The start of the Griffins’ season has been just as disappointing as the start of the Red Wings’ season. Like the Wings, the Griffins are used to being at the top of the division and conference all season long. With a record of 4-3-2, they find themselves in an unfamiliar position-2nd in the Division and 6th in the conference. Now, second in the division isn’t so bad, considering that the Rochester Americans are having one of their best starts ever, at 8-1-0. Let’s also remember that the Americans are affiliated with the Buffalo Sabres. The sad thing is, being sixth in the conference puts the Griffins behind the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, Iowa Stars, Chicago Wolves and Peoria Rivermen. Chicago is a bitter rival (think Colorado, here) and Omaha, Iowa and Peoria were all three expansion teams last season.
Grand Rapids also seems to be sharing the Red Wings’ offensive woes. They have 28 goals for and 27 goals against, strikingly similar to the Wings’ 29 GF and 27 GA. The Griffins top scorer is Kip Miller, with 9 points (3-6). The Wings top scorer is Nicklas Lidstrom with 10 points (2-8). A few days ago I could have compared the goaltending of the two clubs, but Ozzie and Dom have since played very well.
Jimmy Howard has been good for the Griffins, at 3-2-0, with a 2.69 GAA and a .908 Save %. I wish I could say the same for Stefan Liv. His numbers aren’t terrible, with a 1-2-1 record, 3.04 GAA, and .907 save % . Granted, they could be a lot better. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. I’ve been to two games in which he played, the last of which he was pulled from. He wanders from the net frequently, and gets in trouble doing it often. Many times, his teammates save him. I’ve seen him make a save three feet out of the crease and seemingly get stuck there. Needless to say, the other team scored on the rebound. Liv has a tendency to start games well, but fall off quickly. He appears to have trouble controlling rebounds. He’s really good up close, but put someone on the breakaway and he’s sure to give up the goal. In his one shootout loss, he gave up 4 goals on 7 shooters. One guy missed the net wide, one guy shot high, and Liv stopped one. He has made some great saves, as well, though. He’ll likely get better as the season progresses, as he gets used to the AHL.
Kyle Quincey looks to be playing well, despite his -5 plus/minus. Derek Meech has made drastic improvements over last season, earning an A on his sweater. Both defensemen show a lot of promise. Quincey could probably be playing in the NHL already, on the third defensive pairing. Meech is finally starting to show the ability that the Wings kept saying he had. Jonathan Ericsson is doing well, also, with a +/- of +4 and two assists.
Of the offensive prospects, Krys Kolanos is doing the best. He has four goals and eight points. Matt Ellis is not far behind, with four goals and seven points. Kolanos also has the best +/- at +4, tied with Ericsson. Darryl Bootland is continuing to do what he does best, with 20 penalty minutes in 9 games. I’ve seen two fights already, but they haven’t been particularly good. He does, however, have two goals and two assists. Evan McGrath has one goal and three assists, but it has been his defensive play that has impressed me. Eric Himelfarb continues to prove that he is not NHL material-giving up the puck at the blueline and virtually watching as opponents score less than two feet away from him, while scoring only one goal himself. He’s fast, but he couldn’t finish a play to save his life. His puck-handling skills are in serious need of improvement-though I’m not sure how one can improve upon something that does not exist. My biggest disappointment is Ryan Oulahen right now. Ryan was phenomenal last season, but thus far has yet to be a factor for the Griffins. He has only goal and one point, with a +/- of +1.
In their last game, Grand Rapids beat the Philadelphia Phantoms 6-2. Howard was in net, and basically solidified his position as the starter. He and Liv had been splitting games evenly, but after Howard’s strong game and Liv’s struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jimmy get more games. Scoring for the Griffins were Kolanos with 2, Himelfarb, Ellis, Bootland and Matt Hussey. McGrath earned third star with three assists, while captain Ellis received second for his game-winning goal. First star went to Kolanos.
The Griffins next four games are against their biggest division rival, the Manitoba Moose. The Moose are affiliated with Vancouver, and their backup goaltender is Drew MacIntyre-former Griffin and Wing prospect. The first two games of this series are in GR, Friday and Saturday nights. Next week Tuesday and Wednesday they play in Manitoba, followed by a Friday game against the Milwaukee Admirals and a Saturday game against the Albany River Rats.