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New look league

The Binghamton Senators raise their Calder Cup banner. (JustSports Photography)

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The Binghamton Senators raise their Calder Cup banner. (JustSports Photography)

The American League season is underway and there are a few new looks to the circuit this season.

The most noticeable is the transplanted Manitoba Moose, who began their inaugural season as the St. John’s IceCaps, now the top affiliate for the Winnipeg Jets. The IceCaps are off to a great start, with road wins against Providence and Manchester over opening weekend. Goalies Peter Mannino and David Aebischer have allowed only one goal between them so far. The AHL will return to St. John’s – which once was home to the Maple Leafs - when the IceCaps host Hamilton Oct. 14.

Another new look is the schedule itself. The league reduced the number of games from 80 to 76, though the playing calendar was increased by a week. This adjustment eliminates all sequences of teams playing four games in five nights in an effort to provide a safer environment for the players through increased rest and recovery time.

The AHL also went through realignment over the summer. Instead of having two divisions in each conference, the development league now resembles the NHL with three divisions in both of its conferences. Rather than have divisional playoffs and cross-over playoff spots available, the division winners will now earn the top three spots in the playoffs, with the next five best squads rounding out the eight playoff teams in each conference.

Turning to the action, the defending champion Binghamton Senators raised their first Calder Cup banner over the weekend when they hosted the always-powerful Hershey Bears on Friday. Despite the celebration, it was the visiting Bears who came away with a narrow 3-2 victory.

It hasn’t been the best start to the season for the Senators. After the opening loss, the Baby Sens were toppled at home by the Toronto Marlies, who also squeaked by with a 3-2 win. Through two games the Senators have been outshot 75-54. The championship roster is far from the same as several key members of that team – Bobby Butler, Erik Condra, Jared Cowen, Colin Greening and Zack Smith – are now up in the NHL with the rebuilding Ottawa squad. It will be difficult for the team to duplicate last season’s triumph.

Through the very early-going, Charlotte Checker Jon Matsumoto leads the league in scoring with two goals and six points in two games. Matsumoto, who turned 25 on Oct. 13, dropped from 30 goals with Adirondack in 2009-10 to 20 last season and is trying to get noticed by the parent club Carolina Hurricanes.

A couple of last season’s shining AHL award winners are now making a name for themselves at the NHL level. Reigning AHL rookie of the year Luke Adam is off to a hot start with the Buffalo Sabres, as is 2011 AHL outstanding defenseman of the year Marc-Andre Gragnani after his surprise point-per-game surge in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The following are The Hockey News’ predicted standings as they appeared in our Oct. 17 issue. Note: the top three are divisional winners.

AHL PREDICTIONS
RK.
EASTERN CONFERENCE
WESTERN CNOFERENCE
1
Hershey Bears
Charlotte Checkers
2
Portland Pirates
Rochester Americans
3
Springfield Falcons
Houston Aeros
4
Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins
Peoria Rivermen
5
Manchester Monarchs
Chicago Wolves
6
Syracuse Crunch
Toronto Marlies
7
Worcester Sharks
Hamilton Bulldogs
8
Connecticut Whale
Lake Erie Monsters
9
Binghamton Senators
Texas Stars
10
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
San Antonio Rampage
11
St. John's IceCaps
Rockford IceHogs
12
Albany Devils
Grand Rapids Griffins
13
Norfolk Admirals
Abbotsford Heat
14
Providence Bruins
Oklahoma City Barons
15
Adirondack Phantoms
Milwaukee Admirals

Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiles prospects destined for the next level. It appears every Thursday only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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