With the season forty percent complete and the team on a well deserved holiday break, the Flames find themselves in forth place (18-11-1-1) in the Western Conference - five points back of the first place Utica Comets. Prior to their five day break - the team was on a grueling six game in eleven day stretch, including a mid west road trip where they were 4-1-1. The only blemish during this segment of the season was a home loss in front of a large crowd in the final game of the six game run to rival Utica, 4-1. The Flames came out flat, fell behind early and didn't have the legs to turn the tide.
So, what are the observations as the team moves well into the middle third of the season.
Emile Poirier - Though he missed the first nine games of the season, Poirier is now the team's leading scorer (8G, 8A, +2). Clearly talented, he seemed to struggle in his first few games with defensive assignments in the neural and defensive zone. This has definitely improved as the twenty year old has settled in to the system. His scoring has been a bit streaky, but could be partially tied to all the roster movement and line combinations the team has been forced into during November and December.
Joni Ortio - I have written about the Flames starting goaltender several times to date, and am sure that will continue. He has been very solid for the team, is being pushed by veteran Brad Thiessen and presently is 14-6-1, with a save percentage of .911 and a GAA of .274 following a very tough October where he seemed to be fighting the puck. I had the pleasure of watching several Red Wings goaltenders here over the years, that ended up being very successful at the next level. I have seen a great deal out of Ortio thus far.
Bill Arnold - Arnold is the only skater to play in each of the Flames 31 games this season. With all the roster movement, he has been asked to fill various roles - and has done well. He has played second, third and fourth line minutes and comes with good energy. He is presently tied for second on the team in scoring (6G, 9A, +1).
Tyler Wotherspoon - In his second year, he is taking top four minutes and has played very well since being paired with Corey Potter in November. He has already exceeded his scoring total from all of last year (1G, 10A, -5), but his growth in my opinion has been in his own end of the ice. He is typically on the ice against the top opponent lines, and Potter's return from call up will only continue to benefit the young defenseman.
Special Teams - The Flames are currently fifth in the AHL on the power play efficiency at 19.6% and ninth on the penalty kill (they were near the bottom for the first three weeks of the season) at 85.4%. Adirondack special teams play has been critical during their winning streaks thus far this season.
The team has been successful to date - and I have been impressed with how the coaching staff has developed this young team. As some of the players return from call up experience in Calgary, it will be interesting to see if their successes can continue. The only blemish on the teams record is their play against the Canucks farm team, Utica. The Flames 0-4 record thus far against this rival is the difference between their present position in the standings and first place in the conference.
Adirondack takes to the road tomorrow to start a three game in three night road trip - versus Utica (time for some revenge), Hamilton and Toronto - before returning to the GFCC for the annual New Year's Eve game.
Happy Holidays from Adirondack. Go Flames.