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AHL Notebook: Four teams in need of better fortunes

by Patrick Williams

Last week provided a look at some of the more intriguing teams in the American Hockey League.

The bad news this week for some teams is they've put themselves through some real challenges through the first 25 games of the season. The good news for them is wild swings in play are not unusual in the AHL, and two-thirds of the season remain.

Here are four more teams that have ranged from baffling to bad:

Iowa Wild: This season has featured a 13-game losing streak and the fewest points in the AHL (13). The Wild have three wins in 26 games against divisional opponents and are already 14 points out of a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Their power play and penalty kill each rank 24th, they sit 29th in goals per game (1.86), and are 27th with 3.36 goals allowed per game. The season started ominously with a goaltending situation that was so shallow the Wild had to go outside of the organization to acquire Jeremy Smith on loan from the Boston Bruins, plus journeyman Leland Irving. The Smith-Irving tandem has largely done its job, but little else has gone right in Des Moines.

Providence Bruins: Providence started the season with four wins in 19 games and quickly sunk to the depths of the Atlantic Division. However, Providence has outscored opponents 24-10 in its past seven games, going 6-0-1-0 in the process. Center Alexander Khokhlachev returned to the Providence lineup Dec. 4 and has seven points in his past six games (two goals, five assists). Forward Seth Griffith, who sustained a knee injury in training camp with Boston, has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 19 games with Providence. Goaltender Malcolm Subban (.899 save percentage) and rookie Zane McIntyre (.889) continue to struggle.

San Jose Barracuda: The Barracuda must somehow revive their special-teams play. They rank 26th on the power play and have the AHL's worst penalty kill. Their penalty-kill problems persist even though they have allowed the second-fewest power plays in the AHL. But slow starts have also put the Barracuda on the fringes of the Pacific Division standings. Their minus-10 goal differential in the first period is the AHL's second-worst. Forward Barclay Goodrow has injected some life into the AHL's 25th-ranked offense, but the score-by-committee approach has been a struggle for San Jose.

St. John's IceCaps: At times the IceCaps look like they can compete against anybody. They took two wins at Toronto in November, outscoring the Marlies 11-3. But they also have struggled against the AHL's weaker teams. They lost two games at home against the Rochester Americans this past weekend, and there have also been four divisional losses on the road against Rochester and the Binghamton Senators, who sit last in the Eastern Conference. Goaltender Carey Price's injury problems with the parent Montreal Canadiens have led to a goaltending carousel in St. John's, with Dustin Tokarski on recall in Montreal. Forward Charles Hudon and his team-leading 10 goals are in Montreal, as are young forwards Daniel Carr and Sven Andrighetto. If the lineup can stabilize, the IceCaps could be a second-half force.

Back to the NHL: Goaltender Jonathan Bernier completed his conditioning assignment with the Marlies this past Sunday in a 5-4 overtime loss against the Utica Comets at home.

Although Bernier allowed five goals on 26 shots in his final game, the AHL stint should send him back to the parent Toronto Maple Leafs with some rebuilt confidence. He went 3-0-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage in starting four of a possible six games with the Marlies. Each of his three wins was a shutout. It was his first appearance in the AHL since the 2010 playoffs when he was a Los Angeles Kings prospect.

"I had a lot of fun," Bernier told the Marlies website. "I think I gained that confidence back, made some adjustments a little bit in my game, and I feel good. So I'm ready to go back to the Leafs."

The 27-year-old battled injury and poor play with the Maple Leafs before agreeing to report to the Marlies to get some playing time. He has gone 0-8-1 with a 3.28 GAA and a .888 save percentage in nine games with the Maple Leafs.

Streaky: The Central Division may be the AHL's toughest division, though the Pacific Division-leading Ontario Reign as well as Eastern Conference powers like the Marlies, Albany Devils and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins may disagree.

However, the Central Division is certainly the streakiest in the AHL.

The Grand Rapids Griffins tied a franchise record with their 11th win in row this past Sunday. They overcame a 3-0 second-period deficit on the road at Iowa and tied the game at 3-3 with 38 seconds to go in regulation. Defenseman Xavier Ouellet's overtime goal kept the winning streak alive.

The Griffins' most recent loss was Nov. 14, a defeat that sent their record to 2-8-0-1. They have outscored opponents 45-17 since then. Leading scorer Eric Tangradi had three goals in 11 games before the streak began; he has nine goals in his past 11 games.

While the Griffins are the AHL's hottest team, they are not the first Central Division team to go on a run. The Milwaukee Admirals had a franchise-record 10-game winning streak earlier in the season; at the opposite end of the spectrum, there was Iowa's 13-game losing streak.

AHL Game of the Week: The AHL's top two teams will face off on Friday when the Marlies make their way into Mohegan Sun Arena for a visit with the Penguins. The Marlies start the week with a four-point lead on the Penguins for the AHL lead, though they yield three games in hand. Toronto will be without top prospect Kasperi Kapanen, a former Penguin. He will head to Finland to participate in the World Junior Championship later this month. AHL leading scorer William Nylander also may be released to represent Sweden. Toronto starts a three-game road trip this week owning a 12-1-1-0 record away from Ricoh Coliseum.

Around the AHL: Charlotte Checkers left wing Brock McGinn won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week Award for the period ending this past Sunday. He had three goals and two assists in two games. A second-round pick (No. 47) by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2012 NHL Draft, he has nine goals and three assists in 12 games with Charlotte this season. … Nylander retained his hold on the AHL scoring lead with 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 25 games. … Petr Straka of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms moved into a tie with a league-leading 15 goals with rookie Devin Shore of the Texas Stars. Shore will miss at least 4-6 weeks because of a shoulder injury sustained this past week, according to … Ontario goaltender Peter Budaj's GAA shrunk to 1.49, leading the AHL, and he has a league-best .939 save percentage. … Three 30-plus goaltenders are tied for first place in the AHL with 14 wins: Yann Danis (Albany), Michael Leighton (Rockford IceHogs) and Budaj. … The Penguins are in the rare position of having the AHL's best winning percentage (.792) yet having to adjust to a new coach. With coach Mike Sullivan off to the Pittsburgh Penguins to replace Mike Johnston, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will have Jay Leach as its interim coach. The 36-year-old, a rugged defenseman who played 12 AHL seasons and 70 NHL games, had been Sullivan's assistant. … The Hershey Bears' average attendance of 9,011 paces the AHL. … Sixty-one AHL players have made their NHL debut this season, including five more this past week.

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