AHL Playoffs Goalie Match-ups: North Division
I’m taking a look at each goaltending match up in the first round of the AHL playoffs, one division at a time.
Western Conference – North Division
Hamilton Bulldogs (1) vs. Manitoba Moose (4)
Hamilton has been almost as dominant as Hershey in the Western Conference and the goaltending tandem of Cedrick Desjardins (29-9-4/2.00/0.919) and Curtis Sanford (ranked 1 and 3 respectively among all AHL goalies) has been a huge part of that. Sanford, however, is injured so the team has brought in Robert Mayer to back Desjardins up. But this is a team that has no trouble putting points on the board, so even a slightly weary Desjardins is going to get enough help up front to keep the domination going.
Across the prairie in Manitoba is last year’s goalie of the year, Cory Schneider (35-23-2/2.51/0.919), whose save percentage equals that at of Desjardins, but he doesn’t have the caliber team in front of him he’s had in recent years. They have the most negative goal differential (-28) of any team in the playoffs, indicating a lack of goal and defensive support. Daren Machesney is his back-up, but has been less than stellar with only 5 wins in 21 appearances. Nothing new for Schneider to carry the tough loads though. He got them into the playoffs but he likely won’t be enough to keep them in it past this round.
Rochester Americans (2) vs. Abbotsford Heat (3)
It’s been a long long time since Rochester was a contender, and Czech rookie Alex Salak (29-14-0/2.89/0.910) has been instrumental in the team’s strong showing this season. Tyler Plante battled injuries earlier in the season, but has come on strong since early March and earned more starts. Still, it’s anticipated that Salak will get the start. This team let in almost as many goals as they scored this season, so their offensive prowess isn’t going to save the day here. It’s going to come down to goaltending.
It’s been a rocky year for the newly-relocated Heat, particularly in goal, with Coach Jim Playfair (yes, THAT guy) calling out his netminders, demanding more competitiveness from them, and not hesitating to send the least effective goalie to the ECHL. The spinning doors finally settled on David Shantz and Leland Irving, ranked 24 and 25 respectively, and neither with numbers to write home about. The team actually had fewer wins than 4th seed Manitoba, but more overtime losses, so they squeaked in thanks to the “well, at least we got a point” point. Neither goalie is setting the world on fire, so I have no indication about who will start. Flip a coin.
Just as an aside, consider the travel for this series. Granted, the league does do a 2-3-2 format to avoid extensive back and forth travel, but Rochester, NY to Abbotsford, BC and back? Have fun with that.