The American Hockey League schedule traditionally takes a long holiday break that allows its teams to reset before the games pile up in the second half of the season.
Here is a look at some of the AHL's more intriguing storylines heading into 2016 that could continue to shape the playoff picture:
The Texas Stars endured a tumultuous post-holiday return to play. Rookie forward Devin Shore had shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the season, according to wrongsideoftheredline.com. Shore ranks second in the AHL with 15 goals and has 26 points in 26 games. The Stars also have a change in net. Prospect Jack Campbell, the 11th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, was assigned to Idaho of the ECHL. Maxime Lagace was recalled from Idaho to replace him. Campbell, 23, has played parts of five AHL seasons, but he has a 4.27 goals-against average and .868 save percentage in 12 AHL games this season. He went 3-6-3 with Texas and allowed five or more goals in each of his past five starts. The Stars' 3.53 goals-against per game ranks them 29th in the AHL, though they place second in goals per game at 3.78.
The Grand Rapids Griffins finally lost again. Their 3-2 loss at the Lake Erie Monsters on Sunday was their first defeat since Nov. 14, ending a franchise-record 15-game winning streak. The streak, the third-longest in AHL history, started Nov. 18 when the Griffins were 2-8-0-1; it ended with the Griffins at 17-9-0-1. They outscored opponents 57-27 in the 15 wins; in 10 of the games, they scored four or more goals. Grand Rapids still has a 10-game home winning streak.
Forward Eric Tangradi, who the Detroit Red Wings recalled Monday, had 10 goals and seven assists during the streak while leading scorer Andy Miele had five goals and 11 assists. Forward Martin Frk, a 2011 second-round pick by Detroit, has blossomed in his third pro season. Frk, 22, has six goals and six assists in his past seven games. He scored 23 goals in 29 games with Toledo of the ECHL last season.
The 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals still hold the AHL's (and pro hockey's) longest winning streak. Then the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Admirals won 28 consecutive games before eventually winning the Calder Cup. That Norfolk team, which won 43 of its final 46 regular-season and postseason games, featured coach Jon Cooper, goaltender Dustin Tokarski, defenseman Radko Gudas and forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
Success has visited the Florida Panthers organization in December. A six-game winning streak has pushed the Panthers to the top of the Atlantic Division. The Portland Pirates, their new AHL affiliate, have mirrored the parent team with their own six-game winning streak. With an 8-1-1-0 record in their past 10 games, the Pirates have moved into fourth place in the AHL's Atlantic Division. Rookie Kyle Rau has 13 goals in 27 games. Veteran goaltender Mike McKenna struggled earlier in the season, but he has allowed eight goals in his past six starts. Veteran Rob Schremp's 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) lead the Pirates, who have a plus-14 goal differential (22-8) in the six wins.
Goalie - MTL
GAA: 3.19 | SVP: .878
The trade Monday of Zack Kassian
from the Edmonton Oilers
to the Montreal Canadiens
for goalie Ben Scrivens
has major AHL implications. Kassian will report to the Bakersfield Condors. Edmonton also reassigned goaltender Eetu Laurikainen
to Bakersfield from HPK Hameenlinna of the SM-Liiga to replace Scrivens. Laurikainen began the season with Bakersfield before he was assigned to HPK on Nov. 14. Scrivens going to Montreal also should stabilize the St. John's IceCaps goaltending situation. The IceCaps will go with a tandem of Dustin Tokarski
and Zach Fucale for the time being.
A coaching change and roster turnover has the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a small slump. Clark Donatelli took over as coach Dec. 22, and two post-holiday losses have followed for the Atlantic Division leaders. After not being shut out in their first 27 games, the Penguins were shut out in back-to-back games over the weekend. They still are third in the AHL with 3.38 goals per game, but forwards Kevin Porter, Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson are on recall with Pittsburgh, as is goaltender Matthew Murray. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's 43 points and .781 points percentage each are second-best in the AHL.
The Iowa Wild ended their 12-game home losing streak with a 3-1 win against the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday. Along with a 2-1 win at the Chicago Wolves on Saturday, the Wild have won two consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 27-March 6. Their 19 points tie them with the Manitoba Moose for last place in the AHL.
Some of the AHL's brightest young prospects are in Finland for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. The AHL-leading Toronto Marlies have two players in the tournament. AHL leading scorer William Nylander is representing Sweden, although he didn't play Monday against the United States because of a head injury sustained in the opening game of the tournament, and Kasperi Kapanen is playing for Finland. Sweden also has Adrian Kempe of the Ontario Reign. Lake Erie forward Sonny Milano is playing for the United States, and Vladislav Kamenev (Milwaukee Admirals) is with Russia.
Elsewhere in Europe, an annual tradition is AHL players having an opportunity to represent Canada in the Spengler Cup. Hockey Canada has a team participating in the tournament in Davos, Switzerland for the 32nd consecutive season. Charlotte Checkers goaltender Drew MacIntyre
opened the tournament for Canada with a 22-save win against Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the Kontinental Hockey League on Sunday. Representing the AHL on the Canada blue line are Charlotte's Trevor Carrick
, Mark Cundari
of the San Jose Barracuda and Stockton Heat captain Aaron Johnson
. Forwards Manny Malhotra
(Lake Erie) and Daniel Paille
(Rockford) round out the forwards.
AHL Game of the Week: Lake Erie continues to try to firm its place in the Central Division with a visit to Milwaukee this Saturday. The win against Grand Rapids ended an 0-3-1-0 slide for the Monsters, who are dealing with the recall of goaltender Joonas Korpisalo to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Monsters start a 10-game road trip this week and do not return home until Jan. 18. Milwaukee has won three games in a row entering their game Monday at Chicago. Two of those wins were on the road against Central Division-leading Rockford. Captain Colton Sissons was returned by the Nashville Predators on Monday.
Statistically speaking: Nylander has 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 27 games. … With Shore injured and Wilson with Pittsburgh, Petr Straka of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms has taken over the AHL goal-scoring lead with 16 goals. … Ontario veteran Peter Budaj's 1.56 goals-against average tops all AHL goaltenders. He is tied with Michael Leighton (Rockford) with a league-high 15 wins. Murray took over the AHL lead in save percentage from Budaj at .938. … Toronto defenseman TJ Brennan has 11 goals and 27 points in 31 games, most among AHL defensemen.
Around the AHL: The AHL named Iowa goaltender Jeremy Smith its CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Sunday. He went 2-0-0 for the Wild, making 52 saves on 54 shots. Smith, 26, is property of the Boston Bruins, but Iowa acquired him on loan Oct. 7 to form a duo with another veteran, Leland Irving. … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton captain Tom Kostopoulos played his 1,200th pro game this past Sunday, with 570 of them in the AHL. He began his pro career in 1999-2000 as a seventh-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1999 NHL Draft. Kostopoulos, 36, has had five AHL seasons with 20 or more goals and has scored seven goals in 28 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season. … A free agent until Dec. 18, veteran defenseman Danny Syvret has sparked the Utica Comets. The Comets are 3-0-0-1 since signing the 30-year-old offensive defenseman, who has two goals and two assists in the four games. He had six goals and 17 assists in 75 games last season with Iowa and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He has had four AHL seasons with 40 or more points, including a 57-point season as a Philadelphia Flyers prospect in 2008-09. … Sixty-nine AHL players have made their NHL debuts this season, including two more this past week.