After a remarkable season that saw the Griffins achieve 100 points for the first time since the '05-'06 season and just the 3rd time since entering the AHL in '01-'02. Nothing could stop the Griffins from winning: not losing Petr Mrazek to Detroit for most of the season (he only played 13 games with the Griffins), not being without Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko to the Wings for chunks of the season, not even being without AHL goal leader Teemu Pulkkinen for almost half the season. The Griffins finished off their season 1st in the Midwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference, and tied for 3rd most points in the AHL.
The Griffins take on the Toronto Marlies in a round 1 matchup that's sure to have plenty of scrums, fights, and hopefully Griffins goals. On paper and based on their season series, this matchups seems extremely lopsided in Grand Rapids favor. The Griffins can't let that affect how they approach the Marlies, but the Grand Rapids should definitely win this best of 5 series (the 1st round is best of 5, the rest are best of 7).
The Griffins had a rough start to their season going 9-9-2 in their first 20 games. They were without Anthony Mantha (broken leg) and Tomas Nosek (cut hand), and with the infusion of newcomers it took the team a little while to find their identity and start truly looking like a team. They improved in play and results, going 11-7-1-1 in their next 20 games. Then they really got rolling and what they did in games 40-76 is nothing short of awe inspiring. In the final 37 games of the season, from January 23 - April 18, the Griffins had a 27-6-3-1 (W-L-OTL-SOL) record and climbed from outside a playoff spot to 2nd in the Western conference. By the end of November, the Toronto Marlies were 13th place in the Western Conference and had a 5-12-2 record. Their start wasn't rough, it was abysmal. They ended the season 7th in the West, thanks to the fact they went 18-6-0 to finish off the season.
The already strong Griffins team got a huge reinforcement yesterday when AHL goal scoring champion Teemu Pulkkinen was re-assigned to Grand Rapids after sitting on the sidelines for the first 4 games of the Detroit Tampa series (You can watch him talk about returning to GR here). Some names to keep an eye out for on the Marlies are Connor Brown, T.J. Brennan, Matt Frattin, William Nylander, and Byron Froese.
Regular Season Stats
Here's how the two teams compare after 76 games.
|40-279-0 89 pts||Record||46-22-6-2 100 Pts|
|2nd North Div. 13th AHL||Position||1st Midwest Div. T3rd AHL|
|2.72 (20th AHL)||GF/Game||3.28 (1st AHL)|
|2.67 (12th)||GA/Game||2.43 (6th)|
|14.86 (21st)||PIM/GM||11.43 (29th)|
|27.75 avg. (29th)||Shots For/Gm||31.87 (8th)|
|31.36 avg. (20th)||Shots Against/Gm||29.51 (12th)|
|12.8% (29th)||Power Play||17% (16th)|
|79.1% (28th)||Penalty Kill||86.4% (6th)|
|Connor Brown (61)||Points Leader||Andy Miele (70) 2nd AHL|
|Matt Frattin (26)||Goals Leader||Teemu Pulkkinen (34) 1st AHL|
|T.J. Brennan (41)||Assists Leader||Andy Miele (44) 5th AHL|
|Connor Brown (+24)||Plus/Minus Leader||N. Jensen, T. Nosek (+30) T-1 AHL|
|Brendan Leipsic (6)||Power Play Goals||Teemu Pulkkinen (10)|
|Byron Froese (2)||Shorthanded Goals||Landon Ferraro, Tomas Nosek (3)|
|Christopher Gibson (24)||Wins||Thomas McCollum (19)|
|Antoine Bibeau (4)||Shutouts||Jared Coreau, Petr Mrazek (3)|
|Christopher Gibson (2.42)||Goals Against Avg.||Jared Coreau (2.20)|
|Christopher Gibson (0.921)||Save Percentage||Jared Coreau (0.927)
Head to head match-up
The Griffins and Marlies played 4 times in the regular season and the Griffins won the season series emphatically. The Marlies won the first head to head by a score of 4-2, then Grand Rapids won the next 3 games by scores of 7-1, 3-1, and 7-2.
|MARLIES||HEAD TO HEAD||GRIFFINS|
|7% (1 of 14)||Power Play||47% (7 of 15)|
|53% (8 of 15)||Penalty Kill||93% (13 of 14)|
|Connor Brown (4pts)||Point Leader||Andy Miele (10pts)|
|C. Brown, M. Frattin (2)||Goal Leader||T. Pulkkinen (4)|
|Christopher Gibson 1-2||Goalie Record||Thomas McCollum 0-1|
|Antoine Bibeau 0-1||Jared Coreau 2-0|
|Gibson 3.66||GAA||McCollum 4.00|
|Bibeau 7.00||Coreau 1.50|
|Gibson .890||SV%||McCollum .866|
|Bibeau .758||Coreau .950|
We won't know for sure what lines Coach Blashill will use until they hit the ice, but I expect to see something close to these lines. Tomas Nosek and Martin Frk have been great together the last 10 or so games, and Athanasiou and Mantha should definitely stay together because they make magic when on the same line. With so many players to work with right now, Blashill has some really tough decisions to make when deciding which players have to sit in the press box. Campbell and Bruton have rotated being in the lineup all season since they fill the same roll, they could both be scratched for a more skilled player, but that 4th line has been a good checking/shut down line for the Griffins all season and the Marlies can be real turds (remember this brawl that spilled onto the benches?) so Blash may want to keep one of those two guys in the lineup. Tyler Bertuzzi was excellent in his 2 games so far, but I think he's more likely to be a scratch than the rookie Zengerle, who's been fantastic all season. I have a hard time thinking Blahsill will scratch Porter or Tvrdon, so maybe Aubry or someone else will be out? That decision may be made easier for Blash if Anthony Mantha isn't able to play in game 1. There hasn't been a word about him since before the end of the season, but he was a "healthy" scratch for the final 3 regular season games "as a precaution" after this hit took him out of the rest of that game. We'll have to wait and see if it was truly a precaution or not when the boys hit the ice for warmups. Defense pairings have been relatively constant constant with the current personnel, and we know McCollum is starting.
|Teemu Pulkkinen||Tomas Nosek||Martin Frk|
|Andy Miele||Andreas Athanasiou||Anthony Mantha|
|Kevin Porter/Marek Tvrdon||Zach Nastasiuk||Mark Zengerle/Tyler Bertuzzi|
|Colin Campbell/Chris Bruton||Louis-Marc Aubry||Jeff Hoggan|
|Xavier Ouellet||Nathan Paetsch|
|Nick Jensen||Brian Lashoff|
|Brennan Evans||Ryan Sproul|
|Thomas McCollum (Starting)|
Scratches: Scott Czarnowczan, Joe Hicketts, Jake Paterson, Alden Hirschfeld
Injuries: Mitch Callahan
Round 1 Schedule
|Game 1||Saturday April 25th||3 P.M.||Toronto|
|Game 2||Sunday April 26||3 P.M.||Toronto|
|Game 3||Wednesday April 29||7 P.M.||Grand Rapids|
|Game 4*||Saturday May 2||7 P.M.||Grand Rapids|
|Game 5*||Sunday May 3||5 P.M.||Grand Rapids|