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AHL Notebook: Goalies Hammond, Kahkonen spark revival in Iowa

Increased scoring, Springfield's strong start among key storylines at quarter point

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

With most of the American Hockey League nearing the quarter point of the 2018-19 season, some trends, names, and challenges are emerging. Here are four first-quarter storylines around the AHL:

 

Net gains in Iowa

Josh Harding, Anton Khudobin and Darcy Kuemper have been goaltending success stories out of the AHL for the Minnesota Wild, but development at the position has been a struggle in recent seasons.

That could change with Kaapo Kahkonen (6-foot-2, 214 pounds), who is in his first season in North America after three seasons in the top Finnish league. Last season with Lukko Rauma, Kahkonen, 22, led the league in games (56), posting a 2.20 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.

The Wild selected him in the fourth round (No. 109) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

With veteran Andrew Hammond as his goaltending partner at Iowa, the Wild's AHL affiliate, Kahkonen has not had to be a workhorse as he adjusts to the different angles and more unstructured offense found in the AHL. Kahkonen has allowed one goal in his past four starts and has three consecutive shutouts. His shutout streak of 207:55, the longest in the AHL this season, is an Iowa team record.

While Hammond (7-3-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .911 save percentage) handled most of the workload in the first month of the season, each goaltender has made three starts in the past six games. Kahkonen won AHL weekly honors for the period ending Sunday.

The slow approach has paid off for Kahkonen, who is 4-1-0 in five games with an 0.79 GAA and .972 save percentage. Iowa ranks No. 2 in the AHL at 2.38 goals-against per game, behind San Jose, and has a top-three penalty kill.

Iowa (11-4-1-0) is first in the Western Conference. It has not reached the Calder Cup Playoffs since 2013.

 

Springfield strong

Springfield (Florida Panthers) is 9-4-0-2, third in the Atlantic Division. Springfield has missed the postseason the past two seasons, and a Florida AHL affiliate has not won a playoff round since 2012.

With Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo injured, Springfield went without Michael Hutchinson for much of the first month of the season. That left much of the AHL work with Samuel Montembeault, who is 6-1-0 in eight games with a 2.74 GAA and .914 save percentage. Hutchinson returned Nov. 5, giving Springfield a strong tandem.

Forward Henrik Borgstrom (6-3, 190) has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 14 games.

The Panthers selected Borgstrom, 21, at No. 23 in the 2016 NHL Draft. He spent the past two seasons at the University of Denver; he scored 52 points (23 goals, 29 assists) in 40 games last season and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist.

Forward Jayce Hawryluk (5-11, 196), taken by Florida at No. 32 of the 2014 NHL Draft, is in his critical third pro season at age 22 and starting to progress with 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 15 games.

Forward Dryden Hunt (6-0, 191), an undrafted 22-year-old, was recalled by Florida on Monday. He had 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 15 games.

 

On the upswing

Unsettled rosters, new coaches (12 of the 31 teams in the AHL have a new coach), and inexperience often contribute to early-season scoring, but the AHL is more than 250 games into its season.

There has been an average of 6.54 goals per game compared to 6.17 goals per game at the same point in 2017-18. The AHL finished with 5.90 goals per game last season.

 

Trickle-down effect

The struggles of the Los Angeles Kings have hit Ontario hard as well.

Last in the Pacific Division at 5-6-2-1, Ontario has had to cope without goalies Calvin Petersen and Peter Budaj. Each is with the Kings after injuries to Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell.

After a strong rookie AHL season, Petersen (6-1, 182), 24, had struggled in Ontario. He was 2-3-3 in 10 games with a 4.29 GAA and .881 save percentage. He posted his first NHL shutout Monday, making 29 saves in a 2-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues. In three NHL starts, Petersen is 1-1-0 with a 2.26 GAA and a .935 save percentage.

Ontario has seven rookies as Los Angeles tries to rebuild. Ontario is last in the AHL with 4.29 goals-against per game and 30th in shots allowed (34.3 shots per game).

Charles Williams, who started this season having played two AHL games at age 26, is the No. 1 goalie in Ontario.

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