AHL POWER RANKINGS: Plenty of churn
Each Wednesday, EP Rinkside serves up the weekly AHL Power Rankings, a look at the top Calder Cup contenders across the 31-team circuit and their player development picture.
One step forward. One step backward. That sums the week for many of the AHL’s top teams.
In the Eastern Conference, the Belleville Senators have barged into contention in the North Division after hammering out four wins last week, two of them coming in overtime road victories in Toronto. The Hershey Bears make a Top-16 appearance for the first time this season thanks to a lengthy run of success.
In the Western Conference, the Central Division has a traffic jam, and there is a new Pacific Division king.
1. CHARLOTTE CHECKERS (CAROLINA HURRICANES)
32-13-6-1 – 71 POINTS
The Checkers ran directly into the buzz saw that has been the Hershey Bears on a two-game trip into Chocolatetown. Hershey swept the weekend set on a pair of one-goal wins, leaving the Checkers with two wins in their past 10 games. The Checkers face a tough weekend ahead, and captain Patrick Brown’s recall is a challenging loss to overcome. Carolina has been hot lately, as well as healthy, so the Charlotte roster has remained mostly intact otherwise. The Checkers also regained Haydn Fleury from the Hurricanes for their blue line during their stay in Hershey. Although the Checkers did click twice on the man-advantage in their shootout loss this past Saturday night in Hershey, their power play remains very much a work in progress at 20th in the AHL. It will need to be much better going into the postseason, but the Charlotte does have two months to solve that issue. What remains to be seen are the Hurricanes’ NHL trade deadline plans and how, if at all, they could impact the Charlotte roster.
Last Week: #1 – 10th week in a row
2. SYRACUSE CRUNCH (TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING)
29-14-2-1 – 61 POINTS
The Crunch fared poorly in a Sunday matinee at Providence, losing 4-0 to the red-hot P-Bruins. That was their lone blemish in trio of road games this past week. Forward Mitchell Stephens returned to the line-up after missing all but two games over the past 3 ½ months. He immediately contributed with two goals to help the Crunch blow out the Hartford Wolf Pack, 6-0, this past Friday. They are fourth on the power play, and fifth on the penalty kill, and that can get them through difficult periods in a league like the AHL in which the games pile up in short order. Their blue line took a hit Tuesday with Jan Rutta’s recall to Tampa Bay and a two-game suspension levied to Cameron Gaunce. They face a tough test from the streaking Belleville Senators on the road Wednesday before starting a tough home-and-home series with the Rochester Americans this weekend. After that, the schedule continues to tighten on the Crunch, with three games next week against the Toronto Marlies.
Last Week: #5 (▲+3)
3. BAKERSFIELD CONDORS (EDMONTON OILERS)
28-15-2-1 – 59 POINTS
How does a team on a good run make an even bigger statement? Defeat the division leader. How does that team put an exclamation point on it? By tearing apart another high-quality divisional opponent the following night. The Condors checked off both items on their weekend list. First, they handed the San Jose Barracuda a 3-1 loss this past Friday. The next night, they crushed the visiting San Diego Gulls, 7-1, in a feisty showdown and took over first place in the Pacific Division from the Barracuda. Forwards Joe Gambardella and Patrick Russell continue to generate consistent offensive production for the Condors, whose 12 consecutive wins are the most by any AHL team this season. Shane Starrett has offered a steady goaltending presence. After a punishing January schedule, the Condors have had a much lighter February calendar. With a home date against the rival Stockton Heat and a home-and-home series with the Ontario Reign, the Condors have a chance to feast this week on teams well out of contention.
Last Week: #7 (▲+4)
4. SAN JOSE BARRACUDA (SAN JOSE SHARKS)
26-11-2-4 – 58 POINTS
Three consecutive losses, including a late blown lead at Ontario, have the Barracuda in a rare slump. However, they did pour 55 shots on net against the Reign. The Barracuda have signed AHL veteran forward T.J. Hensick as well. He had been with the Toledo Walleye, where he led the ECHL with 58 points (17-41-58) in 47 games. The 33-year-old put up 52 points in the AHL as recently as the 2016-17 season when he was with Ontario. That could add another option for a well-balanced offense that is tied for eighth in the AHL at 3.33 goals per game. San Jose has the Tucson Roadrunners in town on Tuesday night before starting a home-and-home series with San Diego on Saturday.
Last Week: #4 (▼-2)
5. ROCHESTER AMERICANS (BUFFALO SABRES)
29-14-3-2 – 60 POINTS
After a home shootout loss against the Crunch, the Amerks handled the visiting Springfield Thunderbirds this past Friday night, 7-1, followed by a road loss. Forward Victor Olofsson had a hat trick against the T-birds and is up to 19 goals and 43 points (19-24-43) in 45 games in his first AHL season, looking very much like a steal for the Sabres as a 2014 seventh-round selection. Both their power play and penalty kill have excelled in recent weeks. They face a hectic week, starting with a Tuesday visit to Cleveland to face the Monsters, who are struggling to stay in contention. After their back-to-back games against Syracuse, they host the Binghamton Senators to finish a 3-in-3 weekend.
Last Week: #4 (▼-1)
6. CHICAGO WOLVES (VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS)
27-15-5-1 – 60 POINTS
AHL leading forward Daniel Carr continued his dominant play, and the Wolves swept their three-game week. Max Lagacé returned from the Golden Knights and turned in a 34-save performance to finish the weekend. Versatile forward T.J. Tynan returning from a short-term injury offered another boost for one of the top forward groups in the AHL. Now they have a two-game trip north to Winnipeg, where they will see the ever-improving Manitoba Moose beginning on Wednesday. They have thrived on the road, posting the third-best point percentage in the AHL. However, they have struggled considerably at home, where they will return after the Manitoba series to host the Iowa Wild. That date against the Wild starts a five-game homestand, and the Wolves badly need a strong performance at Allstate Arena to close out February.
Last Week: #9 (▲+3)
7. GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS (DETROIT RED WINGS)
28-16-3-4 – 63 POINTS
The Griffins continue a seven-game homestand that has gone 2-1-0-0 so far. They continue to be a dominant performer at Van Andel Arena. A major issue for the Griffins all season, the power play produced back-to-back two-goal games this last week. Grand Rapids still is last in the league on the power play, but it is something to build on.
Last Week: #6 (▼-1)
8. SAN DIEGO GULLS (ANAHEIM DUCKS)
25-15-2-3 – 55 POINTS
Last week was not a particularly bountiful one for the Gulls, who lost at home to Ontario and had that blowout at Bakersfield. Third in the Pacific Division, they hold a two-point lead for third place, but the Tucson Roadrunners are right behind them, sitting at 53 points and holding a game in hand. The Gulls’ six-game road trip continues with a pair of games against the Colorado Eagles starting Tuesday. They have another back-to-back combination at San Jose that opens Saturday. What might happen in Anaheim is a major issue that bears watching as February 25th’s NHL trade deadline approaches.
Last Week: #3 (▼-5)
9. PROVIDENCE BRUINS (BOSTON BRUINS)
26-17-6-1 – 59 POINTS
After their 12-game point streak ended, the P-Bruins authored the perfect response one game later. Goaltender Zane McIntyre shut out Syracuse, ensuring a winning week. It was the first of five consecutive 3-in-3 weekends for Providence. This week they will see the Marlies, Checkers, and T-birds, a demanding task. Fortunately for the P-Bruins, they have been dominant at home, posting a league-best .795 point percentage.
Last Week: #8 (▼-1)
10. IOWA WILD (MINNESOTA WILD)
27-16-4-3 – 61 POINTS
An impressive week has Iowa back in the Top 10. They took a road decision at San Jose and then won back-to-back games in overtime at home against the San Antonio Rampage. Both victories came on come-from-behind efforts, including the game-tying goal with 8.2 seconds to go in the third period this past Saturday night. They go back on the road this weekend, starting with a trip to see the Central Division rival Rockford IceHogs on Saturday.
Last Week: Not Ranked
OUT – BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS (NY ISLANDERS) – Last Week: #10
Bridgeport is hanging tough, but the Atlantic Division field continues to tighten.
TORONTO MARLIES (TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS)
Two overtime losses in five days at home to North Division rival Belleville is not a great tone to set at this stage of the season.
TUCSON ROADRUNNERS (ARIZONA COYOTES)
Tucson’s roster had a shake-up going into this past weekend, with Laurent Dauphin and Adam Helewka departing in a trade with the Nashville Predators for forward Emil Pettersson. The loss of defenseman Kyle Capobianco for the rest of the season is quite significant.
UTICA COMETS (VANCOUVER CANUCKS)
The Comets continue to stay in contention even with Vancouver injuries. Separated by 15 years in age, the Ivan Kulbakov–Michael Leighton tandem is one of the most interesting in the AHL, but they have held the Comets in there.
LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS (PHILADELPHIA FLYERS)
Adding a proven playoff performer like Byron Froese and NHL experience in blueliner David Schlemko is a massive boost. Brian Elliott has been assigned to Lehigh Valley on a conditioning assignment, the latest Flyers goaltender to show up at PPL Center.
HERSHEY BEARS (WASHINGTON CAPITALS)
Hershey continues to grind out wins that have put them squarely in the Atlantic Division hunt after a difficult first half. Along with sweeping the likes of Charlotte, the Bears now have a 12-game point streak (11-0-0-1).
TEXAS STARS (DALLAS STARS)
The Stars are fading quickly, and the Central Division is closing on them rapidly.
SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE (ST. LOUIS BLUES)
Quite frankly, it is remarkable that the Rampage are even still in contention after 3-12-0-0 open to their season. Can they survive this 10-game road trip? They may need to do more than survive it to keep pace, however.
ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS)
A recent surge has put the IceHogs into fourth place in the Central Division after a mostly flat first half.
COLORADO EAGLES (COLORADO AVALANCHE)
A solid string of games is needed, and there would be no better time for the Eagles than their pair of games with San Diego to make that happen.
WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON PENGUINS (PITTSBURGH PENGUINS)
The .500 hockey the Penguins are playing lately will not be nearly enough in a five-pack of teams separated by five points.
MANITOBA MOOSE (WINNIPEG JETS)
The Moose continue their charge into the thick of Central Division contention after a disastrous first two months of the season.
MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS (NASHVILLE PREDATORS)
A six-game losing streak that included three consecutive losses after the Arizona-Nashville trade has the Admirals in serious trouble. Now they have to go to Manitoba for a pair of games that begin a seven-game road trip.
BELLEVILLE SENATORS (OTTAWA SENATORS)
Points in nine consecutive games (6-0-0-3) have Belleville closing in on the North Division playoff line. For all of the problems at the NHL level this season, prospects like Drake Batherson and Logan Brown should provide legitimate hope for beleaguered Ottawa fans.
SPRINGFIELD THUNDERBIRDS (FLORIDA PANTHERS)
After an 0-3 week, Springfield fans could be in for another hockey-less spring if the T-birds do not slow this slump quickly.
BINGHAMTON DEVILS (NEW JERSEY DEVILS)
With two big road wins at Cleveland, the playoff line at least remains in sight for Binghamton.
CLEVELAND MONSTERS (COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS)
After an active offseason and a reasonably solid first quarter, this team has faded dramatically.
LAVAL ROCKET (MONTREAL CANADIENS)
Another last-place finish is on the horizon if the Rocket do not figure out what ails them and quickly. Froese, Schlemko, and Kenny Agostino are all gone, further depleting the organization’s talent pool at the AHL level.
HARTFORD WOLF PACK (NEW YORK RANGERS)
The good news this week for the Pack is that they ended their nine-game losing streak (0-7-1-1) streak, but that is faint praise. Rangers management has a major reconstruction project ahead in Hartford.
STOCKTON HEAT (CALGARY FLAMES)
A poor performance this week would all but seal Stockton’s fate.
ONTARIO REIGN (LOS ANGELES KINGS)
It is too little, too late, but taking decisions against San Diego and San Jose in the same week is impressive no matter where one sits in the standings.