Frankfurt getting harder to contain

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Frankfurt Inferno”?

Right now, you’re thinking “Stamkos, Giroux and, umm … oh yeah, Pacioretty.”

Frankfurt finished both of the first two EURO seasons in the bottom 3 of the league. Today, they sit in 14th place overall.  A big part of the Inferno’s emergence this year is the fact they have more weapons than they used to. The young top line has always been Frankfurt’s strength. Steven Stamkos is the league’s all-time leading scorer with 265 points in 187 games and Claude Giroux, fifth on the all-time list, has 224 in 181 games.

The laser-fine focus Stamkos and Giroux get from defenders every game has allowed Max Pacioretty to flourish. He leads the team – and shares the league lead – in goals with 16.

Also benefitting from the attention placed on Stamkos and Giroux is Frankfurt’s number 2 line. Vincent Lecavalier is hurt and out of the lineup right now, but he and Pacioretty are among the league leaders in shooting percentage. A former Gothenburg Devil, Lecavalier, 33, was one of three astute waiver claims that GM Fric Jagr made at the beginning of season 3. Rich Peverley, 31, who played 80 games in Bern and 80 more in Moscow, was another and Barret Jackman, 32, formerly of Zurich, was the third.

Second-line forwards Lecavalier, Peverley and Alex Steen, a 28-year-old who has been with Frankfurt since the beginning, have accounted for 21 goals in 23 games and they provide a second tier of danger for defenders that Frankfurt hasn’t really had in the past. Steen and Peverley are also the team’s two best in terms of plus-minus rating. Lecavalier sustained a neck injury in a 3-0 loss to Munich and the Inferno has gone 1-4 with him out of the lineup. Jackman, meanwhile, has been a good mentor to young defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Drew Doughty. Those three have been getting the most ice time for Frankfurt and have been the Inferno’s best defensemen.

Frankfurt’s Achilles heel has been its goaltending. Promising Karri Ramo, 21, has started all but four games this season and has a save percentage of 88.6, which is among the worst in the league for starters. His 3.57 goals against average is also low, compared to other teams’ goalies. His backup, 27-year-old Slovakian Jan Laco, started 57 games for Frankfurt last year and had better numbers.

Frankfurt currently has a foothold in the playoffs, but in the tight Southern Conference, that might not be the case tonight. The Inferno are tied for seventh place with Bern, just a point ahead of Geneva and 2 ahead of Madrid, who have a game in hand. The Inferno host Prague tonight and will fly over Bavaria and Austria overnight to face Bratislava on Saturday.

(Editor’s note: Occasionally, I’ll focus on a team and submit a story. I will try to hit the other 23 before the season is over.)

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