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AHL Notebook: Playoff races heating up

San Jose Barracuda, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins competing for top spot in standings

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

There is a new leader atop the American Hockey League standings.

A 12-game winning streak has pushed the San Jose Barracuda past the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins into first place in the AHL. San Jose has a .717 points percentage and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton slipped to .713 after losing three consecutive games on the road this past weekend.

The Barracuda have the best home winning percentage (.783) and have won six consecutive games at SAP Center. On the road they are playing .652 hockey thanks in part to an eight-game win streak.

As the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1 (3 p.m. ET) nears, it is important to remember that it often affects AHL rosters. Prospects are valuable for teams looking to add veteran help in a final push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Likewise, an NHL team that trades away veterans often need to use players from its AHL affiliate's roster for the rest of the regular season.

The race to the Calder Cup Playoffs is underway. The top four teams in each of the AHL's four divisions qualify for the postseason. Here is a look at each division heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's recent slide has allowed the second-place Lehigh Valley Phantoms a bit of an opening in a division with four of the AHL's top seven teams. Lehigh Valley has pulled to within seven points of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and has two games in hand.

The next two teams, the Providence Bruins and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, could pose extremely difficult challenges for any playoff opponent. Aided by the addition of veteran NHL goaltender Jaroslav Halak, third-place Bridgeport has emerged as one of the biggest stories of the second half. They have won seven consecutive games to move past fourth-place Providence.

Still hanging around are the Hershey Bears, who are five points out of a playoff spot. Hershey, the Calder Cup runner up last season, needs defensive help and goaltending; the Washington Capitals might be able to shake up the Hershey roster for a playoff push.

 

NORTH DIVISION

The Albany Devils and Syracuse Crunch are jostling for first place and are separated by one point. First-place Syracuse has struggled with consistency and lost back-to-back 6-1 games last week.

Once below the playoff line after a strong start, the Toronto Marlies have made up ground with a 12-3-1-0 rally since Jan. 20 that has them in third place. The St. John's IceCaps have a five-point lead on fourth place. The Binghamton Senators and Utica Comets are still hovering near fourth place but will need a substantial run to bypass St. John's.

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

The Grand Rapids Griffins continue their hold on first place, but the Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Admirals are in pursuit.

Along with AHL leading scorer Kenny Agostino (61 points), Chicago has also added forwards Ivan Barbashev and Magnus Paajarvi from the St. Louis Blues to an offense that has scored 3.35 goals per game, sixth-best in the league.

The Iowa Wild are in fourth place with a five-point lead on the defending Calder Cup champion Cleveland Monsters. Cleveland has four games in hand.

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

A 10-2-0-0 run still has not been enough for the second-place San Diego Gulls to chase down San Jose. San Diego trails San Jose by six points even after a 17-3-0-1 run dating to Dec. 29.

Tied with San Diego are the Ontario Reign. Perhaps the AHL's fiercest rivalry, Ontario-San Diego could be a first-round match-up.

Although the Tucson Roadrunners are 2-8-0-0 in their past 10 games, they have managed to move into fourth place. A 1-12-1-0 slide has sent the Stockton Heat tumbling down the standings into seventh place, and the fifth-place Texas Stars have yet to establish consistency, needing a big performance on their six-game road trip. Also in the mix are the sixth-place Bakersfield Condors, who start a three-game homestand this weekend.

 

TWO MORE TRADES

Bigger decisions are still to come, but AHL rosters are already being reshaped as NHL organizations prepare for what could be bigger moves.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens traded AHL defensemen Tuesday. Keegan Lowe of the Charlotte Checkers was sent to St. John's for Phillip Samuelsson. The 25-year-old Samuelsson will report to Charlotte; his father, former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, is in his first season as Charlotte coach.

Albany received defensive help when the New Jersey Devils acquired defenseman Viktor Loov from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. New Jersey traded center Sergey Kalinin, who was sent to the Marlies.

Another trade this month had AHL implications. Defenseman Tom Gilbert, a veteran of 655 NHL regular-season games, was traded by the Los Angeles Kings to Washington on Feb. 15. Gilbert, who had been with Ontario, joined Hershey.

 

WITH HONORS

San Jose goaltender Troy Grosenick won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending last Sunday. He had a .980 save percentage in two wins and leads all goaltenders in goals-against average (1.97), save percentage (.934) and shutouts (seven).

 

STAT PACK

Agostino leads the AHL scoring with 61 points (18 goals, 43 assists). … Toronto forward Bryon Froese leads the league with 24 goals but has missed the past three games with an injury.

 

ON THE MOVE

The Detroit Red Wings sent goaltender Jared Coreau to Grand Rapids on a conditioning assignment. … Binghamton is without forwards Casey Bailey and Max McCormick, who remain with the Ottawa Senators. … Iowa has forwards Tyler Graovac and Alex Tuch along with defenseman Gustav Olofsson back from the Minnesota Wild. … Stockton received defenseman Brett Kulak and forward Garnet Hathaway from the Calgary Flames. … Tucson goaltender Marek Langhamer and forward Adrian Kempe of Ontario each made his NHL debut this past week. Through Tuesday, 79 AHL players have played their first NHL game this season.

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