WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI, USA – With playoffs looming closer and closer in the Western Conference, The Sin Bin’s Cameron Turner (@SinBinStars) and Samantha Hoffmann (@SinBinWolves) take you on a team-by-team prediction of who will see postseason play – and which teams should start booking their tee times.
Cameron Turner: 1. CHICAGO WOLVES- The Wolves have been able to win however they need to on any given night, ranking in the AHL’s top ten in both goals per game (7th) and goals against per game (6th). The Wolves have been chasing the first place Moose all year, and will catch them at the finish line. Chicago is currently just one point behind Manitoba, but ahead in points percentage, and the Wolves play five of their final eight games inside Allstate Arena where they are 22-9-2 this season. If all that was not enough Chicago is also top ten on special teams, with the fifth-ranked penalty kill (84.7%) and ninth-ranked power play (18.3%).
Samantha Hoffmann: 1. CHICAGO WOLVES – The Wolves have shown an unparalleled ability to bounce back in games, no matter what their situation is, and they are all the better for it. Playing so many games at home to finish out the season, and having any away game just a day trip away affords this team significantly more rest than many others within the division. An added asset is the depth Rocky Thompson and Wendell Young have built into this program, with three starter-caliber goaltenders in Kasimir Kaskisuo, Oscar Dansk and Maxime Lagace, and the added depth at the blue line with Philip Holm, Zac Leslie, and Kevin Lough who have helped this team score from an area of the ice it has at times struggled with.
Cameron Turner: 2. MANITOBA MOOSE – The Moose are dominant statistically, ranking second offensively, scoring 3.36 goals per game, and fifth defensively, allowing 2.62 goals a game. Manitoba has led the Central for the majority of the season, but fell off recently with top goalies Eric Comrie and Michael Hutchinson in the NHL with the Jets. Hutchison’s return will be enough to keep the Moose from sliding further than second, but the damage will be too much to hold off Chicago.
Samantha Hoffmann: 2. MANITOBA MOOSE – While Manitoba has been the most dominant team in the Central all season, the loss of their goaltenders hurt them more than it should have. The Moose have gone 4-7-0-1 in their last twelve games, and that is a concerning record for any team getting close to playoffs. Their last three games are in Cleveland and Chicago, two teams which have been absolutely on fire recently, and the home games against Toronto and Bakersfield may see this team ending the season with few, if any, victories, especially if they lose more bodies to call ups with Winnipeg getting close to playoffs of its own.
Cameron Turner: 3. GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS – The defending Calder Cup champion Griffins have used the league’s second-rated power play (21.1%) to put themselves in position to make the playoffs once again. Grand Rapids plays five of its last seven away from home, but that may be exactly what the doctor ordered. The Griffins have an impressive record of 19-9-5 as guests in 2017-18. A big part of the Griffins success has been a top-ten defense, with Grand Rapids average of 2.80 goals against per game sitting tenth in the AHL.
Samantha Hoffmann: 3. ROCKFORD ICEHOGS – Rockford has been able to find an extra gear this season when facing do or die situations. A team which seemed like it would miss the playoffs just a month ago has finally gotten its groove together to make a playoff push, and the reason I think the IceHogs will jump the Griffins for the third seed before the end of the season is due to the strength of schedule in remaining games. Grand Rapids takes on Tucson, Texas and San Antonio during its remaining stretch, and the Griffins need to find a way to go at least .500 in these difficult games. While the IceHogs end the season with many road games, they are .530 on the road and face a comparatively easier slew of teams than the Griffins.
Cameron Turner: 4. ROCKFORD ICEHOGS – The IceHogs have gotten hot at the right time, going 7-1-1-1 over their last ten games to build a five-point cushion over fifth place Iowa. Rockford does play five of its last seven on the road, but with a road points percentage of .530, they are more than capable of doing enough on the road to close the deal. Special teams will be the reason they will not climb above fourth and eventually exit in round one of the playoffs, however, ranking in the bottom five of both the power play (27th) and penalty kill (28th).
Samantha Hoffmann: 4. GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS – While I do not disagree with Cameron’s assertion that the IceHogs will be hurt immensely by their special teams, they are 6-3-0-1 in their last 10 games compared to Rockford’s 7-1-1-1. Though the IceHogs have the worse penalty kill of the two, they have also taken 200 fewer penalty minutes at this point of the season. Grand Rapids has also played many more overtime and shootout games than Rockford, and all that extra wear and tear is beginning to show for a team looking to repeat as Calder Cup.
MISS: MILWAUKEE ADMIRALS – The Admirals have been the definition of “middle of the pack” this season, but in the wild west average does not cut it. Milwaukee is between 13-19 in the league in power play (13th), penalty kill (16th), goals for (18th), and goals against (19th). When times get tough you must have a strength to lean on if you are to consistently overcome the odds, and the Ads do not have one this year. Milwaukee is 0-5-0-1 in its last six games, ending its own season before it was ever eliminated from the playoffs.
MISS: IOWA WILD – The Wild have had problems keeping the puck out of their own net all year, ranking 25th in the AHL allowing 3.22 goals a game. It is hard to keep the puck out when you have to defend all game, and the stats show the Wild have been getting consistently out shot. They rank 28th in both shots for (27.38) and shots against (32.13) per game. Iowa finds itself sitting seven points out of a playoff spot, and a miracle would have to happen for this team to sneak in over a hot Grand Rapids or Rockford.
DEAD: CLEVELAND MONSTERS – The Monsters are the only squad in the West to have been officially eliminated from postseason contention. It has been a rough year for Cleveland, as the Monsters are dead last in offense (2.43 goals/game) and 28th in defense (3.37 goals/game). They have been hurt immensely by call ups due to injuries on the Columbus Blue Jackets, and have dropped five of their last ten games.
Cameron Turner: 1. TUCSON ROADRUNNERS – Tucson has played fantastic hockey this year, ranking in the top ten in goals for (9th) and goals against (4th). Tucson has not been a very gracious guest, posting an astounding 21-7-2-1 record away from the desert. With a lead of .039% and only seven games remaining, the Roadrunners look likely to claim the division crown.
Samantha Hoffmann: 1. TUCSON ROADRUNNERS – Tucson has not only established itself as one of the best teams in the Pacific Division, but also one of the best in the league. Dylan Strome has 50 points (22G, 28A) in 47 games with the Roadrunners this season, and he is a player everyone fears being paired against on the ice. The Roadrunners have seven players at 30 points or above this season, with at least one more poised to hit this level before the season. The team’s depth is its greatest blessing and why Tucson will sure up the number one seed sooner rather than later.
Cameron Turner: 2. ONTARIO REIGN- The Reign have been soaring up the standings since mid-January, led by the play in net of All-Star rookie Cal Petersen. Petersen is 12-2-1 since January 20, and is now 21-11-1 overall (2.39 GAA, .916 SV%). The Reign are currently even with the Gulls for second place, with the two looking likely to meet in round one. Ontario has one more home game than San Diego down the stretch, and will use it to edge the Gulls for home ice in the series.
Samantha Hoffmann: 2. ONTARIO REIGN – While Petersen has been on absolute fire in goal, the race between the Reign and Gulls is in my opinion more set apart by recent performance. The Reign are 6-2-1-1 while the Gulls are 4-3-2-1. Though these records are close, every single point matters in such a close Pacific Division. The Gulls also have over 220 more penalty minutes than the Reign which plays in Ontario’s favor.
Cameron Turner: 3. SAN DIEGO GULLS – San Diego has used a high-flying offense to soar to third in the Pacific, ranking eighth in the AHL at 3.13 goals per game. They have been good in close games as well, posting a 17-5-3-1 record in one-goal games. They will battle Ontario for the second spot, but with the Gulls with fewer wins recently, third seems like a good bet.
Samantha Hoffmann: 3. SAN DIEGO GULLS – While San Diego and Ontario are close together in the standings, Ontario gets more help with the majority of remaining games in its schedule against non-playoff teams. These games should be easy point grabs for the Reign, and the Gulls play their final three games against the Roadrunners.
Cameron Turner: 4. TEXAS STARS – The Texas Stars have used a dominant 18-6-1-2 record against the Central to keep their head above water in the Pacific, and play five of their final eight against Central Division foes. The Stars play five of the eight at home, and are 13-1-3-1 in one-goal games in Cedar Park. With Landon Bow playing well in net, and the team’s top two goal scorers Jason Dickinson and Curtis McKenzie having been in Dallas, close, low-scoring, games seem very likely. The Stars aligned for the… Stars’ playoff hopes Friday morning when McKenzie was returned on loan.
Samantha Hoffmann: 4. TEXAS STARS – Though the Stars have been hurt by call ups, the Rampage have been hurt even more due to injuries in both the Blues and Avalanche rosters. The absence of Dickinson and McKenzie have hurt this team, but the Stars have figured out how to win without them just in time, going 5-2-2-1 in their past ten games. The return of McKenzie gives them the much-needed fire power they needed to solidify their playoff spot in these final games.
MISS: SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE – The Rampage have struggled to score goals this season, ranking 27th in the league with only 2.57 goals a game. In such a tight division, every point is key, and the Rampage are under .500 on the road at 13-17-5-0. San Antonio could never quite get its special teams over the hump either, with both the Rampage power play and penalty kill units ranked 19th. They have also lost many key players to the Blues this season, and have struggled to replace guys like Samuel Blais when they are out of the lineup.
MISS: STOCKTON HEAT – Stockton spent much of the year amongst the Pacific’s top four, but an inability to consistently win its home games will keep them out of the playoffs as the Heat are just 15-14-0-2 inside Stockton Arena. Every point is critical and Stockton has struggled to get two points in one-goal games, going 7-6-2-4 in those contests. The Heat have also been the most hurt by injuries both to their own team and their parent clu, and the organization has at times found itself without necessary depth to replace key pieces. Stockton is far from bad, but will fall just short in the league’s toughest division.
MISS: BAKERSFIELD CONDORS – Bakersfield has been unable to keep the puck out of its net in 2017-18, with an average of allowing 3.05 goals per game ranking 22nd in the AHL. The Condors also rank in the bottom third on the power play, with their 15.9 percentage ranked 21st. In such a tough division, it is truly special teams which set apart the good teams from the great, and unfortunately this season you have to be a great team in the Pacific to see postseason action. Bakersfield will spend the summer dreaming of other divisions, wondering how they finished five games over .500 and yet finished in or near the basement.
ALMOST DEAD: SAN JOSE BARRACUDA – San Jose plays five of its final eight games away from its tank by the bay, and is just 11-13-3-2 on the road. The Barracuda have had a hard time putting the puck in the net, with their average of 2.57 goals a game leaving them 27th out of 30 AHL squads. They are 6-3-1-0 in their last ten games, but they were already too far behind to catch up without a lot of help. Though not officially eliminated from playoff contention, it is only a matter of time for this squad.