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AHL Notebook: Division races heating up

Not much separation in chase for berths in Calder Cup playoffs

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

Competition in the American Hockey League for one of the 16 spots available for the Calder Cup Playoffs intensified at the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline.

For an NHL team, the appeal of adding to its AHL affiliate is simple: Reaching the AHL postseason provides the possibility of an extended run for its prospects. Last season the Columbus Blue Jackets had goaltenders Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg, defenseman Zach Werenski and forwards Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Lukas Sedlak experience two months of playoff hockey as Lake Erie (now Cleveland) won the Calder Cup. All have made contributions to the Blue Jackets this season.

This season Grand Rapids, San Jose, Syracuse, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are the division leaders in the AHL, but each face several threats. The top four teams in each of the four divisions qualify for the playoffs.

After a long search for a No. 1 goaltender, Hershey added Pheonix Copley as part of the Washington Capitals' acquisition of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade with the St. Louis Blues. The move paid off quickly as Hershey swept a three-game weekend set of games that included wins against Syracuse and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Copley had 36 saves in a 2-1 win against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday.

With defenseman Madison Bowey out with an ankle injury, Hershey continued its upgrades Wednesday, acquiring defenseman Mattias Backman on loan from Texas, with defenseman Darren Dietz loaned to Texas. Backman has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 41 games but had 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in 69 games last season.

Syracuse did a roster makeover of its own in an attempt to upgrade its goaltending. The parent Tampa Bay Lightning traded goaltender Adam Wilcox to the Florida Panthers for goaltender Mike McKenna. McKenna, 33, won his 200th AHL game Feb. 19 and is a proven No. 1 AHL goaltender capable of getting Tampa Bay's prospects an opportunity to gain playoff experience. Syracuse leads the North Division, but seven points separate them from fifth-place Utica.

NHL needs come first, meaning that losing key players is a hindrance to the playoff hopes of many AHL teams. For Bridgeport, it was a veteran that they did not lose that was key.

Bridgeport is in the middle of an intense race in the Atlantic Division. First-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and fifth-place Hershey are separated by eight points. Fourth-place Bridgeport had its lead for a playoff spot reduced to two points despite being six points behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

However, Bridgeport kept goaltender Jaroslav Halak even though he was the subject of trade rumors. Halak is 15-3-3 with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage since arriving from the New York Islanders.

In the Pacific Division, San Diego continues to chase first-place San Jose. Not only did San Diego not lose players in any trade involving the parent Anaheim Ducks, they managed to add Rockford's top two scorers. forwards Spencer Abbott (15 goals) and Sam Carrick (12 goals), who played for San Diego coach Dallas Eakins with Toronto. They bring more talent to the No. 7 offense in the AHL (3.25 goals per game).

Tucson has continued its attempt to turn around a slide of 15 losses in its past 18 games, acquiring defenseman David Musil on loan from Pacific Division-rival Bakersfield for forward Mark Olver. Fifth-place Tucson is four points behind fourth-place Bakersfield.

 

WITH HONORS

Manitoba rookie forward Kyle Connor won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending Sunday. He had eight points (six goals, two assists) in four games. A first-round pick (No. 17) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Connor has 13 points (10 goals, three assists) in his past six games.

 

STAT PACK

Chicago forward Kenny Agostino leads the AHL with 63 points (21 goals, 48 assists). Teammate Wade Megan has a league-best 27 goals. … Providence goaltender Zane McIntyre leads the AHL in GAA (1.90) and save percentage (.936). Troy Grosenick of San Jose has a league-best seven shutouts. … T.J. Brennan of Lehigh Valley leads defensemen with 48 points (17 goals, 31 assists). … San Jose forward Daniel O'Regan leads rookies with 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists). … The Grand Rapids power play has an AHL-best success rate of 27.0 percent. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is first on the penalty kill at 86.5 percent. … Lehigh Valley's 3.65 goals per game leads the AHL; Grand Rapids has allowed a league-low 2.39 goals per game. … Chicago is 7-0-1-0 in its past eight games. … San Antonio has lost 12 consecutive games (0-11-0-1).

 

ON THE MOVE

The Philadelphia Flyers signed Lehigh Valley forward Greg Carey to a contract for next season Wednesday. His 26 goals are second in the AHL, and his 17 power-play goals lead the league. … Toronto added veteran forward Mike Sislo on loan from San Antonio for center Colin Smith. … The St. Louis Blues added another offensive option for Chicago coach Craig Berube with the signing of Tage Thompson, 19, to an entry-level contract Tuesday. The Blues selected Thompson in the first round (No. 26) in the 2016 draft. He scored 19 goals in 34 games at the University of Connecticut. He is the son of Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson. … When the Dallas Stars traded forward Lauri Korpikoski to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Texas got Cleveland defenseman Dillon Heatherington. … Grand Rapids defensemen Robbie Russo (Detroit Red Wings), Rockford defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues), San Antonio forward J.T. Compher (Colorado Avalanche), Texas forward Remi Elie (Dallas Stars), Bridgeport forward Joshua Ho-Sang (New York Islanders), Albany forward Kevin Rooney (New Jersey Devils), and Cleveland forward T.J. Tynan (Columbus Blue Jackets) each made his NHL debut this past week. Through Tuesday, 89 AHL players have played their first NHL game this season.

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