December 21 2012 04:48PM
Location: Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids
The Heat face a new villain for the first time in awhile. The Grand Rapids Griffins are the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings and are one of the teams starting to challenge for Abbotsford's spot near the top of the Western Conference.
The Heat's recent struggles are well documented by now. Their offense has gone completely south with their SH% in December, resulting in a 2-6 slide heading into this evening. The Griffins have only been slightly better this month, winning four of their seven games, although they have at least managed 15 goals to the Heat's 9.
Despite a mediocre month, the Griffins sit third in the conference with 30 points (by virtue of leading their division), but they also have two games in hand on Abbotsford (36 points) and 4 games in hand on the now league leading Charlotte Checkers (37 points).
Sven Baertschi was rumored to be returing last week, but it hasn't happened yet. The roster last game was peculiar, with the team going with just five defenders and 13 forwards thanks to injury issues (Brodie, Breen, McKelvie, Callahan and Tuzzolino). We'll assume for now that it will look that way again tonight
- Kolanos - Reinhart - Walter
- Horak - Byron - Sylvester
- Olson - Street - Nemisz
- Bancks - Laing - Aliu
- Brodie - Breen
- McKelvie - Callahan
Horak managed 7 shots on net last game, although none of them found the twine. At the other end of the specturm was Krys Kolanos, who had zero and has struggled to stay in the line-up at times. The club's MVP from last season seems to be at least two steps back of where he was previously. The 31-year old averaged over 5 shots on net per game and 1.30 PPG as the team's leading scorer in 2011-12, which is why he was granted a two-way deal by the organization.
He's nowhere near that level of performance this year. His shots per game has fallen to just 2.87 and his points per game is a modest 0.6. The problem with Kolanos is that he brings no other notable skills to the party. If he isn't scoring, he's more or less a liability because he's slow and lost behind his own blueline.
Grand Rapids is led by a number of high-end Red Wings prospects, including Gustav Nyquist (23 points), Tomas Tatar (21 points) and Brendan Smith (13 points).
- Tatar - Andersson - Nyquist
- Hoggan - Ferraro - Pare
- Callahan - Sheahan - Glendening
- Jurco - Grant - Nestrasil
- Paetsch - Smith
- Lashoff - Billins
- Evans - Alquist
Other semi-famous names on this roster are Riley Sheahan (more for being superdrunk than being a hockey player) and Petr Mrazek, the flamboyant goalie for the surprise Czech world junior team last year in Calgary. Landon Ferraro is also the son of former player and now TSN employee Ray Ferraro. He had a tough time finding his legs in the AHL last year (20 points in 56 games) but has managed 17 points in 25 games so far, which is a big step forward.
On the back-end, Lashoff and Paetsch are former NHLers while Smith is a good bet to make the Red Wings full time whenever hockey returns. It's a farily strong line-up overall.
Sum It Up
The Heat will be looking to break out of the doldrums and finally put a few pucks in the net tonight, while the Griffins are fighting to take over one of the top two spots in the conference. Right now there's no easy opponents for Abbotsford and Grand Rapids is better than most, so tonight would be a good time to break out.