(originally published December 12, 2006)
With the American Hockey League season just about one-third complete, it's time to take a quick look at how the Blues' prospects in Peoria have been doing as a team. The results to date are encouraging for the most part, but there are some areas of concern to be examined as well.
As of Monday, December 11, the Rivermen sit in third place in the West Division of the AHL's Western Conference with a 13-8-1-2 record for 29 points and a solid .604 point percentage. The Rivermen are a respectable .500 on the road (5-5-1-2) and a very nice 8-3-0-0 at the friendly confines of Carver Arena. As a result, Peoria sits 11th overall in the 27-team AHL, and are currently the fifth seed in the Western Conference. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Rivermen would face the Hamilton (Ontario) Bulldogs, where Montreal and Edmonton send their prospects for development.
As with the parent Blues, offense has been an issue for the Rivermen this year. As of now, they are 23rd in the AHL in goals for per game, with 64 goals in 24 games, an average of 2.67 goals for per game. Defensively, however, the Rivermen are better, ranking ninth in the league with 70 goals against in 24 games and posting a team GAA of 2.88. The team save percentage, unfortunately, isn't keeping pace. The three Peoria goalies this year have allowed 70 goals (two ENG) in 631 shots against for a meager 88.9% team save percentage, with Jason Bacashihua's 86.0% (178 saves on 207 shots against) dragging the rest down.
The Rivermen power play is middle-of-the-road in the AHL, ranked 11th overall with 26 goals in 149 tries, a 17.45% success rate. At the other end of the spectrum, like the parent Blues, the Rivermen have been having some trouble staying out of the penalty box. 570 minutes in penalties, an average of 22.8 minutes per game, has the Rivermen sitting in a tie for seventh-highest average PIM per game in the league. Peoria's penalty kill ranks tenth in the league with 131 kills in 154 times shorthanded, an 85.06% rate of success.
Offensively, the Rivermen have no players among the league's leading scorers, or among the league's leading rookie scorers. Veteran Trent Whitfield leads the Peoria scoring parade at the moment with 11-10-21 totals while appearing in all 24 games played to date. AHL-contracted player Charles Linglet leads the team in goals scored with 12 (to go along with six assists for 18 points), and checking-line center Ryan Ramsay has the best plus/minus mark on the club with a plus-6. David Backes tops the Rivermen rookies with nine goals and 11 points, but also shares (with utility man Mike Stuart) the worst plus/minus mark on the team with a minus-8. Bruiser DJ King tops the team with 58 minutes in penalty time.
On the defensive side, rookie goaltender Marek Schwarz has justified his selection as the 17th overall pick in 2004 with a very nice 2.28 GAA in 12 games, ranking him fifth in the AHL at present, and tops among rookie goaltenders. Schwarz also boasts a 9-2-0 record, putting him just outside the top five in wins by AHL goalies, and has allowed only 26 goals on 297 shots against for a very respectable 91.2% save percentage.
Peoria started the month of November with a 10-5 shellacking at the hands of their arch-rivals, the Chicago Wolves. After that wake-up call, however, the Rivermen reeled off an impressive 8-1-1-1 string, with wins over division foes Iowa (three times), Omaha (twice), and Houston (once), leading up to last weekend's road trip to Winnipeg and a two-game set with the Manitoba Moose.
On paper, the series looked like a slam dunk for the good guys. Peoria was 13-6-1-2 and on a hot streak, while the Moose were two games under .500 at 10-12-3-2, and had just lost four games in five days. The ice storm that gripped the Upper Midwest put a hitch in Peoria's travel plans, however, which should have been a sign of things to come for the Rivermen.
Chris Beckford-Tseu, who was an impressive 2-0-1 with a 1.90 GAA and 92.7% save percentage in limited action for the Rivermen, was pressed into service as Peoria's number one goalie after Bacashihua and Schwarz got callups to St. Louis. This series would be "The Hyphenator's" first crack at being the go-to guy at the AHL level, and it turned out to be less than memorable for the Richmond Hill, Ontario native.
The Moose are fourth in the AHL in attendance this year, averaging over 7000 per contest, and Winnipeggers turned out in even better numbers this past weekend to cheer on their home team. Inspired by crowds of over 7500 in both games, Manitoba took care of the Rivermen by scores of 4-1 on Friday night and 3-0 on Sunday afternoon. Beckford-Tseu allowed five goals on 30 shots (an 85.7% save percentage) in just over 117 minutes of ice time, and the Moose sealed the two wins with the only two empty-net goals scored against the Rivermen all season.
Beckford-Tseu and the Rivermen have a chance to right the ship with four games before Christmas, all at home on the Peoria riverfront. They'll face the Iowa Stars on Friday and Sunday of this week, with a game against Grand Rapids sandwiched in between on Saturday. Peoria will also host the Griffins again on Friday, December 22 before taking a three-day break for Christmas. The Rivermen this year are 3-0-0-0 vs. Iowa, with 12 goals for and five against, and won their only other meeting with Grand Rapids this year by a 3-1 score on November 17 at Van Andel Arena.
Until next time, check out archived "Tomorrow's Blues" articles and other prospect-related content on the "Future 'Notes" blog at http://futurenotes.blogspot.com, and remember... "if we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.