January 3, 2012

AHL Journal: Questions linger at halfway point

By Dan Hickling

Three months in, three months (or so) to go.

It's as good a time as any to take a midseason look at the AHL's seven-team New England contingent and opine where things have gone right (and wrong).

Teams are listed as they currently stack up in the Eastern Conference standings. Remember, the top eight point-getters in each conference make it into the Calder Cup playoffs. 

Manchester Monarchs (44 points)

Sean Avery's return to the Connecticut Whale raises as many questions as answers. (photo: Dan Hickling)

Sean Avery's return to the Connecticut Whale raises as many questions as answers. (photo: Dan Hickling)

The Monarchs are just about the streakiest team in the AHL. Fortunately for them, they are on a hot streak (7-2-1) at present.

This is a lunchpail bunch, whose top scorer, veteran captain Marc-Andre Cliché (11-10-21), ranks just 72nd among the league's scorers. Yet they're getting the job done.

When will the parent L.A. Kings realize that Mark Morris can really coach?

Connecticut Whale (43 points)

Whale are the owners of the largest division bulge among any of the league's six first-place teams, seven points over Adirondack. It’s hard to say that we saw this coming, although rookie defenseman Tim Erixon (2-14-16 in 17 games) is showing his first-round worth.

Kris Newbury (13-18-31) is having a career year and undrafted rookie Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (12-18-30) has been a revelation.

Question now is whether bad boy Sean Avery, newly demoted from the Rangers, will be a help or hindrance? (The guessing here is the latter).

Worcester Sharks (38 points)

Sharks can't keep anyone healthy, yet they keep treading water.

Second-year winger Tommy Wingels (13-8-21) is fast on the rise. Will the expected return of All-Star goalie Alex Stalock (severed tendon) make the Sharks even more dangerous?

Portland Pirates (37 points)

Offense was a question early on, but the additions on the fly of forwards Brock Trotter and Brett MacLean have eased the problem. And rookie center Andy Miele, the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner, has been as advertised.

Can any other team boast as many Hollywood doubles as can Portland, with coach Ray Edwards (Kurt Russell) and center Matt Watkins (Ben Stiller)?

Providence Bruins (31 points)

Something is just not right with the P-Bruins, who are hardly mirroring the success of the big club in Boston. There are just two plus players on the roster, Stefan Chaput (injured) and ECHL refugee Bobby Robins. Both are at plus-one.

On the bright side, Providence leads the AHL in shootout/overtime wins, with six. Can it manage to get every game to go extras?

Springfield Falcons (30 points)

Hopes of breaking their eight-year playoff drought are flagging, although they do have stellar vets such as Alexandre Giroux and Martin St. Pierre, both of whom are capable of hauling a club on their shoulders.

The question is, will they do it?

Bridgeport Sound Tigers (30 points)

It's been a rough year for new coach Brent Thompson, whose Tigers have gone a toothless 2-8-0 in their last 10. Will rookie Casey Cizikas (7-14-21, plus-7) be the only pleasant surprise in Bridgeport?

Around the AHL

It's worth noting that among the AHL's New England contingent, rookies are leading three clubs in scoring (Cizikas, Miele and Carter Camper in Providence), and two others (Audy-Marchessault and Cam Atkinson in Springfield) are in second. … Newbury was named the AHL's Player of the Week for last week's 3-5-8 output. He currently has an eight-game point streak going, which ties him with Hershey'sKeith Aucoin (Chelmsford, Mass.) for the longest current skein.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.