Much has changed since the last time we opened up the notebook. Though first place in the American Hockey League’s Central Division is well out of reach at the moment, the Grand Rapids Griffins find themselves in a battle with the Texas Stars for second place in the division. After a slow start to the season, several key players seem to have found their way under first year head coach Dan Watson.
But before we get into the individual players that have powered this run of success, let’s take a look at the streak they’re on and how they got to this point.
Griffins Winners of 6 Straight
From Jan. 19 to their most recent game on Feb. 2, the Griffins are on a six-game win streak. Over that streak, they have wins over the Manitoba Moose, Rockford IceHogs and the Belleville Senators, two of which (Rockford & Manitoba) are division rivals. Overall, the Griffins are 8-2-1 in the new year, and 11-2-1 going back to Christmas. This is the most consistent streak of success the Griffins have enjoyed in years, and the playoffs feel like a real possibility because of it.
The Griffins have been particularly proficient on home ice this season. While playing at Van Andel Arena, they are 11-6-2 and are outscoring their opponents 58-43. That makes their push to secure second place in their division all the more important as we approach the end of the season.
Despite their recent success, their special teams still have room to improve. They have a power play success rate of 20.5 percent and have killed 78.4 percent of penalties they have incurred. On home ice specifically, the Griffins have capitalized on just 17.6 percent of their power plays. On the bright side, they are the third-least penalized team in the AHL, and they generally demonstrate good discipline on a nightly basis.
That doesn’t mean they are afraid to engage in extracurriculars, as they demonstrated on Jan. 27 against the Senators when fights broke out with a minute left to play. Simon Edvinsson was a standout as he handled Belleville forward Angus Crookshank and then pumped up the crowd on his way down the tunnel.
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Overall, the Griffins have played sound, exciting hockey, and their efforts have been rewarded. But for fans that have their minds on the future of the Detroit Red Wings, it is also important to note that the Griffins’ team success is very much a byproduct of the individual success of several key players.
Marco Kasper Hits His Stride
Marco Kasper’s success this season has coincided with the team’s a whole. After struggling to find consistency in his game and in the lineup through the first month of the season, he has found that consistency and it has put the whole league on notice; he was named the AHL’s Player of the Week on Jan. 22 after recording three goals and five points in two games while helping the Griffins secure back-to-back comeback victories.
The Red Wings’ top pick in the 2022 NHL Draft is at his best when he is demonstrating his ability to create opportunities in the high-danger areas of the offensive zone while also getting under his opponents’ skin. His high compete level is arguably his biggest calling card, and that has been a feature of his game even when the puck wasn’t going in for him.
For a more in-depth look at what Kasper has done in recent weeks and how he has been able to do it, be sure to check out this article written by THW’s own Logan Horn. Though the Red Wings clearly aren’t in any rush to get the Austrian forward into their lineup, he may force their hand if he continues on his current pace.
Cossa Continues to Improve
Not many of the Red Wings’ prospects stand out like goaltender Sebastian Cossa does, both figuratively and literally. Detroit’s second selection of the 2021 draft has enjoyed a strong run of success in recent weeks, flipping the narrative of where he’s at in his development in the process.
Cossa currently holds a 10-7-3 record, a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.70 and a save-percentage (SV%) of .908. Since ringing in the new year, he has posted a SV% of .926 or better in five of six appearances. Though he has stolen a few games throughout the season, he is starting to give the opposition fits on a regular basis. This is not unlike how his 2022-23 season went in the ECHL; after a shaky start to the season and some folks writing him off, he hit his stride in the new year and led the Toledo Walleye on a playoff run that ended in the conference finals.
Going back to his final season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, Cossa has proven himself to be a goalie that improves over the course of the season. When judging his play, it isn’t about how he starts the season, it’s about how he finishes it. The Griffins, of course, hope this trend continues to be true as Watson does seem to prefer Cossa over veteran Michael Hutchinson, and Grand Rapids will want to identify their top/preferred option before a potential playoff run begins.
(Side note: Jesper Wallstedt, the goalie Cossa is often compared to due to them both being first round selections in the 2021 draft, is rocking a 12-11-0 record, a 2.83 GAA and a .907 SV%. In other words, they are yielding essentially the same results despite what social media and comment sections might have you believe. Maybe…just maybe…we should sit back and let these guys develop for a few more years before we try to declare one guy is better than the other.)
- Winger Jonatan Berggren was the Griffins’ lone representative at the AHL All-Star Game after Edvinsson was forced to bow out due to a minor injury (Edvinsson isn’t expected to miss any games for the Griffins.) Berggren leads the Griffins with 34 points in 31 games; his name is popping up on trade boards more and more frequently as the NHL trade deadline gets closer and the Swedish winger remains in the AHL.
- The Griffins did something unique with their branding during their contest against the Senators on Jan. 27. For that game, they were “rebranded” as the Grand Rapids Flying Toasters, a callback to before the team was named and the community was asked to submit ideas of what to name the new hockey team coming to town. Though the Griffins have become entrenched as part of the culture in Grand Rapids, it was cool to see the Flying Toasters become a reality, even if it was just for one night. This is an idea that other teams should absolutely look into.