While the Detroit Red Wings have taken the NHL by storm thanks to their high-flying offense to start the season, their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, aren’t exactly following suit.
Despite opening up the season with back-to-back wins on home ice over the Colorado Eagles, things did not go the Griffins’ way when the teams met up at Blue FCU Arena in Colorado. The Eagles outscored the Griffins 8-4, winning both contests on their home ice.
The Griffins’ 2-2 record currently places them in a tie for second place in the AHL’s Central Division.
Playing the same team on back-to-back nights on back-to-back weekends presents its own set of challenges. After the first or second game, familiarity starts to kick in as both teams adapt and adjust to what the other team is doing. After familiarity sets in, frustration builds up – that’s something we’ve seen evidence of throughout countless playoff series at both the NHL and AHL levels. While the Griffins and Eagles have just begun their seasons, the games played in Colorado over the weekend had a postseason feel to them.
Hanas Gets Involved in All Areas
21-year-old winger Cross Hanas gets a little overshadowed when the conversation of Red Wings prospects comes up, and that is by no means a knock on him. Drafted in second round of the 2020 draft, he’s a player that has already flashed the ability to make an impact at the AHL level. But what sets him apart from other forwards in Detroit’s prospect pool is the personality with which he plays.
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With 17 points in 30 games last season, Hanas enjoyed some success in the first half of the 2022-23 season, but injuries ultimately ended his season prematurely. It took him a few games to find the net this season, but he finally put a “1” in his goal column for the season in the second game on the Eagles’ home ice. Just over a minute into the second period, Hanas put a shot on net from the right faceoff circle, and the puck leaked through the Eagles’ goaltender. That goal put the Griffins up 1-0, but a late goal in the second period tied it up for the Eagles, and when Colorado went up 2-1 in the third period, the Griffins were unable to respond.
Other than the goal, perhaps the most noticeable Hanas was this weekend was nine minutes into the third period of the first game. In a period that also saw Griffins top defenseman Simon Edvinsson sit for two minutes on a roughing call, Hanas took it a step further, receiving a minor penalty for roughing as well as a 10 minute misconduct for continuing an altercation with Eagles defenseman Jack Achan. It was clear by the end of this game that these teams were sick of each other as both teams were willing to muck it up when the opportunity presented itself.
Early on in his career, Hanas seems like the type of player that will live or die off of his emotions. He isn’t afraid to indulge in the nastier side of the game, something the coaching staff likely had in mind when they put him on a line with Marco Kasper, another young forward on this Griffins roster that enjoys angering the other team. When things are going well, Hanas has a ton of swagger in his game, and that can take many forms over the course of a game. But as was the case last season, he sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him, which lands him in penalty trouble. There’s a fine line he must learn to walk if he’s going to become an effective player at the next level.
But for this weekend, let’s not worry too much about the big picture. Let’s instead acknowledge that Hanas was one of the team’s better players in both of this weekend’s losses.
Griffins’ Defense Continues to Surrender Shots
Perhaps the most worrying trend from the Griffins’ first four games is the sheer amount of shots their goalies have had to deal with to start the season. They allowed 40 shots or more in three of four games, and were outshot 33-19 in the game they held Colorado under the 40 shot mark. In total, the Griffins were outshot 159-93 over their four games against the Eagles, a staggering difference that first-year head coach Dan Watson has almost certainly taken note of.
With a talent pool that includes Edvinsson, William Wallinder, Albert Johansson and others, defense was expected to be a position of strength for the Griffins this season. Their blue line group not only consists of players that are good at moving the puck and transitioning from defense to offense. So far this season, we’ve seen them hunkered down in their own zone while the team’s goalies swat away shot after shot. That’s simply not good enough for a group this talented.
Granted, it is possible that the Eagles simply had a good gameplan and the Griffins just couldn’t counter. We won’t truly know if this is a pressing situation until their next set of games: Friday at home against the Cleveland Monsters, and Saturday on the road against the Rockford IceHogs.
Cossa Looks Sharp Through 2 Games
Like the previous week, the Griffins opted to start veteran Michael Hutchinson in goal in the first game of the weekend, and then turn to rookie Sebastian Cossa in the following game. Unlike the previous week, Hutchinson was lit up, surrendering five goals on 40 shots. Cossa, on the other hand, was the biggest reason the second game was as close as it was. The 20-year-old stopped 31 of 33, and he remained steady throughout the performance.
Through his first two starts of the season, Cossa holds a 1-1 record, a 2.02 goals-against average, and a shining .947 save-percentage. Though it is still very early on in the season, his start is certainly encouraging. With Friday’s game being a home game, you have to wonder if the Griffins’ coaching staff will consider starting him in this weekend’s first game, and then turning to Hutchinson for the game in Rockford.
It will be interesting to see how the Griffins’ goaltending depth chart evolves over the course of the season. Hutchinson began the season as the team’s 1A, but we’re getting an early indication that Cossa could push for an increased workload this season. Over in Detroit, the Red Wings are still carrying three goaltenders on their roster, with Alex Lyon having yet to suit up for a game this season. Lyon will soon become eligible to be assigned to the AHL on a conditioning stint for up to two weeks, just like we saw last season with both Alex Nedeljkovic and Magnus Hellberg. At what point does Lyon impact the Griffins’ depth chart?
- Early returns from defenseman Jared McIsaac have not been promising. The 23-year-old defenseman has only played half of the team’s four games this season, and he was on the ice for both of the Eagles’ goals in the second game of the weekend. A second round pick in the 2018 draft, seems to have become lost in the shuffle as the Griffins have prioritized playing time for players like Edvinsson and Albert Johansson.
- Taro Hirose has five points through four games, but is also a minus-2. Stuff happens when this guy is on the ice, good and bad.
- Jonatan Berggren was officially called up to the Red Wings after announcing Robby Fabbri is out with a lower-body injury. It will be interesting to see if Berggren returns – he never did after he was called up last season.
More lineups! Here’s what the Griffins rolled out on Friday:
…And on Saturday:
Note the switch on the second and third lines from one game to the next. Hanas and Kasper showed some chemistry throughout training camp, but the former got a look on the second line alongside Amadeus Lombardi in the second game. Lombardi and Kasper each have just one point so far this season; Kasper’s is a goal he scored during Friday’s game, and Lombardi’s is an assist he notched in that same game.
That’s all for this week’s Griffins notebook. Stay tuned for future editions as we monitor the Red Wings’ AHL team throughout the season!