Back-to-back losses puts pressure on Marlies, Penguins

By Jared Clinton (@JPDClinton)

After streaking to the Western Conference Final, the Toronto Marlies are hoping they’re not going to start sliding their way out.

With eight straight wins to start the Calder Cup Playoffs, it seemed like everything was clicking for the Baby Buds. While they were bombarded in game one, they pulled out a victory over the Texas Stars to take the series lead, but their porous defense came back to bite them in game two.

The hope was, especially with a team that had been on such an amazing run into the Conference Final, the Marlies would bounce back in game three at the friendly confines of Ricoh Coliseum. However, following a trend from the first two rounds, the team with the ever-important third goal pulled out the victory — that goal coming off the stick of the Texas Stars’ Travis Morin.

Morin, the regular season points leader and league MVP, struck with the game-winner just under a minute after the Marlies drew even on a TJ Brennan tally. It was just Morin’s fourth marker of the playoffs, but it couldn’t have come at a bigger time for the Stars, who’ve now taken the series lead back from the Marlies.

After a rough outing in game two, Marlies goaltender Drew MacIntyre withstood all eight of the Stars’ shots in the first period before allowing a second period marker to Radek Faksa. After allowing 50-plus shots in each of the first two games, the Marlies tightened up defensively, allowing 30 attempts on MacIntyre in game three.

Across the ice, Stars’ goaltender Christopher Nilstorp held off the Marlies’ extra-man attack and sealed the victory for his squad.

For the Marlies, it will be absolutely pivotal to knock off the Stars in game four if they’ve got any hopes of staying in the series. The problem, however, lies in stopping a balanced Stars attack, and trying to create zone time and shot attempts. Through the first three games, Nilstorp has only seen 69 shots. MacIntyre, on the other hand, has faced 131.

Game four goes tonight at Ricoh Coliseum, with puck drop slated for 7 p.m. ET.

After two tight games, with each St. John’s and Wilkes-Barre pulling out a victory, the IceCaps offense finally exploded, while their defense held, with Michael Hutchinson earning the 30-save shutout.

Only down by two goals heading into the second period, the Penguins defense couldn’t hold fast. St. John’s capitalized, scoring early and often in the second frame, with goals coming from Eric O’Dell and Kael Mouillierat in the first seven minutes. Mouillierat’s marker, a goal coming on a 5-on-3 powerplay, gave the IceCaps an insurmountable 4-0 lead heading into the final frame.

With just a second left in the second period, Zach Redmond buried a Will O’Neill pass past Pens’ goaltender Peter Mannino, which signalled the end of Mannino’s night.

The fourth game of the Eastern Conference Final starts tonight at 7:05 p.m. ET, with the Penguins trying to take advantage of home ice and even the series at two games apiece.

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Stars hand Marlies first loss of 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs

It may have taken until the Western Conference Final, but the Toronto Marlies have finally shown a crack in their armour.

The Marlies, who took game one from the Stars for their eighth straight victory, walked in to Cedar Park Centre on Monday looking to extend the streak and get one game closer to the Calder Cup Final. However, with their second 50-shot shot performance in two games, the Stars kept the Marlies at bay, doubling-up the visitors by a final score of 6-3.

It looked like it was going to be another tough night for the Stars after a goal by the Marlies’ Peter Holland goal tied the game at three, but a Chris Mueller marker less than a minute later put the Stars ahead for good.

In the third frame, Texas’ Scott Glennie buried a goal with under six minutes left in the period, before Travis Morin iced it for the Stars with an empty-netter.

After standing on his head in game one, Drew MacIntyre was absolutely bombarded again during the second game of the series. Asked again to stop 50-plus shots, MacIntyre allowed five goals, while turning away 46 attempts. The Stars, meanwhile, protected their net, allowing only 30 shots.

Stars’ goaltender Christopher Nilstorp, who had a rough outing in game one allowing three goals on 17 shots, bounced back with 27 saves.

Game three goes Wednesday at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto, 7 p.m. ET.

As Stars battle Marlies in Western Final, Hedden rumour swirls

By Jared Clinton (@JPDClinton)

Mike Hedden is in the midst of his best professional season to date, but a rumour out of the KHL has Hedden connected to Medvescak Zangreb.

Hedden, 29, potted 23 goals this season and racked up 55 points in 74 games. Those 74 games were a career-high for the undrafted Hedden, who played his NCAA career with Division-III Neumann University. In 10 games in the Calder Cup playoffs, Hedden’s tallied five goals and four assists.

The report, which appeared on KHL.hr, says that Hedden moving to Zangreb is “almost a sure thing”.

For three consecutive seasons, the Dunville, Ont. native has signed one-year deals with Texas, but without an NHL deal, he could be on his way to Russia.

While nothing has been firmed up as of yet, the certainty with which Hedden’s deal in the KHL is being reported raises a few eyebrows.

Stars welcome Marlies, hope to hand them first loss

By Jared Clinton (@JPDClinton)

If everything really is bigger in Texas, a Marlies win tonight — which would be their eighth straight — would certainly prove huge for the Maple Leafs farm team’s chances of advancing to the Calder Cup Final for the second time in three seasons.

The problem for the Marlies, however, lies in the trouble they’ve had with their opponent, the Texas Stars. In their last game at the Cedar Park Center, the Marlies were shutout by the Stars, 6-0, in one of their worst losses of the season.

Christopher Nilstorp, who got the start and the shutout in that contest, will be backstopping the Stars again, and he has seemingly had the Marlies number all season. Posting a 1.31 GAA and .949SV% against the Marlies in the regular season, Nilstorp only allowed four goals to the Baby Buds, and helped his team take three of a possible six points from Toronto in the three games he started.

The Stars’ netminder is going to have to look to slow down a Marlies powerplay that is on a torrid pace, moving at a 25% clip these playoffs, and hope to put the brakes on the streaking Peter Holland and Jerry D’Amigo.

A mainstay on the Marlies roster over the last three seasons, D’Amigo’s play has been inspired during these Calder Cup playoffs. The 23-year-old Binghamton native has registered a point in each game this post-season, contributing four goals and eight assists, and powering the Marlies to their unbeaten streak.

Holland, who was brought into Toronto from the Anaheim Ducks’ early in 2013-14, was a huge part of the Marlies sweep of the Chicago Wolves in the second round. In the sweep, Holland registered at least a point in each contest, racking up four goals and two assists over that span.

The Stars, who battled their way out of the first round with two consecutive overtime wins over the Oklahoma City Barons, make their way to the Western Conference Final after an impressive 7-1 game six defeat of the defending Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins.

Regular season scoring champion Travis Morin has been impressive for the Stars, and will be called upon to make an impact if the Stars are to move on to their second Calder Cup Final.

It appears that this series could simply come down to a battle of which team can pot three in a night. Over the course of the playoffs, Texas has allowed two goals in seven of their nine games, with Toronto allowing two-or-more in five of seven.

Tonight’s contest kicks off at 8:30 ET (7:30 CT) at the Cedar Park Center.

AHL Today: St. John’s goes for seven, Albany and Springfield battle for Northeast Division

AHL Today is a roundup of the night that was, the day ahead, and anything you may have missed. Your quick look at what’s going on around the league.

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To Watch:

  • PROVIDENCE at ST. JOHN’S: The IceCaps host the Baby B’s in an attempt to win their seventh straight. The Bruins and ‘Caps, only separated by three points in the standings, are fighting for positioning in the Eastern Conference. Michael Hutchinson, formerly of the Bruins, hasn’t relinquished the goaltending duties since this run began, and posted a .932 SV% through January. Brenden Kichton is coming off Rookie of the Month honours, and looks to carry the hot hand into the game. Niklas Svedberg has started the last three games for Providence, but Malcolm Subban could see a spot start.
  • ALBANY at SPRINGFIELD: In a divisional battle, the Devils roll into Springfield to take on the Falcons. Albany walked away with a shutout win the last time the two met, but aside from the win/loss columns, the two teams are almost eerily evenly matched. Goals for? Springfield 136, Albany 139. Goals against? Springfield 119, Albany 120. Springfield comes in losing four of its last five in regulation, so Albany can gain some ground in the division if they take advantage of the sliding Falcons.

Last Night:

  • No games on the schedule.

Moves:

Abbotsford Heat
Joni Ortio (G) To: Calgary Flames
Ben Street (F) From: Calgary Flames
Thomas Heemskerk (G) From: Quad City Mallards
Chicago Wolves
Dmitrij Jaskin (F) To: St. Louis Blues
Hamilton Bulldogs
Christian Thomas (F) To: Montréal Canadiens
Norfolk Admirals
Chad Painchaud (F) From: South Carolina Stingrays
Sami Vatanen (D) From: Anaheim Ducks
Toronto Marlies
Gregg McKegg (F) From: Toronto Maple Leafs
Jerred Smithson (F) To: Toronto Maple Leafs
Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins
Nick D’Agostino (D) From: Wheeling Nailers
Harrison Ruopp (D) From: Wheeling Nailers
Worcester Sharks
J.P. Anderson (G) To: San Francisco Bulls

News & Notes:

  • AHL linesman Chris Woodworth is taking his craft global: working the lines in Sochi. [Democrat & Chronicle]
  • The Texas Stars posted an amazing time-lapse clip of the changeover in Cedar Park as they go from basketball court to ice surface. [Texas Stars]
  • An interesting opinion piece by Clare Austin at Puckology supporting Riku Helenius and positing that the situation may have been the result of some mismanagement. [Puckology]

Morin, Kichton, and Hartzell get Player of Month honours

Travis Morin, Brenden Kichton, and Eric Hartzell have taken home AHL Player of the Month nods for their performance in January.

Morin, the AHL’s leading scorer with 65 points (26-39), had his best month of the season to date, putting up ten goals and 11 assists en route to Player of the Month. The 30-year-old Morin has appeared in three games for the Dallas Stars this season, just the fifth, sixth, and seven games of his career in the bigs. A ninth-round pick of the Capitals in 2004 — back when the draft went that long — played his way up to the AHL after completing four years with the NCAA’s MSU-Mankato and two years in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays.

An AHL veteran, Morin has racked up 272 points in regular season action in the AHL. Currently on a two-way deal with a cap hit of $550,000, Morin’s career has consistently seen the forward get to the next level, so he could be given some time to see if he can put it together in the NHL with Dallas next season.

St. John’s IceCaps defenceman Kichton, who received the Rookie of the Month honour, also set a career high for points in a month with 14 in January. The rookie defenceman’s three goals and 11 assists came on the strength of five multi-point contests, with a career-high three-point (1-2) game coming against Providence on Jan. 26.

Drafted in the fifth-round of the 2011 draft by the New York Islanders, Kichton went unsigned and re-entered the draft where he was selected in the seventh-round by the Winnipeg Jets. So far, the selection is paying dividends for the Jets, as Kichton made a good month better by earning a selection to the AHL All-Star team that will take on Farjestad in St. John’s next week.

Finally, Goaltender of the Month was awarded to Eric Hartzell of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Hartzell was signed by the Penguins organization after completing four years at Quinnipiac University. In his final season in the NCAA, Hartzell was awarded ECAC Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

January was one to remember for Hartzell, as he went 5-2 with a 1.33 GAA and .944 SV%. As for the season, in 18 games with the Baby Pens, the rookie goaltender has posted a 1.85 GAA and a .925 SV%.

AHL Today: Barons snap two-game skid, beat Marlies

AHL Today is a roundup of the night that was, the day ahead, and anything you may have missed. Your quick look at what’s going on around the league.

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To Watch:

  • BINGHAMTON at MANCHESTER: When the Senators head in to Manchester to play the Monarchs, they’re looking to pull themselves even closer to the top of the Eastern Conference. After a convincing 6-3 win over the Worcester Sharks their last time out, the Senators are hoping to continue their winning ways. The last time the two teams faced off this season, which came earlier this month, the Sens walked away with a 5-4 OT win, and Bingo’s Mike Hoffman lead all scorers with a goal and two assists.
  • TORONTO at SAN ANTONIO: In their past two games, the Rampage have knocked off the top two seeds in the West. Friday night, with a win over the visiting Toronto Marlies, the Rampage could complete the trifecta. The Marlies, leading the Western Conference’s North Division and sitting third in the conference, roll in to San Antonio following a travel day and ruminating on their 5-3 defeat to the Oklahoma City Barons. A late-November contest was the only match up between the two teams, and that game saw the Marlies double up the Rampage 4-2.

Last Night:

  • OKLAHOMA CITY 5, TORONTO 3: Brandon Kozun notched his first two points as a Marlie, both helpers, but they weren’t enough to bring the Marlies closer to the top seed in the West. After the Barons relinquished two two-goal leads — they lead 2-0, and 3-1 — Oklahoma City finally pulled away for good thanks to a Jack Combs tally with just over six minutes to go in the third. An Anton Lander empty-netter sealed the deal, as goaltender Richard Bachman and the Barons skated away with the ‘W’.

Moves:

Abbotsford Heat
Blair Jones (F) From: Calgary Flames
Trevor Gillies (F) From: Orlando Solar Bears
Adirondack Phantoms
Chris VandeVelde (F) From: Philadelphia Flyers
Charlotte Checkers
Cam Ward (G) From: Carolina Hurricanes
Aaron Palushaj (F) From: Carolina Hurricanes
Hamilton Bulldogs
Christian Thomas (F) To: Montréal Canadiens
Portland Pirates
Jesse Mychan (F) To: Colorado Eagles
Texas Stars
Pat Nagle (G) To: Idaho Steelheads
Russ Sinkewich (D) To: Toledo Walleye
Dustin Jeffrey (F) To: Dallas Stars
Syracuse Crunch
Riku Helenius (G) From: Florida Everblades
Maxime Parent (F) From: Florida Everblades
Utica Comets
Frank Corrado (D) To: Vancouver Canucks

News & Notes:

  • A nice story by Wayne Fish on longtime AHL official Scott Adams, who is calling it a career after 20 years calling games in the ‘A’. Adams, on his passion for hockey: “When I’m skating, I feel like a little kid. When I saw the little kids skating on the rink next to the Winter Classic (in Michigan), I was almost crying.’’ [The Intelligencer]
  • Sean Shapiro on Jamie Oleksiak, who could one day be a superpower on the Dallas Stars’ blueline, but for now, he’s working out of a tough time with the help from a Stanley Cup champion. [The Statesman]
  • The Hershey Bears and Adirondack Phantoms are going to be busy this weekend, playing a weekend pair that starts with a 7 p.m. EST game tonight in Glens Falls and ends with a game starting at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia on Saturday.

AHL Today: Evans, Grant, Desbiens suspended, Griffins back on top

AHL Today is a roundup of the night that was, the day ahead, and anything you may have missed. Your quick look at what’s going on around the league.

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To Watch:

  • ST. JOHN’S (23-16-1-2) at PROVIDENCE (22-15-1-5): In a rematch of a Friday matchup, the Bruins host the IceCaps. Friday night, the two teams combined for nine goals as the IceCaps skated away with a one-goal victory. Jerome Samson had the winner on the powerplay with 10 minutes remaining in the final frame. Michael Hutchinson, who has had the call in three straight, made 32 saves in the win. IceCaps goaltender Eddie Pasquale hasn’t seen the net since giving up six goals on 34 shots to the Manchester Monarchs.

Last Night: 

  • GRAND RAPIDS 4, TEXAS 1: In the rematch between the top two teams in the West, Grand Rapids exacted revenge for their 6-4 Friday night loss. A four goal second period, including two from Landon Ferraro, helped the Griffins to the victory. With the win, Grand Rapids move back atop the Western Conference.
  • MANCHESTER 3, PORTLAND 2 (OT): The Monarchs wore the throwback threads, and Linden Vey made sure the team skated away in style. With two second left in overtime, Vey, who was just recently reassigned to Manchester, took the puck off the half wall, moved to the middle of the ice, and fired a wrister through Pirates goaltender Louis Domingue.
    01:25:2013 Vey OT Goal MANvPRT

Moves:
Pat Nagle (G) From: Texas Stars To: Idaho Steelheads
Mikael Samuelsson (F) From: Detroit Red Wings To: Grand Rapids Griffins
Cody Bass (F) From: Columbus Blue Jackets To: Springfield Falcons
Dustin Jeffrey (F) From: Dallas Stars To: Texas Stars

News & Notes:

  • The AHL has announced suspensions for the Griffins D Brennan Evans, and LW Triston Grant have both been suspended resulting from incidents on Friday. Evans will sit three games for an elbow, Grant for a slew-foot.
  • Guillaume Desbiens has also been suspended one game for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of Lake Erie’s game last night vs. Hamilton.
  • Bob Howard posted some great photos of Denis Hamel’s induction ceremony in Binghamton last night. Go to his Twitter account to see them all.

(Cover image via Manchester Monarchs Official Instagram account)