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AHL Preview: Peoria Rivermen vs. Grand Rapids Griffins

Brendan Smith

Brendan Smith (Tim Fuller – USA TODAY Sports)

The Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) will make their first visit of the season to Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. to take on the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings), the third of ten meetings this season between the Midwest Division foes.

Both teams saw some roster shuffling take place this week: for the Rivermen defenseman Brett Ponich and winger Sebastian Wannstrom were sent down to the ECHL’s Evansville Icemen and winger Stefan Della Rovere returned to the team after a four-game rehab stint with Evansville. The Griffins got defenseman Max Nicastro back from ECHL Toledo, where he scored one goal in three games.

Grand Rapids has won both of the season’s prior meetings, and snapped a two-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars) on Saturday. The Rivermen come into today’s game on a three-game slide and lost on Friday to the Chicago Wolves (Vancouver Canucks) and Sunday to the Stars.

Francis Pare continues to have the hot hand for the Griffins, adding a goal in Saturday’s win to give him nine goals and 16 points on the season. He now ranks second all-time in goals and third in points for the Griffins. Only Gustav Nyquist (eight goals, 19 points) and Tomas Tatar (10 goals, 18 points) have provided more of the team’s offense. 2009 second round pick Landon Ferraro has quietly been picking up points and is now fifth on the team with six goals and 13 points. Defensemen Brendan Smith (three goals and 12 points) and Chad Billins (one goal, 16 points) have helped provide offense from the blue line for a Griffins team that has seven players in double-digit scoring and has gotten at least a point from all but one player.

T.J. Hensick (five goals, 20 points) and Derek Nesbitt (eight goals, 13 points) continue to lead Peoria’s offense, while Anthony Peluso and rookie Jaden Schwartz each have five goals.

The Griffins got Saturday’s win with a solid performance from rookie goaltender Petr Mrazek, who improved to 7-1 with a 2.47 GAA. Tom McCollum took a loss against Texas on Friday, dropping his record to 4-3-1 on the season. Jake Allen took both losses for Peoria over the weekend, and now has a 5-9-2 record. That could mean a start tonight for Mike McKenna, who has one win in four starts. Mrazek seems like the most likely choice for Grand Rapids, with three days of rest since his previous start.

The Rivermen will travel to Texas this weekend to take on the Stars on Friday and the Houston Aeros (Minnesota Wild) on Saturday. The Griffins, who play 10 of their 12 games in December at home, will travel to Chicago on Friday to face the Wolves and then host the Rockford Ice Hogs (Chicago Blackhawks) on Sunday.

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