Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

2014-15 Year in Review

I know what you are thinking by reading the headline.

It wasn’t a success.

That’s because the sixteenth campaign of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins ended with another dismissal in the Calder Cup Playoffs, this time to the Manchester Monarchs in five games last week.

It wasn’t a success!

Technically, if you base your definition of “success” off of the Calder Cup Playoffs, then no, it wasn’t a success. But you need to define a season based off of its entirety, so you need to paint with a broader brush.

The purpose of the American Hockey League is to develop players, coaches and officials for the next level, the National Hockey League. The purpose of an AHL team is to develop and win at the same time. Some franchises just develop and don’t win. Others win but don’t develop. What you have on Coal Street in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is the perfect balance of development and winning. Scott Wilson, Bobby Farnham, Bryan Rust, Scott Harrington, Derrick Pouliot and Dominik Uher all made their NHL debuts this season. The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins made playoffs in the AHL for the thirteenth consecutive season, the longest current run for any AHL team in the 30 team league. The Penguins led the AHL in defense for the fourth time in five years, something unheard of in a team with 30 teams.

The fact of the matter is, the 2014-15 Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins season was a success.

The season opened Saturday, October 11 at home against the Phantoms, who were playing their first game under the banner of the Lehigh Valley. It ended in a 5-2 loss. The next afternoon against Manchester wasn’t any better, a 4-1 loss and in retrospect, a bit of foreshadowing for the Penguins as it was the Monarchs that gave the Penguins fits that day and ultimately gave them fits in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

A trip to St. John’s, where the prior seasons campaign ended four months ago, resulted in a two game sweep. After getting shutout by Albany on the return trip home, the Penguins would shutout the Springfield Falcons backstopped by a 21 save shutout by some wet behind the ears kid by the name of Matt Murray, making his second professional start.

The shutout against Springfield that day would be the first step for Murray towards his re-writing of the AHL record books.

Battles with familiar foes in Binghamton, Hershey and Norfolk would carry the Penguins to the top of the East Division at the quarter pole of the season. Wilkes-Barre would remain at the top of the East Division through November.

Head Coach John Hynes would collect his 200th AHL win on teddy bear toss night about an hour south of here in Hershey, PA. A goal by Steve Oleksy :39 in to the game set off more than 17,000 bears onto the Giant Center ice which led to a lengthy delay while all of the furry toys were cleaned up off the ice. But the Penguins would win the day and re-claim first place in the East Division and net Hynes his bicentennial win.

The Penguins rang in 2015 at home  with the Bears on New Years Eve with a 2-0 win backstopped by a 24 save performance by Jeff Zatkoff, who had a tremendous December.

Let me remind you that this was a Penguins team that led the East Division in January that was filled by guys that were called up from the ECHL. Names like Sahir Gill, Zack Torquato and more familiar names like Matia Marcantuoni, J-S Dea and Josh Archibald.

But a six game losing streak hit the Penguins and eventually the personnel losses caught up with them. They lost the division lead to rival Hershey, something the Bears would never relinquish, and were spiraling.

Right before the All-Star break, the Penguins would end the six game skid and turn things around with a four game winning streak. The Penguins all-star representatives were Tom Kostopoulos (playing as the Eastern Conference Captain) Derrick Pouliot and Jeff Zatkoff. Zatkoff would miss the game due to injury.

The month of February would see the Penguins rip off a 7-0-1-1 record and go without a single regulation loss. It was a month that they didn’t want to see end and really solidified them as a playoff contender but not a division contender because the Hershey Bears were as equally as hot as the Penguins.

But February would set the table for March and Matt Murray, who cemented himself as the number one goaltender in Wilkes-Barre and the number one goaltender in the AHL.

Murray would collect the AHL Goaltender of the Month Award in February and again in March, back to back months which was aided by his shattering of the AHL’s shutout streak of 304:11 in a game against Springfield, obliterating the streak set by Barry Brust of Abbotsford of 268:17. Consecutive shutouts against Portland, Providence, Bridgeport and Manchester would be footnotes for Murray’s remarkable, remarkable run.

But he wasn’t done. Two more shutouts, back-to-back, running the total to twelve and getting the Penguins to the playoffs for the thirteenth consecutive season on April 8 in Lehigh Valley.

The Penguins would dismantle the Syracuse Crunch en route to a three game sweep in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs and got reinforcements back from Pittsburgh in the form of Taylor Chorney, Brian Dumoulin, Derrick Pouliot and Scott Wilson.

But the cadre of talent down from Pittsburgh wouldn’t be enough to topple a Manchester team which would bounce the Penguins in five games. Matt Murray could not stop the onslaught of offense that Manchester rolled in waves towards him and the Penguins were done in five.

Graduations happen in the Spring. High Schoolers look towards college and collegians look towards adulthood and the real world. The same story goes for the Penguins. Jonathan Bombulie, who has covered the Penguins since their inception in 1999, announced that he was “called up” to Pittsburgh and took a job with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. There is speculation swirling about John Hynes’ future, as his days behind an AHL bench are short and some NHL GM is going to want to give him a shot at running an NHL team sooner rather than later.

On the ice, there are many players that played in Wilkes-Barre that are ready for the NHL next season and plenty of players that are ready for full time AHL work next season and are one step closer to playing in the NHL in 2015-16. Brian Dumoulin, Taylor Chorney, Bobby Farnham, Derrick Pouliot, Scott Harrington, Scott Wilson, Bryan Rust are names that saw NHL action this season and are strong cases to see more NHL games next season. Names like Carter Rowney, Nick D’Agostino, Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Josh Archibald, J-S Dea and Reid McNeill  are ready for a full AHL workload in 2015-16 and will be looking at NHL opportunities if they continue their ascent in developing.

So it doesn’t end with a trophy and a celebration for Penguins for the sixteenth season. But there was a lot to celebrate as a Penguins fan in the past and a lot to look forward to as a Penguins fan in the future.

2015 Offseason Moves Chart

It ended sooner than we would have liked, but the offseason is here and the players have gone home.

How many of those same players that just left Wilkes-Barre return in the Fall is up for debate.

So I put up this handy chart that I gave its own page at the top of the blog in the menu that I will continually update as the summer gets going, free agency starts and all the way up to camp opening in September.

Don’t forget about my survey page. I am looking to get your input on how I can better improve the blog. Direct link here.

I’ll get ripping on the Year in Review and have it up later on this week.

Hello Anybody?!

Full disclosure: I got this idea that you are about to see from Stephen Meserve, who runs the blog 100 Degree Hockey and does a tremendous job covering the Texas Stars. Sometimes you see Meserve’s name on theAHL.com’s site doing features on the Stars. I consider him one of the greats in the blogosphere.

Anyway, he created a questionnaire for his readers. It is input that he will no doubt use to improve 100 Degree Hockey as a blog and beyond. What’s good for Cedar Park, Texas is good for Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania I figure. So what I would like is your input about this blog. What you like, what you don’t like, how you follow, how often you visit and where you get your information from.

Please click here where you will be taken to the survey.

I appreciate your time.

So Long, New York!

Hours before Game 5 between Wilkes-Barre and Manchester on Tuesday, the AHL announced divisional realignment for the 2015-16 season. Here’s a visual look at the new divisions courtesy of the AHL…

There is a link in that embedded tweet to link off of but if you are on your phone or the image doesn’t show, here’s the deal.

The East Division is no more. The Penguins, Hershey Bears and Lehigh Valley Phantoms will join forces with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Hartford Wolf Pack, Portland Pirates, Providence Bruins and Springfield Falcons in the new and improved Atlantic Division.

Wait, what!? The Portland Pirates and Penguins are in the same division together? Huh?!

It’s true. If you look at the other divisions, you will see all five New York teams in the same division with St. John’s and Toronto. Yes, the Marlies are in the Eastern Conference next season along with Rochester and Utica.

The AHL went from three divisions to two, with an 8-7 Conference split. Opening Night is October 9. They will finalize how teams qualify for playoffs this June, but you have to figure it’s top four in each of the divisions with eight teams, top three in the two division with seven teams and then a crossover wild card between the fifth best team in the division with eight teams and the fourth best team in the division with seven teams.

Anyway, here’s a quick refresher on the new teams in the new Atlantic Division:

Team Old Division NHL Affiliation Twitter Handle
Bridgeport Northeast New York Islanders @TheSoundTigers
Hartford Northeast* New York Rangers @WolfPackAHL
Hershey East* Washington Capitals^ @TheHersheyBears
Lehigh Valley East Philadelphia Flyers @LVPhantoms
Portland Atlantic Florida Panthers# @Portland Pirates
Providence Atlantic Boston Bruins @AHLBruins
Springfield Northeast Arizona Coyotes## @TheFalconsAHL
Wilkes-Barre East Pittsburgh Penguins @WBSPenguins

* – won division in 2014-15
^ – affiliation with Washington hasn’t been formally announced yet by either side but is listed on the AHL’s 2015-16 NHL Affiliations Page.
# – Portland was affiliated with Arizona last season.
## – Springfield was affiliated with Columbus last season.

I’ll have lots more stuff in the coming days. I need your help with the next blog post. No, literally. You’ll see what I mean when it goes up Friday.

Man-handled — Pens LOSE 2-1 (Season Over)

button_lv200       vs.       WBS

  2                                        1

If you would have told me a week ago that the Manchester Monarchs would dismiss the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins in five games, I wouldn’t have believed you. I don’t think if you told anyone that they would have believed you.

Remember, no matter what you do, there is always someone better. The Penguins were a good team this season. With the additions from Pittsburgh about ten days ago, they were the odds on lock to walk through the Eastern Conference and make it to the Calder Cup Finals.

But there is always someone better. This time it was the Manchester Monarchs who are as good as they come advertised. When I broke the series down last Tuesday, I said that the Penguins defense was a deeper team. Just take a look at these charts (through Game 4) and you’ll see familiar names like Taylor Chorney, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin at the bottom. These names were at the top during the regular season, but they looked pedestrian during this series.

I said that the Penguins had the advantage in goal because of what Matt Murray accomplished. I forgot to tell Manchester because they tore Murray to shreds. I am admittedly bad at math but his numbers were bad in the series and he was pulled after the Monarchs scored their second goal in the first period.

I conceded that the forward corps of Manchester was better than the Penguins. They were. With Wilkes-Barre’s defense neutralized and Murray brought down to earth the Monarchs struck early, often and quickly. The Penguins could never recover. It cost them their season in five games.

So here we stand. At the end of the line again and a whole offseason and regular season to hope to get to do it all again in mid April 2016. It sucks. I’ll be the first to tell you. It’s fun to write about this team as a hobby, which is all that this is, but it makes it easy when you are a winner and are successful year after year after year after year.

This is a transition time for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins. There are reports that the New Jersey Devils have interest in head coach John Hynes. Our defensive corps of Derrick Pouliot, Taylor Chorney, Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin are probably all graduated to Pittsburgh or the NHL. Up front is a big question mark. Will Tom Kostopoulos make another run or hang them up for good? What will become of Conor Sheary, will Pittsburgh or another NHL team sign him to a big league pact? Answers to come this summer.

As for the game, Matt Murray opposed J-F Berube. Adrian Kempe scored at 2:01 of the first period after a turnover / giveaway from Derrick Pouliot for a 1-0 Manchester lead. The Monarchs doubled the lead on a Nick Shore dart entering the zone with the Penguins in a four man box and no one picking up the man with the puck streaking in in Shore for a 2-0 lead at 14:57. Matt Murray’s night was done and Jeff Zatkoff didn’t allow a goal and was perfect with 22 saves.

The Penguins made it a game late in the second with a goal from Conor Sheary at 18:43 on a set faceoff play. The faceoff was won back to Sheary who stepped into it and wired one past Berube to put Wilkes-Barre on the board.

In the third, Manchester proved why they were the second best team in the AHL on defense, blocking shots and only allowing six to get to Berube. Wilkes-Barre never found the equalizer.

Berube was your third star with 28 saves on 29 shots. Conor Sheary was your second star with a goal and Nick Sore was the first star with the game winning goal.

Lots of post mortem stuff to come in the coming days. The Penguins will be playing in a new, eight team division next season. I’ll have stuff on that in a few days.

I’ll update for the final time my postseason charts and probably put a blog out on the final numbers.

I’ll have a Year in Review either this weekend or next week.

My offseason moves chart will be up once the dust settles on contract statuses for next season.

And I will be around in the summertime.

Thanks to everyone who reads, shares and interacts with me here on the blog and on all platforms. I do this all for you guys. I aim to entertain and inform. I hope that you continue to check in with me here on the blog all summer. Lots of things to look forward to.

Let’s Go Pens!!!

RAPID RECAP – Pens LOSE 2-1

The Manchester Monarchs closed out the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins in five games with two first period goals and held on the rest of the way and won 2-1. Conor Sheary scored in the second period but that was it.

Lots more to get to in the coming days. Full recap to come in a bit and the full postmortem in a few days. 

Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 5: Manchester Monarchs (MCH leads 3-1)

vs. manch white

Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 5 — Manchester Monarchs

AHL Game: I5

Who: Manchester Monarchs

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza

When: 7:05 p.m.

Series: MCH leads 3-1 (best of seven)

Media Kit

Last Game: Last night, Jordan Weal had a hat trick and the Monarchs took Game 4 by a 5-2 score. Tom Kostopoulos and Bryan Rust scored for the Pens late in the third to no avail.

What to Watch For: Desperation. Another loss and it’s sixteen years and no Cups for Wilkes-Barre. This is the best postseason team ever assembled in Wilkes-Barre. Manchester was the best team in the AHL and has made the Penguins look like clowns so far. But Wilkes-Barre hasn’t played its best game yet and a thousand mile journey begins with a single step.

Referee(s): Mark Lemelin / Darcy Burchell

Linesmen: Shandor Alphonso / Francis Trempe

Twitter: @wbspenguins / @WBSGameDay / @MonarchsHockey

Facebook: /WilkesBarreScrantonPenguins // /MonarchsHockey

Instagram: wbspenguins / monarchshockey

Beat Writers: @CVBombulie and @TLTomVenesky

Broadcasters: WBS: Mike O’Brien @MikeOBrienWBS / MCH: Ken Cail @kenmonarchs

Fan Bloggers: @nafsnep 

Radio: For WBS: WILK Newsradio / For MCH: WGIR 610 AM

Television: AHL Live

When is Game 6?: If the Penguins win, it’s Friday in Manchester at 7.

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