By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
BACK-TO-BACK LOSSES PUT RIVERMEN BACK ON THE BUBBLE:
Bishop trade means that, for better or worse, Jake Allen is The Man for Rivs' stretch run.
At this time a week ago, the Peoria Rivermen were a solid seventh place in the AHL Western Conference standings, and had an All-Star MVP goaltender upon whom they could rely down the stretch as they sought to solidify and improve their playoff position.
Both of those things are gone as of today.
A 4-3 shootout win over Abbotsford earlier in the week pushed the Rivs into sole possession of sixth place in the Western Conference, but a pair of back-to-back 2-1 defeats at the hands of the San Antonio Rampage on Friday and Saturday dropped the Rivermen back into a tie for the eighth seed with the Rochester (NY) Americans. And to add to the tremors being sent through AwesomeTown, the Blues just this morning announced the trade of Ben Bishop to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
The Bishop deal means that Jake "The Snake" Allen (above; photo by Nathan Kerley, Peoria Rivermen) is now The Man between the pipes, on whom the Rivs' fortunes will rest in the stretch run. After a solid rookie pro season in 2010-11 (47 GP, 25-19-3, 6 SO, 2.52, 91.7%), Allen has struggled to a 5-12-1 record with no shurouts, a 3.29 GAA and a 90.4% save percentage, becoming the poster boy for the dreaded "sophomore slump."
Allen has responded well to challenges in the past during his career; in his draft year (2008), Allen finished the regular season with a 9-12-0 record, a 3.14 GAA, and a 90.1 save percentage for Saint John of the QMJHL, but was thrust into the starting role for Team Canada in the U-18 World Junior Championships. He responded with a dominant performance, winning six of seven games and posting a 1.43 GAA and 94.8 save percentage with two shutouts to lead Canada to the gold.
The latest speculation is that the Blues will sign Clarkson University senior goaltender Paul Karpowich, their seventh-round pick (185th overall) in 2008, to an ELC as soon as Clarkson finishes their season. Karpowich and the Golden Knights are currently preparing for the ECAC postseason tournament, where they will host RPI next weekend in a best-of-three first-round series.
SPECIAL TEAMS ONLY SPECIAL ON ONE SIDE LATELY:
The Rivermen are ranked in the top ten of the AHL on both the penalty kill (6th) and the power play (8th), but only one aspect of their special teams has been truly special over the last several weeks.
A goal by Bracken Kearns at 3:49 of the third period on Saturday was the first power-play goal the Rivermen have allowed since a goal by Patrick Rismiller of the Lake Erie Monsters at 17:42 of the third period on Feb. 10. Prior to Kearns' goal, the Rivs had killed off 23 consecutive penalties over seven full games and two periods of an eighth game.
Peoria's own "power" play, however, has been ineffective for the last two weeks. After a pair of man-advantage tallies against Milwaukee on Feb. 12, by Brett Sterling and Derek Nesbitt, the Rivermen have gone 0-for-17 over the six games they've played since.
THE WEEK IN REVIEW:
Peoria 4 vs. Abbotsford 3 (SO), Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012.
Peoria 1 vs. San Antonio 2, Friday, Feb. 24, 2012.
Peoria 1 vs. San Antonio 2, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012.
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Sunday, February 26, 2012 ... Game Time 5:00 PM CST at Carver Arena, Peoria, IL. NHL Affiliate: Calgary Flames.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 ... Game Time 7:00 PM CST at Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI. NHL Affiliate: Nashville Predators.
Friday, March 2, 2012 ... Game Time 7:00 PM CST at Carver Arena, Peoria, IL. NHL Affiliate: Edmonton Oilers.
Saturday, March 2, 2012 ... Game Time 7:00 PM CST at Carver Arena, Peoria, IL. NHL Affiliate: Chicago Blackhawks.
RIVERMEN NEWS LINKS:
02/21/12 -- Rivermen strike back, beat Heat 4-3 in shootout (Peoria Journal Star).
02/24/12 -- Rivermen lose goaltending duel to Rampage, 2-1 (Peoria Journal-Star).
02/25/12 -- Rematch, repeat: Rivermen lose 2-1, again, to Rampage (Peoria Journal Star).