As teams hit the stretch run of the 2014-15 season, several first place battles in divisions across the Eastern Conference are heating up. This AHL Notebook takes a look at those races, plus a quick glance at the top Eastern performers in this week’s AHL All-Star event.
East All-Stars Shine In Skills Competition
Manchester’s Colin Miller stole the show at the 2015 AHL All-Star Skills Competition, winning both the hardest shot (105.5 mph) and the fastest skater (13.805 seconds) competitions in a 15-11 win for the Eastern Conference at that event.
Hershey’s Philipp Grubauer stopped 14 of 16 shots he faced on the night to earn the CCM Top Goaltender Award, while former Hershey Bears and current Hartford Wolf Pack forward Chris Bourque won a share of the shooting accuracy title, breaking all four targets in six attempts.
In the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic itself, Binghamton’s Shane Prince led the way for the East with three goals and an assist in the 14-12 loss to the Western Conference All-Stars. Norfolk’s Chris Wagner tallied a penalty shot goal and added three assists, while Portland’s Brendan Shinnimin scored two goals in the first period for the East All-Stars.
Atlantic Division Chasing Manchester
The Manchester Monarchs have been atop the Atlantic Division for much of the season, but have several teams battling behind them in the division in the rear view mirror. The plethora of skilled forwards and defensemen has made a deep roster that has been put to good use by head coach Mike Stothers.
Brian O’Neill leads the way offensively for the Monarchs and heading into the All-Star break, leads the AHL in scoring with 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 38 games played. In his third full season as a pro, O’Neill is taking his game to another level of late, with 19 points (three goals, 16 assists) in his last 14 games played.
Nick Shore is the Eastern Conference’s second-leading scorer (third in AHL) with 42 points 38 games played this season with the Monarchs, his second as a pro. Shore has also tallied 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists), but in his last 13 games played. Another impressive element to Shore’s game with the Monarchs this season has been on the penalty kill, where he leads the AHL with three shorthanded goals.
In net for the Monarchs, Jean-Francois Berube became the league’s first goaltender to log 20 wins, and with a record of 20-4-2, he’s been almost automatic at the AHL level. In his second full season with Manchester, Berube also boasts a goals-against average of 2.01 and a .922 save percentage including two shutouts.
The Worcester Sharks are one of those teams chasing the Monarchs, coming off an eight-game winning streak and nine wins in their last 10 games before the All-Star Break.
Since returning to the AHL after getting his first extended taste of the NHL, Chris Tierney has been a point-per-game player for the AHL Sharks. In his last 13 games, Tierney has 14 points (six goals, eight assists). The former 40-goal scorer in the OHL with the London Knights has adapted well to the pro game early on in his pro career.
Troy Grosenick continues to play well in net for Worcester, having now won eight of his last nine starts. With a 15-6-3 in 24 games played, Grosenick is well on his way to surpassing his 18-win rookie season in 2013-14.
The Portland Pirates are playing much better and have fans in Maine hopeful they can push for the postseason. Brendan Shinnimin has seen his first NHL action this season with the Arizona Coyotes in his third year of pro hockey. The Pirates’ All-Star representative has had seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last nine games.
The Providence Bruins have seen their fate end in the second round of the playoffs to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in seven games each of the previous two seasons. This season, while currently in fourth place in the division, the AHL Bruins are looking to make another run into the postseason with perhaps a different fate.
Malcolm Subban is starting to show more consistency in his game as of late, earning CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending January 25th. Subban allowed three goals on 91 shots in three starts last week, going 2-1-0 with a 0.99 goals-against average and a .967 save percentage. The second-year pro had been in a bit of a sophomore slump in 2014-15 to this point, with a 9-10-2 record on the season.
It’s been a bit of a struggle for the St. John’s IceCaps this season – the only Atlantic Division team under .500 heading into the All-Star break.
Connor Hellebuyck was the IceCaps All-Star representative this season and for good reason. Hellebucyk has kept the IceCaps from tail-spinning any further out of the playoff picture beyond their current last place standing in the division. In January, Hellebucyk has gone 7-4 with a 2.29 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and one shutout.
Bears/Penguins Fight For Top Spot In East Division
After leading the East Division for much of the season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins find themselves neck-and-neck with their biggest rival, the Hershey Bears.
Despite several injuries and call-ups depleting the Penguins’ roster, the goaltending has been solid for the Penguins and a reason why they’re only one point out of the top spot in the division. Veteran Jeff Zatkoff went 6-1-0 in December, but after starting the month of January 0-4-1, rookie netminder Matt Murray has stepped in and turned things in the right direction for the Penguins. Murray has won his last four starts and has the Penguins riding a four-game win streak heading into the heart of the schedule.
The Penguins have had several rookie forwards step up their game and none are playing better right now than Scott Wilson, who has just returned to the AHL lineup after returning from Pittsburgh following a recovery from an injury suffered in his first NHL stint. Wilson has been especially impressive since returning to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, recording five goals and adding two assists in his last six games.
The Hershey Bears got off to a bit of a slow start in the 2014-15 season, but have since rebounded to take over the division lead.
Connor Carrick has elevated his game of late, recording nine points (three goals, six assists) in his last five games. With 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 41 games this season, Carrick is creating more offense from the blue line in his second season of pro hockey after spending 34 games in the NHL with the Washington Capitals in his rookie year last season.
An emerging star up front for the Bears is Stanislav Galiev. Galiev has tallied 20 of his 25 points on the season in the last 21 games, with 10 points (four goals, six assists) coming in his last nine outings. Galiev’s 14 goals and 10 power play goals lead the Bears, while his double digit power play tallies has him tied for most in the AHL with Bridgeport’s Ryan Pulock.
Philipp Grubauer continues to prove he can be dominant at the AHL level, winning six of his last seven starts including all four of his starts in the month of January. Grubauer’s 15 wins this season are tied for a career-high he set in his rookie season in 2012-13.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms have been fading in the East Division standings after failing to take advantage of some games in hand on the teams ahead of them, but it’s not because of the play of second-year forward Nick Cousins, who has tallied 14 points (6G-8A) in his last 12 games. With 31 points on the season, Cousins already has more than he did during his 74-game rookie season last year.
Emerson Etem has been a goal-scoring threat since returning to the AHL this season with the Norfolk Admirals, with 15 points (9G-6A) in his last 11 games. William Karlsson is also starting to adjust to the North American pro game and has three assists in his last two games.
Eastern Conference Hot List, January 2015
1. Nick Shore , C – Manchester Monarchs
2014-15 Season Stats: 38GP, 20G-22A, +23, 16 PIM
Shore has been on a scoring tear in the AHL in his second year of pro hockey, with 19 points (7G-12A) in his last 13 games.
2. Emerson Etem, RW – Norfolk Admirals
2014-15 Season Stats: 16GP, 12G-6A, Even, 2 PIM
Despite Norfolk’s struggles in the East Division this season, Etem has been a difference maker at the AHL level since returning from Anaheim with 15 points (9G-6A) in his last 11 games.
3. Connor Carrick, D – Hershey Bears
2014-15 Season Stats: 41GP, 7G-22A, -13, 74 PIM
Carrick has been chipping in offensively more often lately, with 9 points (3G-6A) in his last five games from the blue line.
4. Paul Thompson, RW – Albany Devils
2014-15 Season Stats: 43GP, 22G-15A, +15, 53 PIM
Thompson led the AHL in goal scoring with 22 goals heading into the All-Star break. With 14 points (9G-5A) in his last 13 games, Thompson has formed a dynamic duo with linemate Joe Whitney.
5. Chris Tierney, C – Worcester Sharks
2014-15 Season Stats: 25GP, 7G-17A, +7, 10 PIM
Since returning from San Jose a month ago, Tierney has recorded at least one point in 11 of his last 13 games with the AHL Sharks.
Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @TonyAndrock_TCG