FALCONS: What's the secret recipe so far?

Thursday, 11.01.2012 / 11:00 AM
By Rob Mixer - BlueJackets.com / CBJ Today

Over the past couple of weeks, I've had a lot of people ask me "how have the Springfield Falcons been so good?"

It's a legitimate question. Things have changed out there, for sure, but a lot has remained the same. Brad Larsen was elevated from his assistant coach position to take over as the lead guy, they made some free agent additions over the summer namely captain Ryan Craig), and had some reinforcements arrive via assignment from the Blue Jackets in September.

Larsen told me before training camp started: "Sure, we have a good team on paper. But everybody has a good team this year. The league is stacked with talent."

I'm not saying he downplayed his team's chances for success, but on the other hand, he makes a great point. The American Hockey League is on center stage right now and several top prospects are playing for their affiliates.

On this first day of November, perhaps we can try to answer some of the questions I've been asked.

The Falcons are 5-1-1 through their first seven games and have only trailed twice (!!) in a game -- 1-0 early on opening night vs. St. John's and 2-1 midway through the second period last Saturday night against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It's almost to the point now that I'm surprised when the Falcons spend a lot of time inside their own blue line.

When I talked to Ryan Johansen earlier this week, he mentioned consistency and structure as two big keys to Springfield's early success. They have great veteran leadership that keeps everyone together and expectations high. They believe in their game plan and their style of play -- which, if you haven't had the chance to witness yet, is up-tempo and aggressive.

Springfield's defense is deep and talented, so much so that an AHL veteran and fan favorite in Greg Amadio hasn't seen regular playing time. As we've discussed, the Falcons blue liners like to "get up and go," wasting little time with the puck before transporting it up the ice to the forwards.

That mentality has allowed the forwards to create a lot of scoring chances in transition and also draw penalties as the opposition is caught off-guard.

Scoring has been fairly balanced. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault leads the way with seven points, Johansen and Cam Atkinson have six apiece and Tim Erixon has been teeing off from the point (17 shots on goal so far).

But, in my mind, one factor stands out (and we heard John Davidson make mention of it last week): the Falcons have done an impeccable job keeping the puck out of their net.

Springfield has allowed just 12 goals in seven games, giving the Falcons a league-best 1.71 goals-against average. They hold the AHL's seventh-best penalty kill (87.0 percent), which has come in handy with the amount of fouls they've committed.

Curtis McElhinney has been one of the under-the-radar comeback stories in the AHL, playing No. 1 minutes a few months removed from major abdominal surgery. The 29-year-old has the sixth-best GAA in the league (1.51) and is tied for the most wins (five) and most shutouts (two).

The Falcons have received contributions from every player that's been in their lineup. Even when Larsen gave McElhinney a night off last weekend, Paul Dainton stepped in and made 36 saves in a shootout loss to Bridgeport -- a game in which Springfield was a bit ragged and fortunate to walk away with a point.

We're only seven games into a 76-game schedule, but Springfield has got the job done exactly how successful clubs do: they've done it together, as a unit, as a team.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 PLAYOFFS
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Johnson 1 1 1 0 2
D. MacKenzie 1 1 0 0 1
M. Letestu 1 1 0 1 1
B. Dubinsky 1 0 1 1 1
B. Jenner 1 0 1 -1 1
F. Tyutin 1 0 0 -1 0
J. Wisniewski 1 0 0 0 0
B. Comeau 1 0 0 -1 0
N. Nikitin 1 0 0 0 0
J. Skille 1 0 0 -1 0
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Bobrovsky 0 1 0 .875 4.07
 
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