Grand Rapids Griffins Down Rockford IceHogs 2-1 on New Year's Eve
After a rough stretch through early and mid December that saw them drop six of seven games, the Grand Rapids Griffins were hoping to finish 2018 on a high note. That's exactly what they did. They finished out the month and year with a 4-0-1-0 record in their last five games. This puts the Griffins at 43 points on the season, just one point behind the Chicago Wolves for the Central Division lead, with an overall record of 19-11-3-2.
This strong end of the year was capped off on Monday night in Van Andel Arena where the Griffins faced the Rockford IceHogs. This game featured a lot of very fast back and forth action with both teams generating their share of shots and chances but neither were able to sustain offensive pressure for any long stretches. It was a very evenly matched game throughout.
Both goaltenders, Kevin Lankinen for Rockford and Harri Sateri for Grand Rapids, played very strong games and kept the game scoreless past the halfway point of the second period. Then, in the span of 42 seconds, Rockford took two hooking penalties which gave the Griffins a five on three powerplay. They were able to capitalize on this and finally put one past Lankinen when Carter Camper received a cross ice pass from Chris Terry and snuck a bad angle shot into the back of the net with 8:41 remaining in the period. Just four minutes and 31 seconds later, the IceHogs responded. The IceHogs were able to win a faceoff in the Griffins' zone and got the puck back to defenseman Lucas Carlsson who then took a slapshot from the point that found its way through traffic and Grand Rapids goaltender Harri Sateri to knot the game at one. After these goals both goalies resumed their dominance of the game and each turned away 21 of the 22 shots they faced in the first two periods.
The third period was more of the same with both teams getting some chances but not being able get anything to the back of the net. This game seemed destined for overtime until Grand Rapids defenseman Joe Hicketts came streaking into the zone, received a nice pass from Chris Terry, and fired a slap shot through Lankinen from the top of the right faceoff circle with just four minutes and 44 seconds remaining in the game. This would prove to be the game winner as the IceHogs could not beat Sateri in the last few minutes with their goalie pulled. Sateri would be named first star of the game after turning aside 31 of the 32 shots he faced.
Chris Terry has been dominant as of late. He has recorded three goals and six assists during the Griffins' recent 4-0-1-0 stretch. The offense currently seems to run through him as he has contributed on nine of the Griffins' 14 goals during this span. As well, this does not include the shootout winner he potted against Cleveland on December 29. He currently leads the league in goals with 21 and comes third in overall points with 38. His 21 goals put him 8 goals ahead of Matt Puempel (13 goals) for the team lead. He comes second on the team in assists with 17, just one behind Carter Camper. Terry's 38 points also leads the team by a wide margin with the next closest being Matt Puempel and Carter Camper who both have 26 points.
Harri Sateri looked very impressive again on Monday night. His movement in net looks very smooth and he is tracking pucks well. In his last three starts he is 2-0-1 having made 91 saves on 96 shots faced for a save percentage of .948 and a goals against average of 1.65. Overall on the season he is 11-6-2 with a save percentage of .890 and goals against average of 3.09.
The Griffins are scary at home. They sport a 12-3-1-2 record at Van Andel Arena which is good for 27 points and is tied for the most points at home in the league. At home they average 3.44 goals for per game and allow 2.78 goals per game. In their last 10 games in Grand Rapids, the Griffins are 7-1-1-1. With this impressive home record, however, they have struggled on the road and are 7-8-2-0 which comes in at 19th overall in the league. When playing on the road they are scoring only 2.65 goals per game and allowing 3.18 goals per game on average. Fortunately for Grand Rapids, their play at home has been more than enough to offset their mediocre road record. Unfortunately for Grand Rapids, they start off 2019 with five road games in their first seven games of the new year. They will have to figure out their road game soon as one would think that their hot run at home so far this season will eventually come back down to earth and not be able to carry their play on the road for much longer.
Grand Rapids starts off 2019 with a three game road trip including back to back games Friday night against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and on Saturday night against the Hershey Bears. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton should be the tougher game as they currently sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a 17-14-4-1 record good for 39 points. However, their home record of 7-8-1-0 is as mediocre as Grand Rapids' road record and is good for second worst in the AHL. Saturday night's game against the Hershey Bears should be the easier of the two games as the Bears sit third to last in the entire league with a record of 14-18-0-2 for 30 points. However, any game on the end of a back to back is dangerous so it should keep things interesting.