As we check in at the season halfway point with all the AHL teams, next on the list is the East Division. This is the third, and final, division of the Eastern Conference. The East Division is the tightest knit of the divisions in the AHL with only 11 points separating the first place team from the last place team.
Binghamton Senators (Ottawa Senators)
Binghamton is coming off of a season where they managed to secure the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Unfortunately, they were swept by division rivals, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Senators seek to return to their success from the 2010-2011 season where they won the Calder Cup.
Binghamton started out strong and have seemed to hold onto that strong play. They handed the Penguins their first loss of the season in a shootout when the rivals met for the first time. It was a rematch of the previous season’s playoffs. Recently, the Senators have only gotten better. They are 7-3 in their last ten and won 7 straight between December 20th and January 4th. But, they have dropped their last two straight games.
This season, the Senators have a young team with all but three being 24 or younger. The team has been led by forwards Mike Hoffman, Stephane Da Costa, and Cole Schneider, who have been with the Senators for a few seasons now. Hoffman leads in all scoring categories but each of the them has 30 or more points this season. Hoffman and Da Costa have also spent time in Ottawa already this season.
So far, through 38 games, Binghamton is 23-12-0-3 for 49 points. Through the second half of the season, the Senators will look to put some space between them and the rest of their tight knit division.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Last season the Penguins made it all the way to the conference finals after being the fifth seed. It came as a bit of a surprise as they first swept the Senators and then came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Providence Bruins in 7 games. After getting so close to the Calder Cup Finals, the Penguins came out of the gate hot.
The Penguins took 17 of 20 points in their first ten games, making them one of the top teams in the league. After that, they cooled off a bit but have still been impressing. They are on a two game winning streak and are 6-3-0-1 in their last 10. They are coming up on a weekend stint against some of the Atlantic Division.
This season, the Penguins have been led by an older core of players rather than the younger players or rookies. As Pittsburgh has struggled with injuries, players like Brian Gibbons and Harry Zolnierczyk have gotten their chance to show their skills. They have also been successful at the AHL level. In general, though, the Penguins have not been putting up a lot of goals considering their record. They average just under 3 goals per game so far.
After 37 games, the Penguins are 22-11-1-3 for 46 points and a record nearly identical to the Senators.
Norfolk Admirals (Anaheim Ducks)
The Admirals entered the season having missed the playoffs, only narrowly. They finished tied for 9th just two points out of 8th in the conference. They are now in their second season under a new affiliation with the Anaheim Ducks. In the city’s previous affiliation with the Lightning, they won the Calder Cup.
As the Ducks have shuffled players trying to find the right combination to keep up their wins, the Admirals have had to make use of ECHL call-ups and PTOs. The biggest problem has been at goaltender. Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth is back on injured reserve which made it necessary to call-up John Gibson. Gibson is a rookie this season but has impressive between the pipes. But, part of being in the AHL means adjusting to these issues.
Over their last 10 games, the Admirals have gone 7-3. It will be interesting to see if that is a trend they can maintain without Gibson. According to the AHL website, Frederik Andersen will also be joining the Ducks. But, while they Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly down from Anaheim, they will hope to capitalize on their offensive talents.
At exactly their halfway point of 38 games, the Admirals are 20-13-1-4 for 45 points. Being just 4 points from the first place Senators, the Admirals are perfectly placed to make a surge.
Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals)
The Hershey Bears are the longest continuously active member in the league, having received their franchise in 1938. They have also been arguably the most successful team. They are riding a streak of making the postseason for 8 straight seasons, but have exited after the first round in the past three years.
This season, they struggled a lot to kick off the season. They won just 3 of their first 10 games. Although they have started to string some wins together, they still do not appear to have returned to the team that was consistently in the Calder Cup finals.
During the offseason, the Bears saw the return of Jeff Taffe paired with Brandon Segal joining the team from Connecticut. Both are veteran presences and have provided both experience and scoring for the team. Although the team is older than others around the league, having those two has definitely been good for the team.
As of the first 36 games, the Bears are 17-13-3-3 for 40 points. They have won 6 of their last 10 and are looking to gain ground in their incredibly close division. They play 3 of their next 5 games against divisional rivals, the Syracuse Crunch.
Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Last season, the Syracuse Crunch made it all the way to the Calder Cup Finals and seemed to be the odds on favorite to win. It was the first season that the Tampa Bay prospects were in Syracuse after those same prospects won it all in Norfolk in 2011-2012.
The Crunch seemed to get off to somewhat of a shaky start, winning just 1 of their first 4 games. But then they went on to win 8 of the next 9, seeming to have found their step from the previous two seasons. That streak was short lived, though, as they fell from the top again. Over the past 10, they are just 4-4-1-1.
There are currently 7 members of last year’s Calder Cup Finals team in Tampa Bay showing the importance of working hard at the AHL level. Rookie sensation Nikita Kucherov is also currently spending time in the NHL. Without the use of any of those players, the Crunch have been relying on their young talents to carry their weight with the leadership of the veteran players. Young players can sometimes take time to adjust but can also fall victim to the midseason slump. At the halfway point, the Crunch at least have the rest of the season and anything can happen.
Through 36 games, Syracuse is 16-14-2-4 for 38 points. Even though they are at the bottom of their division, it is a close enough division that every point matters. All 4 of their next games are against division rivals and mark a good chance to gain those points.