goals and 5 assists for 9 points through 45 games, and his ugly -13 rating is third worst on the team.
Rookie winger Cam Janssen only has 1 goal and an assist in 45 games this season, but he prefers to let his fists do the talking. His 216 PIM’s, is one behind Binghamton’s Danny Bois for the AHL rookie lead in that category. Janssen has shown that he is not intimidated by being a rookie in the league, and is starting to garner attention as one of the league’s top heavyweights.
Another Albany rookie has had an up and down season to this date. Lanky Russian center Ivan Khomutov recorded his first game-winning goal on February 5th against Worcester. After scoring a goal in his first game, Khomutov struggled for a long time. He was a healthy scratch on a couple of occasions, and spent a lot of time centering the fourth line, seeing little ice time. Khomutov has slowly gained more confidence and improved his game, and lately he has been spending time on the left wing of a line centered by veteran Dean McAmmond with fellow Russian Aleksander Suglobov on the right wing. Khomutov still needs to work on the defensive side of his game; his -18 is decidedly worst on the team.
Goaltender Ari Ahonen had been having a rough go of it early on this season, and continues to be peppered with shots. However, he has played much better the last month, as he and Scott Clemmensen have been a big reason for the Rats success over their last 11 games. He has had quite a few accomplishments over the last two weeks. He recorded his first shutout of the year (vs. Binghamton on January 29th), his first career AHL point (an assist on Aleksander Suglobov’s first period power play goal vs. Binghamton on January 29th), he set a new career high in saves (53 vs Worcester on February 5th, in an Albany victory), and he recorded his first fighting major against fellow net minder Ray Emery and was ejected from a game (February 12th in a 7-0 loss vs Binghamton).
Zach Parise has continued to play consistently solid throughout the entire season, so much so that he was voted in by the fans as the starting center for the PlanetUSA team at the AHL All-Star game. Parise shares the lead for the River Rats in game winning goals with three, stands second behind Dean McAmmond on the team with 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists), and has a respectable -6 rating. His 40 points stand fourth best among AHL rookies, and his 28 assists lead all first year AHL players. In the last two games, in which Albany has scored a whopping 13 goals, Parise has a goal and four helpers.
Defenseman Krisjanis Redlihs set a new personal record with nine goals last year, but has been unable to hit the score sheet once this season (just 10 assists) He likely won’t be able to get a chance to get that first goal of the season, as he suffered a likely season-ending wrist fracture on February 9th against Springfield on hit by Mike Egener.
After missing the beginning of the season with mono, Ahren Nittel has done quite well since his return to the River Rats. The young winger, who has also had success as a center, had only 7 points in 42 games last year; this year he has already more than doubled that total (19 points) in only 26 games. He’s averaging a goal every two games (13 on the season), and 9 of those goals have come on the power play, easily best on the team.
He has been red hot over the last three games, scoring four goals and an assist. His -16 rating shows that he still need to work on the defensive aspects of the game, but his goal scoring prowess has made him a line-up regular when healthy.
Sophomore sniper Alexander Suglobov has been fairly quiet in the goal scoring department as of late with only two goals in his last 10 games, but for the season he still is second on the team behind Pascal Rheaume with 16 goals in 49 games. He has been more of a playmaker as of late, with 4 assists over the last two games.
Second year defender Matt DeMarchi has taken on a bigger role this season for the Rats, and his defensive play has improved significantly. His -5 rating through 40 games is a vast improvement from the -19 rating he finished with last season. Though DeMarchi will never likely become much of an offensive force, his stay at home, physical style makes him one of the more valuable Albany defensemen.
With Albany tough guys Cam Janssen and Brett Clouthier serving suspensions from a brawl in a 7-0 loss to Binghamton, the Rats recalled winger Ken Magowan from Augusta of the ECHL, where he had 15 goals and 37 points through 50 games. He had quite a memorable season debut with the Rats, scoring a break-away goal (the game winner), and an assist in helping Albany to a 7-5 victory over Norfolk on February 21st. Whether he remains on the roster when Janssen and Clouthier return is questionable, but he sure made a statement to remain with the AHL club with his opening game performance.
Grethe Kvernes contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.