GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins engaged in their first battle of division leaders in nearly two years on Friday, and just like the last time, it was the San Jose Barracuda who emerged victorious.
Behind 29 saves by Josef Korenar and a trio of second-period goals, the Pacific Division-leading Barracuda claimed the first game of the weekend series between these heavyweights by a 4-0 count at Van Andel Arena. Korenar, the AHL’s No. 2 goalie in terms of goals against average, notched his third shutout of the season to prevail in his undercard against third-ranked Patrik Rybar, who logged 22 stops.
The Griffins (24-14-3-4), now tied with Iowa for first place in the Central Division after suffering just their fourth regulation loss in 23 home games (15-4-1-3) this season, will again try to reel in the Barracuda on Saturday at 7 p.m.
After a scoreless opening period, the Barracuda drew first blood 3:38 into the second frame. Maxim Letunov won a faceoff in the left circle and headed to the front of the net, where he took a pass from Jayden Halbgewachs behind the defense and calmly scooped a backhand past Rybar, ending the netminder’s shutout streak at 96:03.
San Jose doubled its lead 4:12 later, just after the Griffins failed to capitalize on their second of five power plays on the night. After picking off a pass in his own zone, Halbgewachs hit Manuel Wiederer with a blueline-to-blueline feed that sprung him on a breakaway, and Wiederer snapped a shot through Rybar’s five-hole from between the hashmarks.
The Barracuda (24-8-2-3) made it 3-0 with 3:55 remaining before intermission, again taking advantage of a turnover in their end to score a goal in transition. Jonathon Martin grabbed the loose puck along the boards and sped up the right side, warding off two defenders and ripping a shot from the faceoff dot that snuck between Rybar and the near post.
San Jose capped off the scoring on a power play goal at 10:58 of the third, with Nicholas DeSimone threading a wrister through traffic from the point.
In the last battle of first-place teams that involved the Griffins, Grand Rapids suffered a 1-0 shootout loss at San Jose on March 11, 2017. Tonight marked the first clash of division leaders at Van Andel Arena since March 4, 2015, when the Jeff Blashill-led Griffins defeated Oklahoma City 7-1.
Notes: San Jose went 1-for-3 on the power play…The Griffins were shut out for the first time since a 4-0 loss at San Antonio in this season’s second game, on Oct. 6. They had not been blanked at home since Nov. 3, 2017, a 2-0 victory for Chicago…Twenty months removed from their clash in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, Grand Rapids (six) and San Jose (three) combined have only nine players on their rosters who played in that series.
Three Stars: 1. SJ Korenar (W, 29 saves, SO); 2. SJ Wiederer (goal, assist); 3. SJ DeSimone (power play goal, assist)