By Brian Weidler, "Game Time" Prospect Department
BISHOP, RIVERMEN SPLIT A PAIR OF DIVISION GAMES:
Four games in next seven days, three within the Midwest Division, next up for Peoria.
It's going to be a tall order for the Peoria Rivermen to gain ground in the ultra-competitive AHL Western Conference playoff race, and they have only a short time in which to do it.
(Thanks to Game Time reader Jennifer Mefford for the photo, at left, of Peoria defensmen David Shields and Mark Cundari, who graphically illustrate the long and the short of it for Peoria in the coming weeks)
The Rivermen split a pair of games with Western Conference foes in the last 48 hours, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Lake Erie Monsters on Friday night and rebounding to rack up 47 shots on goal and dominate division-leading Charlotte 5-2 on Saturday.
The win over Charlotte puts Peoria (25-21-2-1) in the eighth seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 53 points in 49 games. Rochester also has 53 points, but has played 50 games and thus trail the Rivs by percentage points.
And even if Peoria had been able to win the Friday game vs. Lake Erie, they'd be no better than a dead "Heat" with Abbotsford (26-20-3-0) for the seventh seed.
With 29 games left in the 2011-12 season, things don't get any easier for the Rivermen. Just one game over .500 on the road so far this year at 12-11-1-1 (72 GF, 73 GA), they begin a four-game week this afternoon with a 4:00 PM road contest in Milwaukee (24-20-2-1), and travel to Rockford (21-24-1-4)on Wednesday before returning to the friendly confines of Carver Arena on Friday for their third straight division contest, once again facing division leaders Charlotte (29-17-2-2). The Rivs will then close out the week with another road game on Saturday, when they travel to Grand Rapids to face the Griffins (19-20-4-4) in another game with Western Conference playoff implications.
BISHOP TRADE RUMORS ON HOLD... FOR NOW:
As we reported in last night's print edition of Game Time, and as Dave Eminian reported for the Peoria Journal Star HERE, Jake Allen suffered an upper body injury in practice this week. The injury to Allen leaves the Rivermen with only trade bait Ben Bishop to mind the store for the next 7-10 days, while the CHL Quad City Mallards have graciously provided backup goalie David McKee to open the bench door for Bishop while Allen recuperates.
This injury, the first serious injury of Allen's career, puts the Bishop trade rumors on hold for the next few days while the big man from Denver tries to keep the Rivermen in the thick of the playoff race.
Here's our take on the possible scenarios that could develop as a result of the Allen injury, again from last night's print edition of Game Time:
So... Allen has been struggling with consistency and effectiveness all year long, and has just suffered the first serious injury of his career. Let’s say the injury keeps him on the sidelines for ten days, as Rivs’ beat writer Dave Eminian in the Peoria Journal Star speculated that it might. So you have a Jake Allen with confidence issues just coming back from an injury that may or may not have gotten into his head, being the first of his career. A week or so after Allen gets back into the lineup, the Blues trade Peoria’s starting goalie and the bedrock upon which this season has been built to date, and tell the 21-year-old that the success or failure of the Peoria playoff chase now lies squarely on his lanky New Brunswickian shoulders.
One of two things will happen. In the best case, Allen is inspired by the opportunity much like he was inspired by the opportunity to tend goal for Team Canada in the 2008 U-18 World Juniors, and he rises to the occasion with a solid gold shutdown performance as he did in the U-18’s. Or on the flip side, the pressure is too much for the kid to take, and he wilts like a dandelion in the desert and takes Peoria’s playoff hopes down the drain with him.
Or, worse for Allen’s development, (Clarkson University senior Paul) Karpowich is signed and rides in on a white horse, as a Golden Knight should, to take charge and lead the Rivermen on a late-season charge to the Calder Cup playoffs. In that scenario, what effect does this have on Jake Allen’s psyche, and on his future in the organization?
A playoff run this year is very important to the development of second-year pros like Allen, along with Philip McRae, Tyler Shattock, Stefan Della Rovere and Mark Cundari, as well as to the development of rookies like Cade Fairchild, Brett Ponich and David Shields. Failure to make the playoffs will be a setback in the development of all these players, and the Blues know it.
For this reason, we do not see the Blues moving Bishop at all unless they are made an offer that they simply cannot turn down. Bishop’s presence makes a playoff appearance for the Rivs that much more likely, where his absence almost certainly dooms that possibility, and Bishop’s presence also allows Allen to play in spots as he works to regain his consistency and confidence.
If Bishop is traded, Allen gets the keys to the kingdom by default, and the Blues fill in with someone like McKee as a backup until Karpowich becomes available. Allen’s response to that scenario will have a large effect on his future with the organization, and Karpowich’s response to being signed will determine if he can soften the blow of Bishop’s departure, either through trade or as a free agent.
THE WEEK IN REVIEW:
Peoria 2 vs. Lake Erie 3, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.
Peoria 5 vs. Charlotte 2, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012.
THE WEEK AHEAD:
Sunday, February 12, 2012 ... Game Time 4:00 PM CST at Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI. NHL Affiliate: Nashville Predators.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 ... Game Time 7:05 PM CST at BMO Harris Bank Center, Rockford, IL. NHL Affiliate: Chicago Blackhawks.
Friday, February 17, 2012 ... Game Time 7:00 PM CST at Carver Arena, Peoria, IL. NHL Affiliate: Carolina Hurricanes.
Saturday, February 18, 2012 ... Game Time 6:00 PM CST at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI. NHL Affiliate: Detroit Red Wings.
RIVERMEN NEWS LINKS:
02/10/12 -- Monsters ruin Peoria’s start (Peoria Journal Star).
02/11/12 -- Rivermen jump on Checkers for 5-2 win ( Peoria Journal-Star).