It is game day in Allen and based on what happened in the ECHL last night it will be an important game for Allen and Rapid City. Last night Tulsa traveled to Wichita to beat the Thunder 4-2 in a very close game. Tulsa scored the game winner with 42 seconds remaining in the game and an empty net goal with ten seconds left to eliminate Wichita from the playoffs. With the win Tulsa joins Allen, Rapid City and Quad City in the playoffs. The Central Division is the first division to have all four playoff teams decided but who finishes 2nd, 3rd, and 4th is yet to be determined. That is why the games tonight and tomorrow night are so important for Rapid City. The Rush need one point in these last two games against Allen to secure second place and home ice for the first round in the playoffs.
In other ECHL action last night Idaho played their last game of the season and beat Utah 7-3 to take a two point lead in the race with Allen for the best record in the Western Conference. So the game tonight against Rapid City is important for the Americans as they will clinch the best record in the Western Conference (Allen has the tiebreaker) with a win and still have a chance at the best overall record in the ECHL.
The game tonight will be the eleventh time these two teams have met this season with Allen holding the 6-4 edge in the ten previous games. The Americans have won five of the six games played in Allen. If you look at cumulative stats from the ten previous games there are some significant differences which could be the key to victory tonight. Cumulative goals are close with Allen holding a 34-29 edge. In the ten previous games Allen has out shot Rapid City 309-294. Where there is a big difference in the ten previous games is in penalty minutes as Allen has had 250 penalty minutes while Rapid City has just 157 penalty minutes. This big difference in penalty minutes has translated into goals as Rapid City has outscored Allen on the power play twelve goals to nine.
A statistical comparison of Allen and Rapid City shows an advantage for Allen. Here are a few examples:
Points: Allen (100) – Rapid City (80)
Goals For: Allen (279) – Rapid City (215)
Goals Allowed: Allen (198) – Rapid City (198)
Goal Differential: Allen (+81) – Rapid City (+17)
Team Plus/Minus: Allen (+262) – Rapid City (+30)
Allen is ranked #3 in league standings. Rapid City is ranked #11.
Allen is #1 in average goals scored per game (4.04). Rapid City is #14 (3.07).
Allen is ranked #8 in average goals allowed (2.87). Rapid City is #7 (2.83).
Special teams will most likely be a key to the game especially with Allen leading the league in minor penalties (465). Allen has a better overall power play (21.8% vs 16.9%) and penalty kill (86.6% vs 83.6%) than Rapid City and if you look at home versus road stats the advantage still holds. At home Allen is ranked #5 (21.5%) on the power play and #6 (86.4%) on the penalty kill. On the road Rapid City is #17 (16.3%) on the power play and #7 (85.7%) on the penalty kill.
Scoring the first goal of the game is always important as Allen wins 83.8% of the time when they score first and Rapid City wins 75%. Allen actually scores the most goals in the second period while Rapid has scored the most goals in the third period.
Here are the goals scored by period for both teams:
Allen: 68 -117 -89
Rapid: 67 – 64 -79
Maybe more telling than any of the statistics above is how well Rapid City has played over the last three months of the season. The Rush struggled early in the season and were in last place in the Central Division at one point. Since January 4th Rapid City has 25 wins while Allen has only 24 wins. Rapid City has the advantage if you look at the last ten games (Rapid City 8-1-0-1 & Allen 6-1-2-1). Finally, Allen holds a 6-4 edge in the ten games against Rapid City this year but the Rush have won three of the last four.
The bottom line is these back to back games between Allen and Rapid City are going to be hard fought by two teams that need points to get where they want to be. Goalie play and special teams will be two big keys to victory.
Joel Rumpel will start in goal for Allen. It will be the fourth straight start for Joel since he was assigned to Allen. In his first three starts Rumpel has two wins and a shootout loss with a GAA 1.62 and save percentage of .917. Riley Gill will be back in uniform for the first time since he was injured and will be the back up.
The referee scheduled tonight is Pierre Lambert (#20) and the linesmen will be Mike Anderson and Brian Bull.
As is the case with every team Allen plays the leading scorer for the Americans in the ten games with Rapid City is Chad Costello with one goal and twelve assist. Four of the six leading scorers against Rapid City (Combs, Schultz, Steffes, Schwartz) will not be in the game tonight. Look for Kevin Young to have a good game as he will be the Americans second leading scorer on the ice having one goal and eight assists in the ten games against the Rush.
There will be another specialty jersey worn my the Americans tonight and auctioned off after the game. The cause tonight is JDRF and they have something in common with the ECHL. Just like the ECHL dropped the “East Coast Hockey League” and now just uses the ECHL initials the JDRF has dropped the “Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation” and just uses the JDRF initials. In both cases the organizations (ECHL & JDRF) had their scope and mission change so they dropped the original name and are just using the initials but old habits die hard and many people still use the old names. In any case the specialty jersey tonight is sponsored by JDRF who for more than 40 years has been a leader in the search for an end to type 1 diabetes, through both research funding and advocacy.
Congrats to Justin Baker who was selected to the ECHL All-Rookie team yesterday. The write up in the announcement talks about Justin being fourth among rookie defensemen with 37 points and second in shooting percentage (14.1%). He is +19 in plus/minus which is fourth among all ECHL rookies. What the write up doesn’t talk about is how tough he is as he takes a lot of hits but just keeps going. He has missed only two games all year and he is so much fun to watch play because you can see how much he enjoys playing. You can bet Justin’s roommate (Aaron Gens) is happy for Baker as he has been the biggest supporter of the “rook” and has also been a mentor.
Should be good news for the Americans again today as the All-ECHL First-Team and Second-Team will be announced. Chad Costello is a lock but let’s hope some of the other worthy Allen players are recognized.
The Central Division is the first to have all of the playoff teams decided but other than Allen how the teams are seeded has yet to be decided.
Here are the standings with games remaining.
Rapid City (80 pts) – Thursday at Allen, Friday at Allen
Quad City (79 pts) – Saturday Tulsa at home
Tulsa (77 pts) – Friday at Wichita, Saturday at Quad City
Rapid City is in the drivers seat for second place as they have the tie breaker over both Quad City and Tulsa so they need just one point in their last two games against Allen and it won’t make any difference what the other teams do. It is very likely this will come down to the last game of the season when Tulsa travels to Quad City to determine the seedings.
As everyone knows by now the first two playoff games are on Tuesday (April 14) and Wednesday (April 15). It seems like every year the playoffs start with the Americans opening at home with midweek games because the Allen Event Center has scheduling conflicts on the weekend. The team this year is historic in many ways being the first season in the ECHL with many individual and team records set this year. Season ticket holders are the life blood of ECHL teams as ticket sales account for around 75% of gross revenue. As a long time season ticket holder it is important to me to have a good turn out for these first two playoff games not because of the revenue for the Allen Americans but to show support for the players and coaches. If every season ticket holder could get just a couple extra people to attend the game it will make a big difference.
DID YOU KNOW: The Allen Americans have been on the penalty kill 344 times, more than any other team in the ECHL but the Americans have also been on the power play 339 times which is also the most in the ECHL. Allen takes a lot of penalties but they also draw a lot of penalties.