The Grand Rapids finished a long week with back to back wins. Facing Rockford on Friday night in Rockford, the Griffins broke a three season long curse, dating back to March of 2016. Since then, the Griffins haven’t won in Rockford – making the trip a drudgery for the team. Heading home in sketchy weather, the Griffins didn’t arrive home until 5 o’clock Saturday morning. Exhausted but riding the momentum, Grand Rapids shut out Milwaukee Saturday night. Following the win, the Griffins kicked off their annual Great Skate weekend on a positive note.
Grand Rapids has made their way up the division ladder and are sitting in sole ownership of first place. The Central Division continues to be an incredibly close one, but Grand Rapids is finding ways to win and earn points. Much of the credit for Saturday’s victory goes to goaltender, Patrik Rybar. In his first season in the AHL, he has proven to be an outstanding goalie and prospect for the Red Wings. Rybar earned his first career AHL shutout Saturday with their 3-0 win.
Notable: Chris Terry has been sidelined for three games due to illness. He is expected to return to the lineup this coming week. Tyler Spezia was escorted off the ice after taking a hit to the head – he was undergoing concussion protocol but no further details were given. Matt Puempel tallied his 100th AHL goal Saturday.
Player of the Game: Patrik Rybar
I’ve mentioned Rybar a few times and with good cause. His game, especially over the last two months, has dramatically improved. He’s growing so confident and smart on the ice, that he is quickly becoming the best in the league. Patrik is the third best goalie in the AHL in his first season as a pro in the United States – an incredible accomplishment. He came up big on the penalty kill and was sharp through the entire game. He admittedly wasn’t happy with his performance in the last few weeks but was visibly thrilled with yesterday’s outcome. He was a stud against Milwaukee and will continue to be a steady backbone of the team as the playoffs come into focus.
Play of the Game: 4 Minute Penalty Kill Magic
The Griffins’ penalty kill has been very lackluster this season. Now sitting at 9th overall in the Western Conference at 80.9%, they’ve improved from their last place position of former weeks. Saturday was a strong testament to their progress. Turner Elson sat for four minutes after accidentally high sticking an Admiral in the face, drawing blood and removing his helmet. The four minutes were served and the Grand Rapids special teams did an amazing job of keeping possession and keeping the puck out of the zone. Milwaukee had a few good chances, but overall, the penalty killers did their jobs very well. The special teams have been a constant issue this season, but the Griffins are showing promising signs of life in that regard.
Lockerroom Talk: Quotable
“We’re doing great – finally. I’m very happy. The guys played really well. I think Chicago was worse (to play against). Every day I’m trying, work on practice, to compete. I feel confident and I feel good.” Patrik Rybar on his development and shutout win.
“Someone tweeted me a couple weeks ago that I was getting close, but no, I don’t really pay attention to that. I didn’t know how much time was left, but I knew it was getting pretty close, so I just shot it and lucky enough, it went in.” Matt Puempel on scoring his 100th AHL goal
Keys for the Future: Eye on the Playoffs
The Griffins are doing good things and doing them often. They’ve battled and worked their way to the top of the Central Division – but they need to hold it. The playoffs are going to be inching closer and the division will get tighter. The powerplay and penalty kill has been coming along and defensive pairings are in good shape even without Filip Hronek still. Every player is contributing and doing their jobs well – which makes for an apparent cohesive group on the ice.
Grand Rapids will need to continue to push hard. They have an advantage this coming week as they head into a four-game home stretch, which should widen the gap between them and the Icehogs who are second.