As we get closer to the NHL and AHL Trade Deadlines, the road to the Calder Cup playoffs starts to come into focus. Going into their holiday Monday matchup with the Milwaukee Admirals, the Manitoba Moose have 24 games left in their 2017-18 season.
Today, let’s take a look at the Central Division as we hit the home stretch. Who’s in a good spot to make the playoffs, and what should you look for in the final two months of the season?
First Place: Manitoba Moose
Current Record: 32-13-7, 71 points
Playoff Odds (sportsclubstats.com): 100.0%
Last 10 games: 5-3-2
Home / Away: 12-8-4 / 20-5-3
Top Scorer: F Mason Appleton – 16 G, 30 A, 46 PTS
Top Goalie: G Michael Hutchinson – 15-2-5, 1.95 GAA, .942 SV%
Games Remaining: 14 home, 10 away
The Skinny: The Moose have struggled so far in 2018, with a record of 8-7-4. Currently missing their top two goalies and two of their best forwards on the season (Petan and Roslovic), the load has fallen to rookie Mason Appleton to lead the scoring charge. Appleton is tied for the lead in AHL rookie scoring with Dylan Strome of Tucson and is fifth in the AHL scoring race overall.
While the Moose have had a strong season in many statistical categories, one category of concern would be their propensity to give up a large number of shots. The Moose are 29th in the AHL in shots allowed per game, averaging 33.35 SA/G. Digging a little deeper, the Moose have given up the most 3rd period shots in the AHL (602). When the Moose were winning games by large margins, this made sense, as the Moose would be locking down the game in the third period. Now that the Moose have been behind more frequently, giving up a large volume of shots in the final period is a concerning metric that will need to be cleaned up come playoff time.
Second place: Grand Rapids Griffins
Current Record: 28-18-7, 63 points
Playoff Odds (sportsclubstats.com): 83.5%
Last 10 games: 8-0-2
Home / Away: 13-10-3 / 15-8-4
Top Scorer: F Matt Puempel – 18 G, 23 A, 41 P
Top Goalie: G Jared Coreau – 20-10-6, 2.47 GAA, .916 SV%
Games Remaining: 12 home, 11 away
The Skinny: The Griffins have been on fire since the turn of the calendar. Since a 3-2 shootout loss to Rockford on December 23, the Griffins are 16-3-1 in their last 20 games against the Central Division, leading to an overall divisional record of 23-13-5 on the season. The Griffins have taken care of business against non-playoff teams in the division as well, with a 13-5-5 record against Milwaukee, Rockford, and Cleveland this season. Grand Rapids is currently on an 11 game point streak (9-0-2 over that span), and begin a six game home-stand this Wednesday with a potential first round preview against the Chicago Wolves.
Third place: Chicago Wolves
Current Record: 26-17-8, 60 points
Playoff Odds (sportsclubstats.com): 88.0%
Last 10 games: 7-2-1
Home / Away: 18-7-1 / 8-10-7
Top Scorer: F TJ Tynan – 10 G, 33 A, 43 P
Top Goalie: G Kasimir Kaskisuo – 11-11-4, 2.48 GAA, .908 SV%
Games Remaining: 12 home, 13 away
The Skinny: The Wolves have a respectable 8-5-1 record since the end of their season long 14 game point streak (Dec 9 – Jan 6). They have been one of the hottest teams in the league overall after a slow 4-9-1 start in their first 14 games. Chicago has been one of the best third period teams in the AHL, outscoring teams 60-48 in the final frame, and holding an 18-1-2 record when leading after two periods on the season. The Wolves will be a busy team come the month of March, when they will play 14 times, including two back to backs and a weekend of three games in three nights. While March is busy, April will likely define the Wolves’ playoff hopes. They have seven Central division games in the month, including three against the Admirals, two against Rockford, and one against the Iowa Wild.
Fourth place: Iowa Wild
Current Record: 25-16-10, 60 points
Playoff Odds (sportsclubstats.com): 84.6%
Last 10 games: 7-3-0
Home / Away: 14-9-4 / 11-7-6
Top Scorer: F Cal O’Reilly – 9 G, 34 A, 43 PTS
Top Goalie: G Niklas Svedberg – 15-9-5, 2.48 GAA, .919 SV%
Games Remaining: 11 home, 14 away
The Skinny: The Wild have been an up and down team all season long. After a 2-5-2 start, the Wild followed that up with an 8-2-0 month of November. The Wild have been good at getting off to quick starts in games, and when they get off to a good start, it usually ends in a good result for the Wild. The Wild have the best points percentage in the Central Division when they score first, with a record of 15-1-9 on the season in that situation. The Wild are also one of four Western Conference teams that have not lost in regulation when leading after two periods (17-0-8). After a holiday Monday game hosting Texas, a six game road trip looms large, where the Wild will visit Grand Rapids twice, Manitoba twice, and then head to Texas and San Antonio.
Fifth place: Milwaukee Admirals
Current Record: 25-21-5, 55 points
Playoff Odds (sportsclubstats.com): 17.4%
Last 10 games: 4-5-1
Home / Away: 11-11-3 / 14-10-2
Top Scorer: F Emil Pettersson – 10 G, 24 A, 34 PTS
Top Goalie: G Anders Lindback – 21-13-5, 2.92 GAA, .907 SV%
Games Remaining: 13 home, 12 away
The Skinny: The Admirals have been consistently around .500 for most of the year, and that trend has not changed since the calendar turned to 2018, with a record of 9-9-1 in the New Year. The Admirals have been led by NHL veteran Anders Lindback, who has 21 wins on the year to lead all Western Conference goalies (only Charlotte’s Alex Nedeljkovic with 23 has more). Not only does Lindback have 21 wins overall, but he has single handedly won the Admirals a league high five shootout games, with a .765 shootout save percentage. Lindback has given the Admirals a chance in every game, even when they are behind, as evident by their record when trailing after 2 periods. Their 6 wins when trailing after two is tied with Bakersfield for most in the league. The Admirals struggle this season has surprisingly been their play at home. Milwaukee has scored 20 fewer goals at home than on the road. They will have a chance to redeem that in March, when they play 9 home games, including 7 inside the Central Division.
Sixth place: Rockford Icehogs
Current Record: 26-22-6, 58 points
Playoff Odds (sportsclubstats.com): 26.6%
Last 10 games: 3-6-1
Home / Away: 17-11-3 / 9-11-3
Top Scorer: F Matthew Highmore – 20 G, 14 A, 34 PTS
Top Goalie: G Jeff Glass – 10-5-2, 2.67 GAA, .914 SV%
Games Remaining: 7 home, 15 away
The Skinny: The Icehogs would love to play more games against the Pacific division. Their 7-2-2 record against the Pacific is the best of any Central Division team, and they have five games remaining on the season against the Pacific (Three vs Texas, one vs San Jose and one vs San Antonio). After three non-division games to close the month of February, the Icehogs will play 11 of the next 12 inside the Central Division, including eight on the road, where they have struggled this season. If they want to improve the road record, they would be wise to start with their special teams play. The Icehogs road powerplay is 28th in the AHL at just 12.6%, and their 11 road powerplay goals are second worst on the year. Not to be outdone, their road penalty kill is worst in the league, even though they have been shorthanded the fewest times on the road in the league. In just 87 attempts shorthanded, the Icehogs have conceded 22 powerplay goals (74.7% success).
Seventh place: Cleveland Monsters
Current Record: 17-27-7, 41 points
Playoff Odds (sportsclubstats.com): 0.01%
Last 10 games: 4-6-0
Home / Away: 10-14-2 / 7-13-5
Top Scorer: F Carter Camper – 11 G, 28 A, 39 P
Top Goalie: G Brad Thiessen – 4-2-3, 2.86 GAA, .884 SV%
Games Remaining: 12 home, 13 away
The Skinny: Cleveland has been the one team this year that has been consistently out of the playoff picture, and short of a minor miracle, the Monsters will miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year after winning the Calder Cup in 2016. A combination of lack of offense and poor goaltending has been the problem for Cleveland in 2017-18. Cleveland has scored first in the second fewest number of games in the Western Conference this season (21), and have just an 11-6-4 record in that situation. However, the Monsters are a top-10 shot suppression team in the AHL, averaging 28.4 shots against per game. On those 28.4 shots, the Monsters concede an average of 3.27 goals per game, worst in the Western Conference.