Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Calder Cup Preview — Western Conference

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A tradition, unlike any other. It’s an Eastern Conference blogger taking a jump into the Western Conference pool in an attempt to handicap the eight teams that qualified for the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs.

The concept is simple. A factual based look at each team with record, power play, penalty kill, top three scorers, an overview of how the team fared in the regular season and its first round playoff date and a record against that team. New this year is a category called, “How they’ll win it” in place of the Calder Cup Odds from years past.

Here goes nothing…after you jump through…

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Chicago Wolves

Record: 40-21-6-1 // 87 pts., 3rd Place Midwest Division (8 seed)

Power Play: 13th // 17.2%

Penalty Kill: 19th // 82.6%

Top 3 Scorers: Shane Harper 32-18-50 / Pat Cannone / 14-33-47 / Ty Rattie 21-21-42

Overview: Chicago wasn’t ever a serious threat to take down the Midwest Division leaders but they were good enough to qualify over a lot of bad teams that just weren’t good enough to compete for the eight seed.

First Round Opponent: Utica Comets

Record vs. the Comets: 2-2

How They Win It: The Comets stand in the way of the Wolves in the first round. But this is a John Anderson coached team that has experience in these situations vs. a Travis Green Comets team with players and a coaching staff that doesn’t. The West is stacked with some good teams but there has to be a dark horse and Chicago may just be it.

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Grand Rapids Griffins

Record: 46-22-6-2 // 100 pts., 1st Place Midwest Division (2 seed)

Power Play: 16th // 17%

Penalty Kill: 6th // 86.4%

Top 3 Scorers: Andy Miele 26-44-70 / Teemu Pulkkinen 34-27-61 / Landon Ferraro 27-15-42

Overview: Edged Rockford for the Midwest crown in the final weeks. Griffins surged from anonymity to contenders in a heartbeat. Getting hot at the right time.

First Round Opponent: Toronto Marlies

Record vs. the Marlies: 3-1

How They Win It: Pulkkinen and Ferraro are up with Detroit right now so getting those two back would help, but this is a team that knows how to win these having won the Calder Cup two years ago. As long as the Griffins don’t get themselves in trouble early having to battle back from a two goal deficit or a one or two game deficit, smart money would have the Griffins as odds on favorites again to win their second title in three years.

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Oklahoma City Barons

Record: 41-27-5-3 // 90 pts., 3rd Place West Division (6 seed)

Power Play: 10th // 17.9%

Penalty Kill: 5th // 86.5%

Top 3 Scorers: Andrew Miller 27-33-60 / Jason Williams 21-32-53 / Matthew Ford 19-34-53

Overview: Barons slipped in the final months and ceded the West Division Championship to the San Antonio Rampage and let the Texas Stars slip by them as well. Otherwise, a solid year for the lame duck Barons.

First Round Opponent: San Antonio Rampage

Record vs. the Rampage: 3-5-2-2

How They Win It: Special teams. Make the opponent pay for taking a penalty and bail yourself out when one is called on you. If successful, the Barons can go far.

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Rockford IceHogs

Record: 46-23-5-2 // 99 pts., 2nd Place Midwest Division (4 seed)

Power Play: 15th // 17%

Penalty Kill: 8th // 86%

Top 3 Scorers: Spencer Abbott 19-26-45 / Mark McNeill 23-21-44 / Garret Ross 21-22-43

Overview: IceHogs played at the top of the Midwest Division for pretty much all season and were not going to collapse and fade away as they had last season. Missed the division title by a point to Grand Rapids. Nothing flashy with the top three scorers, Rockford looks like a very balanced team.

First Round Opponent: Texas Stars

Record vs. the Stars: 4-0

How They Win It: Despite the perfect record against the Stars, it doesn’t come as easy as that in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The IceHogs will need to continue to use that balance that has steadied them all season to get them to the pinnacle against more experienced teams like the Texas Stars, who are the defending champions.

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San Antonio Rampage

Record: 45-23-7-1 // 98 pts., 1st Place West Division (3 seed)

Power Play: 8th // 18.6%

Penalty Kill: 15th // 83.7%

Top 3 Scorers: Bobby Butler 27-32-59 / Connor Brickley 22-25-47 / Mark Mancari 13-33-46

Overview: Oklahoma City’s losses were San Antonio’s gains. No one outside of San Antonio predicted that the Rampage would win the West Division and that is just what they did.

First Round Opponent: Oklahoma City Barons

Record vs. the Barons: 9-1-2-0

How They Win It: I don’t think that the Rampage can play the dark horse card in playoffs. Divisional winners are hardly underdogs when it comes to these things. The Rampage are a group that obviously believe in themselves and each other. I think a combination of this, coupled with goaltending and special teams is the right concoction for San Antonio to go far this Spring.

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Texas Stars

Record: 40-22-13-1 // 94 pts., 2nd Place West Division (5 seed)

Power Play: 3rd // 20%

Penalty Kill: 4th // 86.9

Top 3 Scorers: Travis Morin 22-21-63 / Brendan Ranford 18-33-51 / Justin Dowling 24-26-50

Overview: Defending Champs are back looking to make it two for two. Much like with Chicago, were a lot better than a lot of non-playoff teams and like San Antonio, benefitted at the cold streak the then division leading Barons went on.

First Round Opponent: Rockford IceHogs

Record vs. the IceHogs: 0-3-0-1

How They Win It: One of the things that caught my eye as I was doing these was all of the overtime losses the Stars racked up in the regular season (13) That is the most in the AHL. Texas will want to avoid getting games into overtime for one, and use their exquisite special teams coupled with their experience in this situation from last year to advance them past everyone and on to back-to-back championships.

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Toronto Marlies

Record: 40-27-9-0 // 89 pts., 2nd Place North Division (7 seed)

Power Play: 29th // 12.8%

Penalty Kill: 28th // 79.1%

Top 3 Scorers: Connor Brown 21-40-61 / Brendan Leipsic 14-40-54 / T.J. Brennan 12-40-52

Overview: The Marlies went on a run late in the season that put them here. Battling through non-playoff teams in the same division like Lake Erie and Hamilton helped greatly.

First Round Opponent: Grand Rapids Griffins

Record vs. the Griffins: 1-3

How They Win It: The Marlies will need to battle through adversity because of the quality of opponent that the Marlies face as each round passes is only going to get better and better and better. If they survive that, perhaps they give the City of Toronto something to celebrate come June.

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Utica Comets

Record: 47-20-7-2 // 103 pts., 1st Place North Division (1 seed)

Power Play: 19th // 16.1%

Penalty Kill: 7th // 86.3%

Top 3 Scorers: Cal O’Reilly 10-51-61 / Brandon DeFazio 21-22-43 / Alexandre Grenier 17-26-43

Overview: Comets led wire to wire it seemed for large portions of the regular season. Division was never in doubt from January onward and a dry spell that hits all teams never really came with this club.

First Round Opponent: Chicago Wolves

Record vs. the Wolves: 2-1-1-0

How They Win It: Remain consistent and use what got you to the best record in the Western Conference to your advantage. Stick to that game plan and you have yourselves a winner.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to find my way home from left field. We roll on with the Eastern Conference Previews later on.

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