by PuckStopsHere on 12/19/13 at 01:41 AM ET
The Abbotsford Heat (Calgary affiliate) have been atop the AHL for over a month. They did this in part due to the fact that they have been among the league leaders in games played, but they have also been a very good team. In 30 games they have a record of 20-10 with two regulation tie points for 42 points. As the westernmost team by a significant distance, they have had to overcome significant travel in order to do this. They have been caught by two teams with a lesser number of games played. The Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles King affiliate) are the top team in the standings. They have a 19-10 record with five regulation tie points, This gives them 43 points and a game in hand over Abbotsford, but their lead in the standings is due to regulation tie points and not outright wins. Tied with Abbotsford in the standings are the Grand Rapids Griffons (Detroit affiliate). They have a record of 20-7 with two regulation tie points. This gives them two games in hand against Manchester and three against Abbotsford. Probably this makes Grand Rapids the top team in the league. Abbotsford may also have a claim to being the top team but their record is hurt by their excess travel.
Grand Rapids is tied with Abbotsford for most goals this season with 102 but with games on hand. They have the fewest goals allowed in the league as well with 60. This ties them with Springfield (Columbus affiliate), who has games in hand. If Grand Rapids runs into problems in the future it would be because two of their top three scorers in Tomas Jurco and Gustav Nyquist and their top goalie Petr Mrazek are in the NHL right now.
Abbotsford's top scorers Ben Street and defenceman Chad Billins are playing in the AHL and not the NHL. This makes it seem likely that they could maintain their top play if Grand Rapids falters due to their call-ups. Manchester has been able to stay atop the AHL standings despite Tyler Toffoli, Linden Vey and Martin Jones all spending significant amounts of time in the NHL. This was expected to be a hit to the team but they have thus far had the depth to survive without them.
The AHL standings are a three-way race. There is a reasonable argument that each of the teams in the race could win. Grand Rapids has games in hand. Abbotsford has had the least loss of talent to the NHL. Manchester has had the largest loss of talent to the AHL but with goalie Martin Jones likely returning soon this could be the boost that they need. It will be interesting to watch.
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