AHL POWER RANKINGS: Checkers, Barracuda stay on top, Gulls in for the first time
EP Rinkside serves up the weekly AHL Power Rankings; a look at some of the top contenders across the 31-team circuit and their NHL-AHL player development picture.
1. CHARLOTTE CHECKERS (CAROLINA HURRICANES)
27-7-3-0 – 57 POINTS
That six-game Canadian road swing that the Checkers faced after Christmas? They swatted it away, winning four of those six contests and concluding it by blowing out the Toronto Marlies, 5-0, this past Sunday. Head coach Mike Vellucci’s club has not had a losing road trip all season. The journey took them to the regular-season midpoint on pace for 114 points, which would tie them for the most points by a team in a season since the AHL went to a 76-game schedule in 2011. They are also on track to set a new regular-season record for a Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers affiliate – the 1984-85 Binghamton Whalers hit 112 points playing an 80-game schedule. Now the Checkers will stay in warmer weather for the next month when they start a run of 10 of their next 12 games on home ice. In fact, the Checkers have already knocked out 24 of the 38 road dates on their schedule. A six-game homestand begins Friday with a two-game series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Dominant on the road all season (17-5-2-0 with a plus-28 goal differential), now they have a chance to establish a strong home-ice presence (10-3-1 with a plus-one goal differential) even further as they prepare for a trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Last Week: #1 – fifth week in a row
2. SAN JOSE BARRACUDA (SAN JOSE SHARKS)
20-7-1-3 – 44 POINTS
The Barracuda have hit a bit of midseason turbulence in the Western Conference standings, at least relatively speaking. A two-game home set that starts Wednesday night against the rival Ontario Reign might snap them out of that January lull. Ravaged by the parent Los Angeles Kings’ issues, Ontario sits last in the entire AHL, but the Barracuda-Reign always is a heated relationship. Forward Francis Perron (13-14-27) a rather unheralded part of the Erik Karlsson trade from the Ottawa Senators, has gone on a tear recently – he is 7-9-16 in his past 14 games, though he has been out of the Barracuda line-up for the past three games with a lower-body injury. Key defenseman Jake Middleton is on recall to the Sharks. Danish forward Alex True has run up 10 goals in his past 16 games and ranks second in goals and points to Perron at 11-15-26.
Last Week: #2 – fifth week in a row
3. SYRACUSE CRUNCH (TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING)
21-10-2-0 – 44 POINTS
A significant test – a visit from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past Friday – came the Crunch’s way, and they passed it. They held Bridgeport to 20 shots in a 3-1 win. The following night on Syracuse ice featured a rare dud from the Crunch, a 5-2 loss to the Marlies. The Crunch have feasted on the power play, and they went 4-for-12 on the man-advantage in the weekend’s two games. That has the Syracuse power play atop the AHL at 26.1 percent. Their penalty kill is 10th in the AHL as well. That formula has helped the Crunch to lead the AHL in scoring (3.88 goals per game) and place them in a second-place tie with the Milwaukee Admirals at 2.70 goals-against per game. The Crunch visit the Binghamton Devils on Wednesday night to face an opponent that they have dominated all season. That is followed by a tough test in the Cleveland Monsters, who stop in Syracuse on Friday night. Forward Carter Verhaeghe has moved into third place in AHL scoring at 15-25-40, using a 14-24-38 tear in his past 27 games to put himself there. Goaltender Connor Ingram has been out of the Syracuse line-up since December 21, leaving veteran Eddie Pasquale to take the past six starts.
Last Week: #4 – (▲+1)
4. TUCSON ROADRUNNERS (ARIZONA COYOTES)
19-9-3-1 – 42 POINTS
The Roadrunners swept road games against the Bakersfield Condors and Stockton Heat this past weekend. Against the defensively troubled Heat, Tucson piled up seven goals. Now they have a chance to build on that further and continue to chase the Barracuda, who have a two-point lead for the Pacific Division lead. A two-game visit from the Chicago Wolves this weekend comes next on Tucson’s schedule. The Wolves rather forcefully took a pair of games when the Roadrunners visited Allstate Arena in December. Forward Giovanni Fiore has gone 1-2-3 in his first four games in the Tucson line-up since being acquired from the San Diego Gulls in a December 28 trade for defenseman Trevor Murphy. Goaltender Calvin Pickard remains with Tucson on a conditioning assignment and played both games this past weekend, stopping 56 of 62 shots (.903). The Wolves-Roadrunners series should be tightly played. The Wolves have allowed 27.2 shots per game, fourth-best in the AHL. Tucson holds sixth place at 28.1 shots-against per game. Forward Laurent Dauphin remains with the Coyotes on recall. Aside from a two-game road stop against the Colorado Eagles next week, the Roadrunners will play eight of their next 10 games at Tucson Arena.
Last Week: #6 (▲+2)
5. IOWA WILD (MINNESOTA WILD)
20-9-4-3 – 47 POINTS
It does not look like Iowa is going away any time soon even after a pre-Christmas slump. Iowa took defeat in six of its eight games going into the break. However, the Wild came out of the three-day break on a tear, ripping off five consecutive wins, including sweeping the Wolves in a home-and-home series. Although the Rockford IceHogs thumped the Wild, 6-2, this past Sunday, Iowa still leads the Western Conference at 47 points. Their four-game road trip continues Wednesday night as they play the first of back-to-back games against the San Antonio Rampage. The Wild are winless against the Rampage, who swept a two-game set in San Antonio during that December slide. The Iowa penalty kill has killed off 25 consecutive opposing power-play chances, putting the Wild sixth in the AHL on the penalty kill. Goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen continued his impressive first season in North America this past Friday with a 3-0 home victory against the IceHogs, giving him an AHL-leading five shutouts. After seeing the Rampage, the Wild move on to finish their trip Saturday night against the Texas Stars.
Last Week: Not Ranked
6. CHICAGO WOLVES (VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS)
21-12-3-1 – 46 POINTS
Last week was not especially kind to the Wolves, who were swept by Iowa in a home-and-home series and then had to settle with a split in a pair of home games against the Rampage. That trip to Tucson to see the Roadrunners is next for the Wolves. Four Wolves sit in the AHL’s top-20 in scoring – Brandon Pirri, Daniel Carr, Brooks Macek, and T.J. Tynan. Pirri (18-24-42) had a quick pit stop with the Wolves this past weekend in between racking up goals in the NHL with the Golden Knights. Pirri is back with the Golden Knights once again; however, he leads the AHL in scoring even though he has been limited to 29 games. Defenseman Erik Brännström returned to the line-up after Sweden’s abbreviated time at the World Junior Championship. Veteran forward Tye McGinn, who arrived via trade from the Manitoba Moose last week, went scoreless in his first two games in the Chicago line-up. Defenseman Jimmy Oligny headed to the Winnipeg Jets in a separate trade. Forward Tomas Hyka has been out of the line-up since December 29, a span of four games. At 46 points, the Wolves trail Iowa by one point for the Western Conference lead.
Last Week: #5 – (▼-1)
7. BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS (NEW YORK ISLANDERS)
21-11-4-2 – 48 POINTS
The Sound Tigers limped back to Connecticut after a rough three-game road trip that finished with a loss at Binghamton, an opponent stuck at 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Still, the Sound Tigers hold a five-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (who do hold three games in hand). Forward Josh Ho-Sang is back after an extended stay with the Islanders, though forward Michael Dal Colle and defenseman Devon Toews remain on the NHL roster. They have a two-game weekend that finishes with a visit from the rival Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night. That will take them into a two-game trip to Charlotte, where they managed to grab three of four points in a pre-Christmas visit. With Dal Colle missing, forward Otto Koivula has taken on some of the scoring burden, posting goals in his past five games. With a penalty kill that ranks 24th, the Sound Tigers need to clean up their penalties. They have been shorthanded 176 times, second-most in the AHL. After their Charlotte trip, the Sound Tigers have 11 of 16 dates at home leading into March. Bridgeport is on a 96-point pace that would be third-most in team history.
Last Week: #3 – (▼-4)
8. ROCHESTER AMERICANS (BUFFALO SABRES)
22-12-2-0 – 46 POINTS
Somehow the Amerks leave you wanting more, even though they do lead the North Division. After banging out a home win against Bridgeport, they could only manage a road split against the Laval Rocket this past weekend. That is certainly not the worst outcome, but the Rocket sit below the playoff line. Forward C.J. Smith’s recall to the Sabres is a tough loss for the Amerks, and it appears that blueliner Lawrence Pilut is in Buffalo to stay. Without Pilut and Taylor Fedun, who was shipped to the Dallas Stars organization early in the season, the Amerks might need a second-half addition to their blue line for what could be a good playoff run come April. Getting the penalty kill in order will be a key second-half task. Rochester’s 26th-ranked penalty kill has allowed a power-play goal in four of the past five games. A home-and-home series with the rival Marlies starts Friday evening at Rochester.
Last Week: #8 – second week in a row
9. LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS (PHILADELPHIA FLYERS)
20-12-1-2 – 37 POINTS
A 4-3 overtime win this past Sunday at the Springfield Thunderbirds managed to stop a four-game losing streak and salvage something of a 3-in-3 weekend. Excellent on the penalty kill, which tops the AHL, 5-on-5 play has been a struggle for the Phantoms this season. Despite that top-ranked penalty kill, they have surrendered 3.2 goals per game, sticking them 19th in the league. Forward Phil Varone is still in Philadelphia, leaving the Phantoms without a major offensive weapon. Another 3-in-3 weekend faces the Phantoms, but they have a chance to do significant damage. They welcome Binghamton to town on Friday before starting a home-and-home duel with the rival Hershey Bears, who hold down last place in Eastern Conference. The Phantoms have taken the past nine home dates against Hershey and are 4-1 against the Bears in total this season.
Last Week: #7 – (▼-2)
10. SAN DIEGO GULLS (ANAHEIM DUCKS)
17-11-1-3 – 38 POINTS
Thanks to an 11-game point streak (9-0-0-2) that is second-best in the AHL this season, the Gulls move into the EP Rinkside AHL Top Ten for the first time this season. That run has also erased an 8-11-1-1 opening third of their schedule and lifted them into third place in the Pacific Division. They continue a four-game road trip Wednesday night at Stockton before ending it with tough tests at Milwaukee and Iowa. Goaltender Kevin Boyle has been excellent throughout San Diego’s month-long tear through the Pacific Division, and he made veteran Jared Coreau expendable in a trade to the St. Louis Blues last week. San Diego has outscored opponents, 15-6, in the past four games, two of them coming against the powerful Barracuda.
Last Week: Not Ranked
COLORADO EAGLES (COLORADO AVALANCHE) — Last Week: #9
CLEVELAND MONSTERS (COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS) — Last Week: #10
GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (DETROIT RED WINGS)
MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (NASHVILLE PREDATORS)
SPRINGFIELD THUNDERBIRDS (FLORIDA PANTHERS)
TEXAS STARS (DALLAS STARS)