GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – After a less than stellar first half of the season, the Grand Rapids Griffins kicked 2023 off with a three-game point streak. They started with a messy 3-1 win over the Cleveland Monsters on Wednesday, then split the weekend with the number one team in the Central Division, the Texas Stars.
Dampening the Stars’ 12-game point-streak
Riding high on their first win of 2023, the Griffins entered their game Friday against the Stars with an abundance of positive energy. In the first 2:30 of the game, Grand Rapids came up with four big chances that Texas goaltender Matt Murray was able to stop. Griffins forward Taro Hirose picked up the rebounds on two of those shots.
As the period drew on, the Griffins grew more energetic and confident. Their feet were moving and their sticks stayed down. Something head coach Ben Simon said earlier in the season needed to happen for them to have consistent and continued success.
With six minutes left in the first, despite Stars forward Riley Barber launching shot attempt after shot attempt at Griffins goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, Grand Radpids was able to kill off 1:09 of a two-man disadvantage. It was a strong kill which allowed the Griffins to maintain the momentum they cultivated at the start of the game. On the flip side of special teams, the Grand Rapids power play struggled in the final minutes of the first period. Texas’ penalty kill was able to smother them and they were unable to do anything dangerous during the man-advantage.
The energetic Griffins barreled into the second period laying big hits and drawing up play after play. A goal came to fruition 3:54 into the period when forward Chase Pearson chased down a neutral zone turnover. As he skated up the wall with the puck, forward Pontus Andreasson slid into view unattended and unnoticed. Pearson quickly fired the puck over to Andreasson who then skated left to the middle of the slot before firing the puck past Stars netminder Murray.
Earning the first goal of the night fired up the Griffins. Shortly after, they almost made it 2-0 when Cross Hanas leapt to break up a pass in the defensive zone. Immediately, the puck flew to Jared McIsaac, who took off down the ice towards the Stars net. Unfortunately, he shot the puck just a hair over the crossbar.
Grand Rapids’ second penalty kill of the night came with 11:26 to play in the second after Nedeljkovic was collared for holding. They successfully killed the penalty but Barber made it hard for them to do so. This specific man advantage was composed by Barber who wouldn’t stop firing off wicked wristers and setting up passes for his teammates. By the end of the kill, the Griffins had been trapped in their defensive zone for two minutes.
During the back half of the second, the Griffins had two power plays but were unable to draw up anything offensively. Which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since Texas owns one of the top kills in the American Hockey League. However, these two power plays helped Grand Rapids keep control of momentum. Right as the second power play ran out of time, forward Austin Czarnik extended the Griffins lead to 2-0 off of a strong tape-to-tape pass from Jakub Vrana.
“We were all over the place,” said Czarnik of his first goal of the night. “We were in different spots. We finally got set up in our positions and Vrana made a great pass across. The goalie kind of hit Chase on and fell back and I just shot it.”
More AHL News
The third period was where the Griffins special teams began to sparkle a bit by scoring goals on both the penalty kill and the power play.
With a 4-0 lead in hand and Texas starting to have a meltdown while taking multiple penalties in a row, Grand Rapids was flying high and feeling good. But then, the last three minutes of the game hit, and things began to look a little different. McIsaac took two quick penalties, allowing Mavrik Bourque to get the Stars on the board for the first time all night. Then, with 1:20 left in the game, Curtis McKenzie cut the Griffins lead in half, 4-2, after pushing a puck into the net during a pileup in the crease.
Czarnik feels some of the last minute breakdown from the Griffins was due to the fact the Stars were throwing everything they possibly could at Nedeljkovic. “They’re going to put pucks on net. That’s what you’re going to do when you’re desperate for goal,” said Czarnik.
Luckily, for the Griffins, the blown shutout didn’t shake their confidence as they continued to put pucks on net. Even Nedeljkovic got in on the shooting fun and attempted a goalie goal on the Stars empty net with around five seconds to play.
Taking down the best team in the division (who was also on a 12-game point-streak) showed Simon that the Griffins are able to turn things around and hopefully claw out of last place. “The fact we played as well as we did gives us a glimpse of hope,” said Simon. “If we can skate with the best team in the league — best team in the divisio — we might be ok here.”
Seven Round Shootout Saturday
A slow start on Saturday night led to the Stars getting a quick 1-0 lead over the Griffins 1:41 into the game. Grand Rapids was unable to find the same energy level they had on Friday, causing them to stay hemmed in the defensive zone for the bulk of the opening period.
“I thought we were a little bit lackadaisical early and they had generated chances off the rush in our d-zone, their o-zone,” said Coach Simon of how the Griffins started the game.
The lackadaisical play continued on into the second, allowing Matej Blumel to give the Stars the 2-0 lead during a man-advantage.
The Griffins played a simpler game in the third. This allowed them to come alive and begin to take control. Three and a half minutes into the third, Drew Worrad redirected Eemil Vero’s shot from the point. Causing a commotion and taking away the goalie’s eyes is the simple style of play Coach Simon enjoys seeing from his players.
“We talk about consistent simplicity all the time. And if we do that, we tend to have success,” said Simon.
After battling the bulk of the third to stay in the game, the Griffins were able to tie things up at two with 1:53 to play. It came shortly after Joel L’Esperance attempted a wrap-around goal and while Simon was trying to pull Nedeljkovic for the extra attacker.
"A great chip by him and the entire line. I actually didn't see the goal initially because I was trying to figure out who was going out for 6-on-5 there but I have to save that game plan for a later day" – @griffinshockey HC Ben Simon on Taro Hirose's tying goal#GoGRG @FPC_AHL pic.twitter.com/xwbKNRGRoo
— Elaine Shircliff (@imaraindancer) January 8, 2023
Hirose and Pearson worked hard to not only keep the puck away from the Stars but also to finish the play in the back of the net. Pearson ended up having to skate behind the net to throw Texas off the scent of the play they were drawing up. When more eyes were on Pearson, he passed the puck to Hirose, who fired the puck at an odd angle managing to get it past Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin.
“A great chip by him and the entire line,” Coach Simon said of Hirose’s tying goal. “I actually didn’t see the goal initially because I was trying to figure out who was going out for 6-on-5 there, but I have to save that game plan for a later day.”
During overtime the Griffins were unable to register a shot on goal. However, they stuck to the Stars like glue, forcing them to start playing keep away as extra time wound down. Due to the Griffins ability to poke check the Stars while they were on breakaways and put their bodies in shooting lanes, the game headed to a seven-round shootout.
When all was said and done, it was Stars forward Antonio Stranges who scored the game-winning shootout goal to hand the Griffins a 3-2 loss.
Around Full Press Hockey
Full Press Bets: Early 2022 NFL MVP Odds: Bills’ Josh Allen Favored
Ep 42: Going Streaking, 84 Game Schedule, Ovechkin Watch, Holiday Funby Full Press Coverage on December 22, 2022 at 5:50 pm
In this episode, Jim and Chris talk notable point streaks in the NHL, the […]
Ep 40: Borje Salming Passing; Kris Letang, Roope Hintz, Top 5 Teamsby Full Press Coverage on December 2, 2022 at 12:45 am
Jim Biringer and Chris Wassel are back for another edition of Full Press […]
Ep 79: Bruins Are A Wagon, Pastrnak Contract, Krejci, Trade Deadlineby Full Press Coverage on January 18, 2023 at 6:35 pm
Ian and Chris evaluate the red-hot Bruins halfway through the season. In […]
Ep 78: Mitchell Miller Fiasco Reaction; What Do The Bruins Do Next?by Full Press Coverage on November 7, 2022 at 10:37 pm
Ian and Chris react to the Mitchell Miller signing fiasco and discuss what […]
S4Ep18 - The Mess That Is The Vancouver Canucks and What Is Nextby Jim Biringer on January 30, 2023 at 8:00 am
Jim is back for a fourth season of the Final Word of Hockey as he brings […]
S4Ep17 - Road Warriors - Devils, Kraken, Bruins, and Golden Knightsby Jim Biringer on January 24, 2023 at 7:00 am
Jim is back for a fourth season of the Final Word of Hockey with NHL […]
Episode #125: Rockford Offseason Makeover Successesby Full Press Coverage on January 19, 2023 at 5:04 pm
On this edition of The Calder Farmstead, Sean and Sarah discuss the news […]