ALLEN, TX – A new season starts today for 16 ECHL playoff teams all with the optimism they have an equal chance to win the coveted prize, the Kelly Cup. For Allen fans that optimism is driven by the fact they have won the last two Kelly Cups and enter the 2017 playoffs with high expectations. When many fans consider anything less than a championship a disappointment you know the bar has been set very high in Allen.

– The Americans have had a short turnaround from the regular season to playoffs. They are the only playoff team that had to play this past Sunday (a makeup game) and will be one of four teams playing tonight as they take on the Utah Grizzlies. The other opening round game tonight is in the South Division as the Orlando Solar Bears are at the Florida Everblades.

– The short turnaround for Allen could impact the lineup tonight as players that did not play in Wichita on Sunday (Zach Hall & Harrison Ruopp) are listed as day to day. The one player that for sure will be on the sidelines is Tanner Eberle who will miss the entire first round recovering from his injury. There has already been one change to the 21 player playoff roster that was released yesterday. If you recall, two roster spots were saved for qualified San Jose players (Mike Brodzinski, Alex Schoenborn, Jonathan Martin) to be added later, if needed. One of those two slots was filled yesterday as Mike Brodzinski has been reassigned to Allen from San Jose.

– Before I get into all of the facts and figures take a look at this series preview that was issued by the Utah Grizzlies. The preview omits the fact Allen’s record this season against the Grizzlies was 4-0 (all played early in the season) and incorrectly states, “Utah won 27 of their last 37 games after their last meeting with Allen on December 31, while Allen won 29 of their 49 games after January 1.”

For the record, the Americans record after January 1 was 29-4-3-1. While you can quibble with the omission and error the preview does an outstanding job of pointing out just how much better this Utah team has played as the season has progressed. The Grizzlies come into the playoffs with the fewest points of any team (79) but you can disregard that because they are playing their best hockey of the season. Here is the link to the Grizzlies series preview:  http://www.utahgrizzlies.com/team-news/headline-news/?article_id=3302

ALLEN VS UTAH GAME PREVIEW

– Allen won all four times they played Utah during the regular season but all games were early in the season. The Americans played three times in Utah in November and to no surprise, Riley Gill was the difference maker. The Americans were outshot in all three games, Utah had at least 40 shots in all three games and yet Allen won all three games. Riley Gill saved 116 of 121 shots over the three games for a phenomenal save percentage of .959. The lone time the teams played in Allen was on New Year’s Eve and the Americans came out on top 8-4.

– Here is a comparison between Allen and Utah based on the regular season:

ALLEN UTAH
Reg Season Record 49-17-4-2 (104 pts) 36-29-5-2 (79 pts)
Division Rank 1st – Mountain 4th – Mountain
Last 10 Games 9-0-1-0 7-3-0-0
Current Streak 15-0-1-0 1-0-0-0
Goals For/Against & Differential 204 / 193 (+91) 225 / 240 (-15)
Goals Scored/Allowed Avgs 4.08 / 2.82 3.13 / 3.33
Plus/Minus +334 -91
Power Play 24.4% 16.4%
Penalty Kill 84.4% (52/234) 83.7% (20/123)
Leading Scorers Costello  (33-89-122)
Hanson (35-41-76)
Bradford (17-46-63)
Pelech (20-33-53)

– When you look at the stats above it is pretty clear Allen is the better team. I think, however, that misses a couple of very important points. First, Utah is playing much better than their season long stats reflect. Second, when it comes to playoffs “will” and “want” are more important than skill. Steve Martinson has put the Americans in a position to win by assembling the deepest team he has had in Allen. Now it is up to them to go out and play to their potential. The difference in this series will be the commitment to defense by Allen. If they have the attitude it is more important to win games than score goals the Americans will score a ton of goals and win a lot of games. If they take unnecessary risks by jumping into the play at the wrong time or turning the puck over in the neutral zone then odd man rushes will cost Allen games they should win.

– Playoff experience is important and Allen has much more than Utah. These numbers may have changed slightly since the playoff rosters were released but total pro playoff games played by Allen is about 650 compared to Utah at around 140. Martinson always stresses to the young players to just play their game and not try to do anything more. Trying to be a hero because it is the playoffs is fools gold. If everyone plays to their potential Allen will win, players shouldn’t be looking to do extra.

– I talked all season about the importance of good starts and not falling behind early as a key to success for any team but especially for Allen. The Americans rarely lose if they score first. Here are some records from the regular season that prove the point regarding Allen:

40-2-2-1 –  When scoring first
15-0-0-0 –  When tied after the first period
30-2-2-1 –  When leading after the first period
33-1-0-1 –  When leading after the second period
4-15-2-1 –  When trailing after the first period
6-16-2-0 –  When trailing after the second period

– A final key to the series is special teams and Allen has a big advantage on the power play. Last year the power play was a difference maker on the way to the Kelly Cup. With David Makowski and Eric Roy back in the lineup and on the top power play unit the Americans will have two great power play units capable of scoring on every power play. In the Utah playoff preview it was pointed out the Grizzlies killed 16 of 17 power play opportunities over their last seven games. The special teams battles will be interesting to watch. Don’t forget Allen (13) and Utah (14) are two of the worst teams in the ECHL in giving up shorthanded goals so the “shorty” will probably be a factor before this series is over.

–  There will be two referees for all playoff games. Tonight the referees will be Chris Pontes (#12) and Andy Howard (#2). The linesmen will be Brian Bull (#95) and Chase Wilkinson (#68).

DID YOU KNOW: Time for playoff trivia. Allen has won four straight championships but did you know in first games of the 14 series they have played over the last four years the Americans record is only 6-8. Allen’s record in second games is 11-3. And in the most important final game of the 14 series Allen has played since 2013 their record is a perfect 14-0.

Here is one for the record books. When Allen won the CHL championship in 2014 against Denver, the Americans did not score a single power play goal in the finals. They were 0-26 on the power play.

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