Fourth Quarter of the 2010-2011 AHL regular season in the books as of Sunday. In the East, five of the eight teams made it with the Binghamton Senators crossing over to play the Manchester Monarchs. In all likelihood, the Calder Cup winner is coming out of this division again this year.
Adirondack Phantoms: (31-39-4-6 – 72 pts., 6th place) Went 11-8-1-0 its last 20 games. Having Micheal Leighton in net helped a bit. If it returns its core for next year with improvements at key positions it could possibly contend next season for a playoff spot. Did a complete 180 in the season from League Doormat to a halfway respectable team. Needs the trend to continue next season. Grade: C
Albany Devils: (32-42-1-5 – 70 pts., 8th place) Fell to the basement and finished as the leagues worst team. Not just standings wise but also in power play and penalty kill. Issues everywhere with this team. Don’t expect much change for next year. New Jersey affiliates normally are not built to win or develop anything other than getting your head beat in. Fans in Albany deserve better. Grade: F
Binghamton Senators: (42-30-3-5 – 92 pts., 5th place) Went 10-9-0-1 its last 20 games. Received help from parent Ottawa when they sent the calvary Sunday afternoon for the playoff push. Crossing over to the Atlantic to play Manchester first round. Has had Wilkes-Barre’s number all year long. Only way the two meet is in the Eastern Conference Finals. Status uncertain on league MVP Corey Locke but they have Bobby Butler back from Ottawa. Grade: B
Charlotte Checkers: (44-27-2-7 – 97 pts., 3rd place) Parent Carolina missed the playoffs so the Checkers get Drayson Bowman back from the NHL squad. First round matchup is with Hershey. Top line is a dangerous and the defense is good but the issue remains in goal for this team. Regular Mike Murphy is out and Justin Pogge is easily rattled. Overpowered opponents with goals but in a seven game playoff series with all the adjustments the opponent can make it’d worry me just a bit. Grade: B+
Hershey Bears: (46-26-3-5 – 100 pts., 2nd place) If the Bears escape the East Division they will be again the favorites for a back to back to back Calder Cup celebration. The case for this team is that it is getting healthier with key guys coming back from injury while it’s opponents are basically who they are. The case against is Braden Holtby in net then a huge drop off to late addition loan from Providence Nolan Schaefer. Holtby is hot / cold and Hershey for whatever reason could not beat Wilkes-Barre soundly all year. Despite all the above, still managed to finish in the top 5 overall points wise. Grade: A-
Norfolk Admirals: (39-26-9-6 – 93 pts., 4th place) Skidded into the playoffs with a ghastly 3-6-1-0 record in its last 10 games. Beat Connecticut in it’s last game to leapfrog Binghamton and stay in the East Division instead of crossing over and playing Manchester. Probably the coldest team coming into the Calder Cup Playoffs and a huge underdog drawing league behemoth Wilkes-Barre / Scranton first round. Grade: C
Syracuse Crunch: (35-38-3-4 – 77 pts., 6th place) But for the Rockford IceHogs who went 9-1 in their last 10 games, there was nary a team hotter in the entire AHL. The Crunch went 8-2 in their last 10 games and 15-5 in the fourth quarter. Lots of upset fans in Syracuse who were left wanting much more than the front office and parent Anaheim Ducks gave them. It’s never any good when your GM releases a statement towards a small group of fans ripping the team. I picked them to finish last in the third quarter grades. I was wrong. They finished 6th. Next year can be a different story with this team. Grade: B-
Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins: (58-21-0-1 – 117 pts., 1st place) Second all time in AHL history in wins with 58, only behind last years Bears squad who won 60 games. Led the division wire to wire and never looked back. 14-5-0-1 in the final 20 games. Mindset from AHL Coach of the Year John Hynes is to win every single game and never let off a shift. Losing is unacceptable. League’s best team. Goaltender of the Year in Brad Thiessen. He and backup John Curry are formidable to any lineup. Pens fans breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that the Binghamton Senators will cross over. Anything short of a Calder Cup celebration in June will be seen as a major disappointment. Odds on favorite to win it this year. Grade: A+
So there you have it. Western Conference Playoff Preview will be up tomorrow with the Eastern Conference Playoff Preview up Thursday.
Let’s Go Pens!