The last weekend of the ECHL regular season has finally arrived and there is still much to be decided. Six of the 16 playoff teams are still to be determined and some of them won’t be decided until the final game of the season.
– Everything is up in the air in the Mountain Division whether it is at the top or the bottom of the standings. All seven teams have two games remaining, all seven teams play tonight and Saturday and all have something to play for:
- Utah (83 points) and Rapid City (81 points) are battling for the top spot. They both are playing at home (Utah against Idaho, Rapid City against Tulsa). Utah is the favorite since it has a two point lead and the Grizzlies have the first tiebreaker if the teams end up tied. Rapid City will finish no worse than second place even if the Rush go 0-2 this weekend.
- At the other end of the spectrum are Kansas City (67 points) and Wichita (63 points) who are battling to avoid being the worst team in the division. Conveniently the teams are playing each other. Wichita can escape the cellar but they have to win in Kansas City tonight and at home tomorrow night and both wins have to be in regulation time. It that happens the teams will end up tied with 67 points but the Thunder own the first tiebreaker.
- In between the battle for first and last place in the division is where the real excitement exists this weekend. Three teams, Tulsa (76 points), Idaho (75 points) and Allen (75 points) looking for two playoff spots. Tulsa is in Rapid City, Idaho is in Utah and Allen is at home against Iowa. There are too many combination to list since each team can earn between 0-4 points this weekend.
– On paper Allen is in the best position from a schedule perspective since the Americans are playing at home against a team out of the playoffs while Tulsa and Idaho are playing on the road against teams battling for first place. Allen has had a schedule advantage the last four games but its record in those four games was 1-2-1-0 so the Americans will have to do better this weekend.
– If the schedule is an advantage for Allen the tiebreakers are not. The first tiebreaker in regulation wins and all three teams currently have 29 regulation wins. If the Americans end up tied with Tulsa and/or Idaho in points and regulation wins, they will lose based on the second tiebreaker which is regulation plus overtime wins. Here are the current numbers for regulation plus overtime wins with the team’s overtime record in parenthesis.
- 35 wins – Tulsa (6-3)
- 34 wins – Idaho (5-2)
- 31 wins – Allen (2-8)
ALLEN VS IOWA PREVIEW
– It is a sobering thought but Allen’s season could be over if the Americans lose tonight.
- Tulsa clinches a playoff spot if the Oilers win in regulation and either Idaho or Allen loses in regulation.
- Idaho clinches a playoff spot if the Steelheads win in regulation and Allen loses in regulation.
– You can go nuts trying to figure out all of the combinations and permutations in determining which two teams make the playoffs. What Allen has to do is win the game tonight and let the chips fall on what happens to Tulsa and Idaho. In order for Allen to win tonight it will take a much better effort than the lackluster performance on Wednesday. It is a sobering thought but Allen’s season could be over if the Americans lose tonight.
– If you can look at all of the stats from Wednesday, other than scoring the first goal, Allen needs to play better in every aspect of the game. The Americans were outshot in every period and managed just 17 shots on goal. The answer to more shots on goal is not as simple as “shoot the puck” more. Getting more shots starts with having fewer turnovers in the defensive zone and neutral zone. Those turnovers lead to fewer shots for Allen and create good scoring chance for Iowa. Another contributor to shot totals is blocked shots. With a few exceptions, Allen has not been a good shot blocking team this season. It some recent games the Americans have had half the blocked shots as the opponent. Just “shoot the puck” if there is not a shooting lane doesn’t get a shot on goal and often creates an opportunity going the other way. A third component of the low shot numbers is putting the puck on the net. All teams miss the net but Allen has been missing the net a lot. I know one player had five missed nets on Wednesday.
– Team defense has been an issue for Allen all season. The Americans allow more shots than every team in the league except one. They lead the league in shorthanded goals allowed. You have heard coach Martinson talk about it ad nauseam in his Coach’s Corner section of the blog. Here are a few examples:
- “We play offense downhill but defense uphill.”
- “We play with defensive indifference”
- “We have too many players always on the offensive side of the puck,hoping someone else gets the puck back.”
- “Some players think scoring is more important than winning.”
- “With the way we play defense our goalie has to be the best player on the ice every game.”
Playing defense is more about hard work than skill. You hear it all of the time, it is will over skill. It is noticeable when you watch teams like Tulsa and Rapid City how hard they work on defense. Allen needs to play like the more desperate team tonight (which in fact they are). It is time for the Americans to out will the Heartlanders.
– Special teams weren’t a factor in game one with only three power plays the entire game as the referee let a lot go. There will be a different referee tonight, Jake Jackson (#16) is scheduled to work the game. Jackson has worked five Allen games this season and the average number of power plays (both teams) per game was just over eight. The range was from four to 13 power plays.
– If there are more power play opportunities tonight here is what the percentages say. The Heartlanders road power play is ranked #2 (24.2%) and their road penalty kill is ranked #2 (85.6%). Allen’s home power play is ranked #14 (19.0%) and its home penalty kill is ranked #22 (77.2%).
– Allen scored first on Wednesday but still lost the game. Scoring the first goal of the game is a big advantage. Allen’s record when scoring first is 19-10-4-1. Iowa’s record when scoring first is 24-7-3-0.
COACH’S CORNER WITH STEVE MARTINSON
“Iowa had 34 counter attacks on Wednesday which is very high. Counter attacks result from turnovers and can lead to multiple shots on our goalie.”
“We have to have players on the defensive side of puck battles and we have to have players covering for each other.”
“There us a possibility Chad Costello could return to the lineup tonight. It will be a game time decision.”
“Colby McAuley and Jake Kearley will be back in the lineup tonight.”
“Luke Peressini will get the start in goal.”
– Greenville and Orlando will go head to head tonight with the final playoff spot in the South Division on the line. Greenville has the advantage of playing at home, has a one point lead on Orlando (74 vs 73) and has three games remaining compared to two for Orlando. The Solar Bears are the only team in the South Division that won’t play 72 games. If Orlando ends up missing the playoffs it could be because of the one game in Allen that was postponed because of COVID issues with the Solar Bears. If you remember, Steve Martinson helped find some SPHL players on short notice but Orlando opted to not sign them so the game was postponed because they didn’t have enough players. After tomorrow night Orlando may wish they had played that game in Allen.
– Cincinnati and Kalamazoo are battling for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. With two games to play, Cincinnati has a two point lead (75vs73) and has a home and home series with Indy, who is out of the playoffs. Kalamazoo has a home and home series against the leagues #1 team, Toledo.
– In the North Division there is a three battle between three teams for two playoff spots. Two of them play each other. All three teams have two games remaining. The playoff teams will be decided by points percentage because they each played a different number of games. Here are the current standings:
- .522 – Trois-Riviéres (play Worcester at home)
- .507 – Worcester (play at Trois-Riviéres)
- .500 – Maine (play Newfoundland at home)
– Here is the ECHL Today with previews on all 13 games on the schedule tonight. A lot of must win games on tap. No fewer than five teams can qualify for the playoffs tonight. https://www.echl.com/en/news/2022/4/echl-today-april-15
– Next up on the ECHL Award schedule is the Sportsmanship Award and Community Service Award which will be announced later today. The only Allen Americans player to win one of these awards was Chad Costello who won the Sportsmanship Award in 2015. The Sportsmanship Award goes to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability as voted by the coaches of each of the ECHL teams.
UPDATE: Iowa’s Trevin Kozlowski has been selected as the recipient of the Community Service Award. https://www.echl.com/en/news/2022/4/iowa-kozlowski-receives-2021-22-echl-community-service-award
– If Allen make the playoffs and plays Utah in the first round the dates for the first two games will be next Friday and Saturday (April 22, 23). Utah is already selling playoff ticket so whatever team they play in the first round, it will be April 23 and 24.
DID YOU KNOW: The ECHL Stats post today is about inter divisional play. Here is Allen’s record against the other three divisions with two games remaining against Iowa:
- NORTH: 3-0-0-0 (all against Newfoundland)
- SOUTH: 0-1-0-0 (Orlando)
- CENTRAL: 1-4-2-0 (Toledo, Cincinnati, Iowa)
Comparing strength of each ECHL division based on record when playing games outside the division. Here is points percentage and record against the other three divisions:.644 – Central (57-30-3-4).585 – North (38-26-7-0).493 – South (34-35-5-1).456 – Mountain (36-44-7-3)This is not a perfect comparison because the number of games played varies by division and the teams within each division play different numbers of games outside the division. A good example is in the South Division where Atlanta (#1 team in division) has played only nine games outside the division while Norfolk (last place team) has played 19 games outside the division.Even with the flaws, most would agree the Central and North Divisions have the best chance of winning the Kelly Cup and the Mountain Division is the weakest of the four divisions.