As the AHL regular season winds down this weekend, the Grand Rapids Griffins can start to prepare for their first round opponent. The match-up was set when after the Chicago Wolves won and the Manitoba Moose lost in their respective games last night.
The final standings are still to be set and will determine whether or not the Griffins get home ice advantage. As it currently stands, the Griffins are one point ahead of the Moose in the Central Division standings and both teams have a single game remaining. The Griffs will play the last place Cleveland Monsters tonight, against whom they have a 5-1-1 record this season, while the Moose will face the first place Chicago Wolves tomorrow night.
There’s a good chance the Griffins end up with home ice advantage, which is huge in the opening best-of-five series. The Griffins went 6-2-0 against the Moose this season.
|Grand Rapids Griffins||Key Factors||Manitoba Moose|
|41-25-2||Regular Season Record||41-26-4|
|20.5||Power Play %||20.9|
|84.5||Penalty Kill %||83.1|
This series may be too close to call. Looking at the regular season series, the Griffins out-scored the Moose 26-17, with Jared Coreau recording back-to-back shutouts in the final two games that they played against each other. Based on this regular season match-up, I like the Griffins’ chances, but if the Moose show up and play like they did against the rest of the league, the Griffins could be in trouble. Moose have the edge on the Griffins in every stats line above except point percentage and penalty kill percentage.
Fasten your seat belts because this could be one bumpy ride.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
With the AHL being the feeder league for the NHL, it’s full of talented and exciting hockey players who are on the verge of playing in the best league in the world. Being a Red Wings blogger, I’m far more familiar with the Griffins than the Moose. If you are a fan of the Moose, feel free to chime in in the comments section for anything I missed or got wrong.
THE GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS
- Jared Coreau had a fantastic season in the AHL. He wasn’t so hot in his NHL call-up, putting up a .867 save percentage and 4.26 goals against average in 7 games played, but his .916 AHL save percentage has ranked as the 15th best goalie in the league this year. He’ll be crucial in this series and the team will need him to be even better than his regular season self.
- Other players who saw NHL time this year are Joe Hicketts and Evgeny Svechnikov, both of whom were returned to Grand Rapids prior to the Red Wings final game. They both put up serviceable performances, Svech recording 4 points in 14 games and Hicketts putting up 3 assists in his 5 games. Both struggled through their AHL season, which can be blamed, in my opinion, on Detroit’s over-ripening of young talent. They know they are good enough to be in the NHL, so it’s a shot to their confidence when they’re not there. They need to shake that off now, though, because the Griffins will need them to be at their best for this match-up.
- Since coming to Grand Rapids in late October, Matt Puempel has put up 54 points in 56 games. He’s provided the Griffins with great secondary scoring and fantastic special teams results. This kind of all-around player will be key to navigating through a first round match-up such as this one.
- Filip Hronek has taken a huge step in his development this year. He led all Griffins defensemen in points with 35 and is ranked 12th in the whole league. He’s quarterbacked the team’s powerplay to a 20.5 conversion rate. He’ll likely see himself in a Red Wings jersey next year, but he’s got to focus on winning here first. A long playoff run and a couple series victories would go a long way in proving to Red Wings brass that he’s ready to take the next step.
- With the end of the Portland Winterhawks season last night, Dennis Cholowski is making the trip to Grand Rapids so he can join the Griffins on their playoff run. The former 1st round pick from 2016 will get a good look here and it’s a chance for the Wings to see what they really have in the young defenseman. Will he be NHL-ready next year? Or will he need a year to acclimatize to the AHL? We’ll see soon.
- As soon as the Tri-City Americans’ season is over, expect Michael Rasmussen to join the Griffins on their run. This will heavily depend on how far Tri-City goes and how far the Griffins go. It would be great to see the ninth overall pick from 2017 in action, though.
- Dominic Turgeon will likely be out for the rest of the season with thoracic outlet syndrome, which caused blood clots in his right arm.
THE MANITOBA MOOSE
- The Moose were joined by the Winnipeg Jets 2015 6th round draft pick this year and he absolutely dominated. After a nearly point-per-game season at Michigan State University in 2016-17, Mason Appleton put up 65 points (22, 43) in 75 games for the Moose this year. That puts him at 4th in the league. With 20 power play points, the rookie has special team capacity, too. It’s also worth noting that he had 6 game winning goals which is the most on his team and tied for 3rd most in the league. He’s a clutch player.
- Sami Niku, the team’s top defenseman, was a 7th round selection by the Jets in 2015. He is tied for 2nd on the team for points with 53 and the second highest scoring defenseman in the league. He’ll be an offensive threat from the back end that the Griffins forwards are going to need to keep an eye on. He’ll make them pay on any mistake.
- Finally, there’s Nic Petan, the Jets’ 2nd round pick from 2013. Petan, who I would classify as the Moose’s equivalent of Matt Puempel, has jumped up and down between the NHL and AHL several times over the last few years. He’s played in 95 career NHL games, putting up 21 points. In the AHL this season, Petan has put up 52 points in 51 games centering the Moose’s top line. He’s got more NHL experience than any single Griffin, which makes him a dangerous player on the ice.
WHAT’S ON THE LINE
The Griffins are defending Calder Cup Champions and I’m sure all contending teams would like them to be knocked out early. I think they can take the Moose in round one, but they need to play a disciplined game and never let up. There are some wild cards on the opposing team that can really tilt the series in Manitoba’s direction.
Needless to say, it’s going to be an exciting series, so stay tuned to WingsNation.com for all of the updates!