I am guilty of using phrases like important series and must win series all to often but it applies this weekend in my opinion. It is hard to say a series is must win when you consider the Americans have only played 30% of the season (21 of 72 games). However, here is what Allen is up against to make it to the top of the Mountain Division. You might say why do they have to make it to the top of the division, they just need to make the playoffs and anything can happen. History shows otherwise, of the last 16 Kelly Cup champions, 14 finished in the top five in the regular season, one finished 6th and one finished 7th. Allen is currently #16 with a points percentage of .500.
- The top two teams in the Mountain Division are Utah (.661) and Idaho (.660). If these two team play .500 hockey the rest of the season, which is highly unlikely, Allen will have to play .600 hockey (30-20-1-0) over the final 51 games to catch them. If all of this happens Allen would win the division with a points percentage of about .570. A .570 points percentage would win the Mountain Division but is only good enough for #13 in the current ECHL standings, way below the top #5 which is most likely needed to win the Kelly Cup.
- In Allen's two Kelly Cup winning seasons the Americans had regular season points percentage of .726 (2014-15) which was ranked #2 and .618 (2015-16) which was ranked #5. To get to a .618 points percentage by the end of this season, which reasonably would get Allen to the top five in the final standings, the Americans will need to have a points percentage of .667 over the final 51 games. That equates to a record of 34-17-0-0 the rest of the season.
- That is a long drawn out way of describing the hill Allen must climb as the New Year begins and why this series against Idaho is a must win series. The Americans have shown recently what they are capable of playing .667 hockey the rest of the season and it is is clearly possible with the talent on the team. It will take a combination of dedication to the defensive end of the ice, consistent goalie play and improved special teams play. Offense is not the issue as the Americans average 3.33 goals per game. Compare that to the 2015-16 Kelly Cup season when they averaged 3.08 goals per game.
- Another reason this series is must win is Allen has to play better at home if it expects to move up the standings. Allen's home points percentage the last two seasons was .764 and .742. This season is at .333. Anything less than two wins this weekend is a failure and since they are playing a top team in Idaho it is imperative they gain some ground.
- Allen played Idaho on the road for three games at the end of November with a record of 1-1-1-0. The Americans lost game one 4-2 after scoring the first goal of the the game. In game two, Spencer Asuchak scored a shorthanded goal late in the third period to send the game to overtime which the Americans lost 3-2. In game three Allen got ahead early, had two power play goals and won 4-2.
- Allen has been the better offensive team this season averaging 3.33 goals per game compared to Idaho at 3.00. Idaho is the better defensive team allowing a league leading 2.00 goals per game while Allen is ranked #27 allowing an average of 4.24 goals per game.
- Allen has won five of its last seven games. In the five wins the Americans scored 4, 5, 5, 4, 5 goals. In the two losses Allen score one goal and two goals. With Antoine Bibeau expected to be in goal tonight and Sunday afternoon with his 2.84 GAA, .919 save percentage and perfect 3-0 record the Americans may not need five goals to win. Idaho has two outstanding rookie goalies so this series is expected to see some great goalie play from both teams. The odds are the winning team will not need five goals to win in this series.
- Special teams as always will play a key role in this series and there will likely be plenty of penalties. Both teams are willing to drop the gloves but are missing so key players. Allen leads the ECHL with 21 fighting majors but Idaho is not far behind with 18. Both teams also take plenty of minor penalties. In the three games in Idaho, Allen had 13 power play opportunities and converted on two for a power play percentage of 15.4%. The Steelheads had 15 power play opportunities and converted on three for a power play percentage of 20.0%. Shorthanded goals could also be a factor as each team had a shorthanded goal in the series in Idaho.
- Overall power play stats favor Idaho 22.1% to 17.5%. Allen's home power play percentage is 15.6% while Idaho's road power play is 21.1%.
- Penalty kill percentage strongly favors Idaho as the Steelheads have the #1 ranked penalty kill in the ECHL at 87.5%. Allen is ranked #22 at 78.0%. The difference is even wider when you compare Allen's home penalty kill (72.7%) to Idaho's road penalty kill (87.0%).
- The team that scored first won two of the three games when these teams played in Idaho. Best that Allen doesn't give up the first goal as Idaho has a record of 11-3-0-0 when scoring first. Allen's record when scoring first is 4-3-2-0. The winner of the special teams battle won all three games in Idaho and you have to expect that will be the case this weekend in Allen.
- Jack Combs has scored a goal in his last four games. It is the longest current goal scoring streak in the ECHL. Jack leads all players on the team with a 21.2% shooting percentage having scored seven goals on 33 shots. He also leads the team in points per game averaging 1.55.
- Zach Hall will not be in the lineup tonight. He is coming off an injury and the Americans are in the midst of playing five games in seven days. Martinson is trying to keep him healthy. Dawson Butt will be back in the lineup after serving his one game suspension. Darion Skeoch is still out with an injury as is Ben Owen. Jared Bethune will be the sixth defensemen.
- Here is the game preview issued by the Allen Americans: https://allenamericans.com/media/final-game-of-2021/
- Allen hasn't lost any players to the AHL yet but it is just a matter of time that COVID and taxi squad transactions in the NHL/AHL will see some Allen players getting loaned to the AHL. Allen is one of a very few ECHL teams that haven't been impacted already.
- The NHL Winter Classic takes place tomorrow night at Target Field in Minneapolis between the Minnesota Wild and St Louis Blues. It is going to be so cold the NHL will have to heat the ice to keep the rink in optimal condition. The NHL's coldest modern outdoor game on record is the 2003 Heritage Classic between Edmonton and Montreal that got down to zero Fahrenheit. My weather app shows -5 at puck drop and -9 by the end of the game. All I can say is I know first hand Minnesota hockey fans are a tough bunch. I read all of the fans will be given a hand warmer as the enter the stadium, the player benches will be heated and the concession areas will be heated for fans to seek refuge.
- There is a full schedule of 13 games in the ECHL tonight. Newfoundland is at Adirondack and will try to extend its undefeated road record of 9-0. A win tonight will tie the Growlers with several teams for the second longest road winning streak in ECHL history. Here is the ECHL Today with a preview of all 13 games. FYI, the lone idle team tonight is Jacksonville. https://www.echl.com/en/news/2021/12/echl-today-dec-31
DID YOU KNOW: Rookie goalies can be a key to success in AA hockey. Allen fans will never forget rookie goalie Aaron Dell leading the Americans to their first championship. Five of the top seven ECHL goalies in save percentage are rookies. Here the top five rookies in save percentage. All are from the Western Conference and two of the five play for Idaho.
.935: Matt Jurusik, Idaho
.933: Samuel Harvey, Fort Wayne
.933: Lukas Parik, Rapid City
.930: Trent Miner, Utah
.927: Jake Kupsky. Idaho