It’s the last season to get their playoffs underway, but the AHL is primed to have a solid showing with plenty of teams that could very looked at as very elite when all is said and done. However, to quote a great man– to know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you’ve been. Today, we start out East and then move out West tomorrow and my bleak attempt to break it down from a fundamental standpoint.
(1) Manchester Monarchs vs. (8) Portland Pirates
After completing their third 50-win season in franchise history (first since 2006-07 when it was an 80-game season), the Monarchs are loaded up with plenty of offense, leading the East with 241 goals, as well as have four 20-goal scorers. AHL MVP Brian O’Neill and Mike Mersch will be joined by Nick Shore, who was reassigned by Los Angeles and has registered more than a point-per-game in the AHL during his limited time over in Manchester. On the back-end, J-F Berube will be supported solidly by Derek Forbort with Andrew Bodnarchuk providing the first pass out of the zone and Colin Miller adding scoring and power play prowess from the point.
They needed a last game win in order to make it, but the Pirates could be considered a team playing for their playoff lives for almost a month now. Despite a six-game losing streak, the Pirates were able to battle back and lot of that was on the back of Mike McKenna in net, who went 8-4-4 in the last two months. The defense will be a big thing, especially with the Pirates not producing many goals– especially on the power play where they were 27th out of 30 in the league (48 for 345; 13.9%). Though Alexandre Bolduc and Brendan Shinninmin had 20-goal seasons, it’ll be on Dylan Reese and the defensive corps to keep the series close.
(2) Hershey Bears vs. (7) Worcester Sharks
The Bears haven’t been torn too apart this season from call-ups, which means they could be one of the more complete teams in the playoffs. With Stanislav Galiev returning, their offense is as potent as anything in the league. Going along with Galiev is Casey Wellman, both of whom had 25 goals. Chris Conner‘s season half of the season helped him down the stretch; as Steve Oleksy and Cam Schilling have been solid on the back-end in front of Philipp Grubauer. However, Grubauer is up with Washington, which means the duties will be loaned to Pheonix Copley until Grubauer gets back.
When it looked like the Sharks were out of it, Aaron Dell came up to pretty much save the day for the Sharks; who are in their last season in Worcester. Dell went 13-6-1 since February 1st and helped the Sharks get to the playoffs, despite a three-game losing streak to end the season. Even though they had no 20-goal scorers, the Sharks did get plenty of contributions up and down the roster– mostly from captain Bryan Lerg, Micheal Haley, and rookie Evan Trupp; while also having Taylor Fedun contribute on the defensive side.
(3) Hartford Wolf Pack vs. (6) Providence Bruins
One of the interesting things about the Wolf Pack is that they had only a +7 goal differential, which means while they put pucks in the net; there were times they had trouble keeping them out. Yet, since Yann Danis was brought into the fold and settled down– the Wolf Pack have been solid, taking the Northeast Division. Luckily, Chris Bourque and Oscar Lindberg were solid when it came to the forward presence, though Conor Allen will have to stay out of the penalty box to help the defensive play, though rookie Mat Bodie was tied for points (with Charlotte’s Trevor Carrick) for rookie defensemen.
The potential for the Bruins to score goals is there, but it wasn’t for the regular season. Barely two 15-goal scorers, but they also lost David Pastrnak for most the season; which probably hurt a lot and will give Providence a nice boost when it comes to the playoffs. Helping Pastrnak will be Alex Khokhlachev, who lead the team in scoring, and Colin Stuart, who lead the team in goals. With not much support, there could be a lot of weight on Jeremy Smith‘s shoulders– who seemed to distance himself from Malcolm Subban in net in their 1a/b situation. The veteran prowess of Steve Eminger could help the young team go ahead and steal a couple games from Hartford.
(4) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. (5) Syracuse Crunch
There’s no doubt that the story of the Baby Pens’ year is the emergence of goalie Matt Murray– who not only took home top goalie honors, but also top rookie honors. Another breakout performance was the 26-goal campaign by Jayson Megna, who had 11 goals and five assists in the last two months of the season, most in the absence of Andrew Ebbett; who was travelling back and forth to Pittsburgh. With two veterans on the squad in Tom Kostopoulus and Danny Syvret; it could help out the young-ish team. This is all not even talking about Conor Sheary— who led the team and was 8th in rookie points.
After winning only one of their last 10 games, the Crunch picked the wrong time to start slumping. That said, they are better than their record with plenty of talent. Yanni Gourde, Jonathan Marchessault, and Mike Angelidis have led the way in every facet of offense since Vlad Namestnikov was called up to Tampa for the rest of the season. However, the fact the Crunch only lost once to the Baby Pens this season should be a nice motivator, but they will need Kristers Gudlevskis to get back on his game in order to keep the pucks out of the net.