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Its hard to argue with an 11-0-1-0 mark and a 56-24 goal margin, including 40-13 in the second and third periods. Penguins are first in team offense and second in defense. But will they be able to stay together? Struggling Pittsburgh has already recalled Erik Christiansen and Ryan Whitney, and former No. 1 overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury can only sit in WBS for so long with his 7-1-0 mark and league-best 1.49 gaa.
Yes, the Aeros have the sixth-best points percentage in the AHL. However, they are a perfect 3-0-0-0 against the second-best team (Grand Rapids), and have split against Peoria and Manitoba. Despite a 10-4-1-1- mark, Houston has been outscored overall by one goal, thanks to a couple of lopsided losses. But, with two lines clicking on all cylinders offensively, and maybe the best checking line in the league in Joel Ward/Bryan Lundbohm/Josh Olson, the Aeros take aim on Omaha and San Antonio before a tough three-game road trip through Manitoba and Toronto. Josh Harding missed two weeks due to injury, yet hes still tied with the Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury for the AHL lead with seven wins.
3 Grand Rapids
Without the Aeros, the Griffins would likely be No. 1, as theyd have no losses. Grand Rapids has won all nine games against the rest of the AHL, but is 0-2-0-1 versus Houston, including two games at Van Andel Arena. Jiri Hudler has the AHL lead in goals (13) and points (25), and he shows no signs of slowing down. Hudler is one of the guys most benefiting from the crackdown on obstruction and hooking.
We promise that well get to another Eastern Conference team soon. But last weekends series between the Aeros and Moose was playoff intensity, five months ahead of time. Just wait until Manitoba gets reloaded. Kevin Bieksa, one of the best rookie defensemen in the league in 2004-05, hasnt played yet this season. Veteran netminder Wade Flaherty doesnt usually start hitting his stride until late in the year, but hes tops in the AHL in save percentage (.941) and shutouts (three).
The offense carried the Rivermen early, but its been the stud goaltending tandem of Curtis Sanford and Jason Bacashihua lately. Both rank in the top eight of the AHL in gaa. Like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Peorias hopes may depend on how its struggling NHL affiliate is doing. The St. Louis Blues are in last place in the NHL and have already given the likes of Peter Sejna, Dennis Wideman and Colin Hemingway shots this season.
Okay, the Western Conference bias is over, reluctantly. New head coach Kevin Dineen has the Pirates on the way up with the new affiliation deal with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Rookie Ryan Shannon leads Portland in scoring, but Zenon Konopka isnt far behind. Konopka has spent some time in Anaheim, and the Pirates must hope that the California-to-Maine jet-lag is easily overcome for Konopka and some others this season. Rookie goalie Nathan Marsters, who was with ECHL Louisiana last season, is a perfect 5-0-0 to open the season with a 1.60 gaa, but he is nursing a shoulder injury.
Pack would have been sixth, but the Pirates beat them 7-4 at Hartford last night. Hartford and the Rangers have been lighting up the transaction wire as well. The Pack getting hit by the injury bug as well. Dale Purinton, suspended in the NHL and playing in Hartford, sprained his MCL and is out 4-6 weeks. A day later, New Yorks top goalie prospect Al Montoya broke the ring finger on his left hand and will also miss 4-6 weeks.
See above notes for WBS and Peoria, but the Bears need to hope Washington doesnt continue to struggle. The Caps may then let the kids play so to speak. Already, Hershey has lost leading scorer Tomas Fleischmann and third-leading scorer Brooks Laich to Washington. Its good to see that old friend Chris Bala has found his way back to Hershey, albeit on a part-time (PTO basis). He signed in Reading in the ECHL, but there are lots of teams in that corridor who need speedy bodies on short notice.
The Americans are getting hit from both ends, as Buffalo and Florida continue to have injury woes. Leading scorer Derek Roy is with the Sabres, Chris Taylor is out for three months due to injury, and Panthers top prospect Anthony Stewart is also up. The goaltending tandem of Michael Leighton and Jean-Marc Pelletier has bended but not broken so far. Theyve had plenty of help, as the Amerks are best in the AHL by far in power play percentage at 30.3 percent.
The Falcons didnt get much above No. 22 in last years Power Poll, but the prospects have aged another year and they are right in the midst of a contentious Atlantic Division that sees the top five teams separated by only seven points. Springfield is definitely living on the edge. The Falcons are 5-0-1-1 in one-goal games, and need those types of contests to continue going their way.
We knew the Admirals were better than that 0-3-0-1 start, right? Milwaukee has ripped off five straight wins by a combined 24-7 margin. Better news for the Admirals is that Brian Finley is healthy again after ankle surgery. Finley, who hadnt played since getting pulled in a 6-3 loss at Grand Rapids on Opening Night, came back with a 29-save shutout against Iowa on Wednesday. The offense is clicking also, led by Kris Beechs six goals in nine games. Even if Finley falters, Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne has been strong early, going 4-3-1 but with a 2.04 gaa.
The Monarchs have played only nine games, which is good since theyve seen the likes of Jeff Guiliano called up to Los Angeles. Manchesters backup goalie Barry Brust, a former Wild draft pick, is currently outperforming Adam Hauser with a 2-1-0 mark with a 2.25 gaa. Brust beat the Aeros in overtime last month.
The Lock Monsters begin a brutal stretch Friday of seven games in 10 nights, including three against division rival Manchester. Goalie Vitaly Kolesnik ranks 10th in the league in gaa at 2.23. Lowell needs to work on the close games, having gone 1-2-1-0 in its first four one-goal contests.
Probably the hardest-working team in the AHL. The Ak-Sar-Ben Knights are going to push their opponent to the limit every night, as Aeros fans saw Wednesday. But Omaha will have to hope life on the road is better than the first month at home. The Knights went 2-2-0-3 on home ice in the first seven contests. That will have to improve for them to make a serious run at Houston and Peoria for the top spots in the West Division.
There may suddenly be a goalie controversy in Ohio. Rookie Jamie Holden has put up three straight wins, but with Nolan Schaefer due back from San Jose (after five consecutive Ws opening up his NHL career), there wont be room for Holden, Schaefer and Dmitri Patzold.
It may be difficult for the Admirals to put any sort of consistency and chemistry together if Chicago continues to try and find some right fits for the Blackhawks. Martin St. Pierre, Norfolks leading scorer, was recalled last week for a couple of games, and former Mark Cullen got the call Tuesday. He could make his NHL debut tonight across from former roommate Jeff Hoggan, now with the St. Louis Blues. Holdover goalie Adam Munro has a 3-1-1 record but just a 3.46 gaa, so look for young prospect Corey Crawford (2-5-0, 2.32 gaa) to get more time.
Because of call-ups and injuries, the Marlies feature just seven players who have seen action in all 11 games. Carlo Colaiacovo, Steffan Kronwall and others can expect to see extended time across town with the Maple Leafs. For the Marlies to stay competitive under former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, they are going to have to get tighter defensively. Toronto is sixth in the league in offense (3.45 gpg), but just tied for 23rd defensively (4.00 gpg).
Heres betting the Wolves wont end up this low on the list for very long. Its been a rotating door for Chicago, especially in net, with Adam Berkhoel again summoned to Atlanta with Steve Shields still nursing a bum knee and Kari Lehtonen out until at least Thanksgiving with a groin injury. Scott Barney seems to be over the injuries that cost him the better part of three seasons. He leads the Wolves in scoring and was recently called up to Chicago for a couple of days.
Home ice advantage? The Sound Tigers have won only once in five tries at the Arena at Harbor Yard to open up the season. Goalie Wade Dubielewicz, who led the AHL in gaa at 1.38 two seasons ago, is 1-6-0 with a 5.20 gaa. Some of the inconsistency can probably be chalked up to rusty-ness, since hes spent some time backing up Garth Snow in New York when Rick DiPietro was hurt. But, look for Chris Madden (3-1-0, 3.10) to continue to get more chances in net.
Hamilton got goalie Yann Dennis back from Montreal on Wednesday, and that should help a struggling team. But the Bulldogs are only 2-6-1-0 on home ice, and theyve scored first only three times in 13 games. Thats not going to cut it.
The final seven teams in this weeks poll are all riding at least two-game losing streaks. Aaaah, the troubles of being a defending Calder Cup champ, losing your captain to an in-state rival and roughly half your team to the National Hockey League. Watching the Flyers on TV is much like watching the Phantoms from 04-05. But until R.J. Umberger gets back from the big club, and the Philly power play starts to click (league-worst 9.5 percent), it could be trouble near Broad Street. Former Aeros Dan Cavanaugh and Marc Cavosie are each looking for their first points through six games.
Looking at the talent on the Stars roster, one knows that the 4-7-0-0 record wont keep up long. It may take some of Iowas young Europeans some time to get experienced to the smaller ice. Dallas is also calling up the Stars roster piecemeal Junior Lessard, Janos Vas and Mathias Tjarnqvist have all spent time up. Tjarnqvist is likely up for good after scoring three goals in only two games on a rehab assignment in Iowa.
The Devils struggles also reach down to the AHL level. Ari Ahonen was supposed to be the Rats starter in net, but hes played only four games because hes been backing up Scott Clemmensen in New Jersey, with Martin Brodeur out. Four of Albanys top seven scorers are rookies.
The good news for the Bruins is that theyve played only eight games (Houston has played double that), so theres lots of time for them to make up ground on the rest of the AHL. Tim Thomas is another go-to goalie whos had his struggles early, going 2-4-0 with a 3.02 gaa. Providence recently lost Milan Jurcina and Jay Leach to Boston.
The Crunch lost two goalies in a span of 48 hours last week, although neither injury appears to be overly serious. But it throws rookie Mike Ayers (1-1-0, 3.16 gaa) into the spotlight. Syracuse is tied for 23rd in the league in team defense (4.00 gpg). Power Poll stat of the week Syracuse has scored first in seven games, but somehow has won only one (1-6-0-0).
26 San Antonio
Rampages stock has fallen greatly since the season-opening split with the Aeros. San Antonio enters the week a loser of five straight. The Rampage has also lost Steve Gainey to Phoenix, veteran center Jarrod Skalde and Steve Passmore to Europe. Passmores departure leaves Scott Stirling and Dov Grumet-Morris as the Rampages goalies while Brian Boucher continues to recover from a groin injury. Eventually, and San Antonio hopes soon, Boucher will be healthy enough to be in Phoenix, and the Coyotes can return David LeNeveu. Power Poll stat of the week No. 2 in 13 games, San Antonio has not once led after two periods. It has led after 20 minutes on two occasions.
The Sens are the leagues bottom team in points (four) and are one of two teams without a win at home. Goalie Billy Thompson, who overshadowed top prospect Ray Emery for a lot of 2004-05, is winless at 0-5-0 with a 4.47 gaa. Binghamton should get a lift with the return of Brandon Bochenski, an All-Rookie pick last season in the AHL.