By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
RIVERMEN STILL STRUGGLING FOR PLAYOFF POSITIONING IN TOUGH AHL WESTERN CONFERENCE:
6-3-1 in last ten, 3-1-0 this week, still just fourth in Midwest Division, eighth in conference.
The Peoria Rivermen are playing very solid hockey in the month of January, going 4-2-0 in with shutouts over conference foes Milwaukee and Lake Erie, and 14 goals for in six games vs. just ten goals against. In their last ten games, going back to December, the Rivermen are 6-3-1 and one of the hottest teams in the AHL.
Yet, despite the improved play, coach Jared Bednar's charges still can't climb out of the lower echelons of the AHL Western Conference playoff race. Despite getting solid goaltending from Ben Bishop and Jake Allen, despite getting the expected offense from veterans like T.J Hensick, Brett Sterling and Derek Nesbitt, and despite getting solid contributions from third-liners and prospects like Tyler Shattock and Brett Sonne (pictured at right), if the AHL playoffs began today, the Rivermen would be the eighth seed and would face the West Division and Western Conference leaders, the Abbotsford (BC) Heat.
The Rivermen currently own a 20-17-2-1 record, good for 43 points in 40 games. Milwaukee, who has played just 35 games, also sits at 43 points (21-13-0-1), and division leaders Chicago (38 GP, 21-13-1-3, 46 pts) and Charlotte (39 GP, 21-14-2-2, 46 pts) are within striking distance. Abbotsford (38 GP, 24-11-3-0, 51 pts), Oklahoma City (39 GP, 23-11-2-3, 51 pts) and Houston (39 GP, 21-9-2-7, 51 pts) have separated themselves from the pack in the Western Conference and the West Division, with fourth-place San Antonio 13 points off the pace at 18-18-2-0 (38 pts). In the North Division, only the division-leading Toronto Marlies are playoff bound at this juncture with a 21-14-3-2 record for 47 points in 40 games.
The Rivermen closed out a five-game home stand with four games in the last seven days. After dropping a 5-2 decision to arch-rival Chicago on Jan. 6, the Rivs reeled off three wins in the next four games -- losing only a 2-1 decision to Houston on Friday the 13th -- to bring momentum along with them as they embark on a two-game Texas swing this coming weekend.
Veteran T.J. Hensick and rookie Cade Fairchild were tabbed as Peoria's representatives to the AHL All-Star game, to be played at the historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ on Jan. 30. Despite being among the leaders in every major goaltending category (T-1st wins, 4th GAA and 5th save percentage), Ben Bishop was passed over for the midesason classic in favor of Oklahoma City's Yann Danis, Lake Erie's Cedrick Desjardins, and Houston's Matt Hackett.
THE WEEK IN REVIEW:
Peoria 4 vs. Milwaukee 2, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012.
Peoria 4 vs. Lake Erie 0, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.
Peoria 1 vs. Houston 2, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.
Peoria 2 vs. Houston 1, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Friday, January 20, 2012 ... Game Time 7:30 PM CST at Cedar Park Center, Cedar park, TX. NHL Affiliate: Dallas Stars.
Saturday, January 21, 2012 ... Game Time 7:00 PM CST at AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX. NHL Affiliate: Phoenix Coyotes.
RIVERMEN NEWS LINKS:
01/08/12 -- Rivermen step up for 4-2 victory over nemesis Milwaukee (Peoria Journal Star).
01/12/12 -- Rivermen tame Monsters, 4-0, on Bishop's 6th shutout, Hensick's 3 points (Peoria Journal Star).
01/13/12 -- Rivermen attack wilts in 2-1 loss to Aeros (Peoria Journal Star).
01/14/12 -- Rivermen ace Aeros, 2-1, to split two-game set (Peoria Journal-Star).