Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

Penguins / Senators Series Preview

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Eleven times walking up to the window, eleven times walking away from the window empty handed. Such has been the case for the past eleven postseasons for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins.

You can debate for days on what matters more, winning the championship of your league and becoming an obscure afterthought or being a constant in the postseason year after year after year.

For the Penguins and Binghamton Senators, neither is a stranger to the postseason. The B-Sens won it all in 2011 were a playoff team last year, facing these same Penguins. Binghamton was swept last year by the Penguins. Will it happen again? Read on.

The Penguins went 3-3-1-1 against the Senators this past season and winless at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena up in Southern New York. The B-Sens have home ice in this series so if the Penguins want to have success and get past their closest East Division rival, they must win at least one game on the Southern Tier.

The B-Sens were led in points this year by Mike Hoffman. Hoffman paced the B-Sens with 30 goals this season. However, Hoffman was recalled to Ottawa and hasn’t been seen since. Good news for the Penguins, right? Wrong. Binghamton isn’t led by just one, but by a pack. That pack mentality dooms opponents because if you make a mistake against this team, usually you are fishing that mistake out of the back of your net.

The Binghamton Senators led the AHL in scoring with 3.63 goals per game. The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins led the AHL in defense, limiting opponents to 2.43 goals per game.

It’s the unstoppable force vs. the immovable object.

Time to break it all down.

Schedule

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Series “C” (best-of-5)
3-Binghamton Senators vs. 6-W-B/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 25 – W-B/Scranton at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 26 – W-B/Scranton at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 30 – Binghamton at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 4 – Fri., May 2 – Binghamton at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Mon., May 5 – W-B/Scranton at Binghamton, 7:05

* – if necessary

Forwards

Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos leads Wilkes-Barre with 47 points. The B-Sens have six players that have more points than Kostopoulos. This should tell the tale as to who has the advantage. Wilkes-Barre’s “X-Factor” is a one-two punch of playmaking center Andrew Ebbett and NHL veteran Chuck Kobasew. Kobasew set the AHL on fire by scoring 11 goals in 12 games after being outcast by Pittsburgh late in the year. Ebbett had a 12 game point streak at the end of the year. You get this duo rolling in the right direction and you are going to win a lot of playoff games.

Advantage: Binghamton. Relying on Kobasew and Ebbett to get hot as a game plan is a recipe for failure. There’s just too much firepower up front for the B-Sens.

Defense

The Penguins have again led the American Hockey League in defense, giving up the fewest goals allowed (185) in the 30 team league. The B-Sens gave up 232 goals and seemed to win games by way of firefights. That doesn’t happen often in the playoffs.

Advantage: Penguins

Goaltending

For the Penguins, it started out with Jeff Deslauriers and Eric Hartzell and ended with Peter Mannino. Hartzell won AHL Goaltender of the Month honors in January. Mannino was named in March. For Binghamton, it started with Nathan Lawson and Andrew Hammond and ended with Hammond playing 48 games. You think that with Hammond, in his first year in the League that he would be over matched, wide and starry eyed. Hammond won 25 games. He also lost 19 of them, probably due in large part to the fact that Binghamton was, again, involved in a 8 or 9 goals scored game. How Hammond holds up in his first postseason run could define this series.

Advantage: Penguins. Mannino hadn’t let in more than two goals since November but was torched by Binghamton this past Saturday. That’s probably not going to happen consistently in this series.

Intangibles

John Hynes and Luke Richardson are going to be behind NHL benches some day. No one gets more out of his players than Richardson. Hynes prepares his group for this moment from the first meetings in September. Advantage Penguins, slightly here. Binghamton was top five in the AHL in power play this year. The Penguins power play has been a joke all season. Wilkes-Barre has slightly better success on the penalty kill than the B-Sens, but Binghamton led the league with 16 shorthanded goals. The Penguins were second with 14. Playoffs are a different animal though, so it’s a push, for now. Special teams is an ever evolving beast so the first team to take advantage will probably have it for this brief five game series.

Social Media Coverage

For the Penguins…

Twitter: @WBSPenguins / @WBSGameDay
Radio: @MikeOBrienWBS
Beat: @CVBombulie
Facebook: /WilkesBarreScrantonPenguins
Instagram: wbspenguins

For the B-Sens…

Twitter: @BSens_Hockey
Radio: @BSensRadio
Beat: @PSBSens
Facebook: /binghamtonsenators
Instagram: bsens_hockey

Prediction

Penguins in five. In order for this to come to fruition, the Penguins must get at least a split this weekend on the Southern Tier. Limiting mistakes and what chances the opposition throws at you with steady defense and goaltending, something that the Penguins have had all season long, and the Penguins are on to the next round.

But they don’t play these games on cyberspace. They play then in brick and mortar buildings filled with rabid fans. Game 1 is tomorrow. The Gameday Setup hits the blog Friday at 3 p.m.

Calder Cup Playoff Preview — Eastern Conference

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Welcome back to the Calder Cup Playoff Previews. Yesterday we looked at the Western Conference. If you missed that, you can click here to go there direct.

Anyway, we are here in familiar territory with teams that the Penguins see on a pretty regular basis. In keeping with what I gave yesterday, I provide capsules on each team that made it this year.

Here we go…

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Albany Devils

Record: 40-23-5-8 // 93 pts., 2nd place Northeast Division (5 seed)

Power Play: 21st // 16.2%

Penalty Kill: 14th // 82.7%

Top 3 Scorers: Joe Whitney 22-31-53 / Kelly Zajac 12-32-44 / Mike Sislo 23-18-41

Overview: Devils hung around and were relevant all season. Defense is what got them here. Defense is what they are going to need in stopping St. John’s, who was the third highest scoring team in the AHL at 3.39 goals per game.

First Round Opponent: St. John’s IceCaps

Record vs. the IceCaps: Did not play.

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 20:1

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Binghamton Senators

Record: 44-24-3-5 // 96 pts., 1st place East Division (3 seed)

Power Play: 5th // 20.7%

Penalty Kill: 23rd // 80.6%

Top 3 Scorers: Mike Hoffman 30-37-67* / Stephane Da Costa 18-40-58 / Cole Schneider 20-34-54

Overview: Binghamton has been the best overall team in the East Division all season. This is a team that has excellent coaching, superb penalty killing (16 SHGF led the AHL) and is the highest scoring team in the AHL. You cannot make a mistake against this team.

First Round Opponent: Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Record vs. the Penguins: 5-3-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 8:1

* – Hoffman is on NHL recall

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Manchester Monarchs

Record: 48-19-3-6 // 105 pts., 1st place Atlantic Division (1 seed)

Power Play: 19th // 16.3%

Penalty Kill: 19th // 81.5%

Top 3 Scorers: Jordan Weal 23-47-70 / Linden Vey 14-34-48* / Brian O’Neill 26-21-47

Overview: Monarchs dominated the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference for months. Not an overly flashy team, but consistent on all levels and the results of a 1 seed show. Despite this, some have Manchester as a longshot Cup favorite.

First Round Opponent: Norfolk Admirals

Record vs. the Admirals: 2-2-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 10:1

* – Vey is on NHL recall

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Norfolk Admirals

Record: 40-26-3-7 // 90 pts., 3rd place East Division (8 seed)

Power Play: 22nd // 16%

Penalty Kill: 1st // 88.1%

Top 3 Scorers: Emerson Etem 24-30-54 / Andre Petersson 23-31-54 / Devante Smith-Pelly 27-16-43*

Overview: Admirals were up and down all season but never were a serious threat to the division title. Norfolk is here thanks to superb goaltending by John Gibson and in his absence, Brad Thiessen. Best penalty kill in the AHL too.

First Round Opponent: Manchester Monarchs

Record vs. the Monarchs: 2-2-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 25:1

* – Smith-Pelly is on NHL recall

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Providence Bruins

Record: 40-25-2-9 // 91 pts., 3rd place Atlantic Division (7 seed)

Power Play: 6th // 20.5%

Penalty Kill: 21st // 80.9%

Top 3 Scorers: Alexander Khokhlachev 21-36-57 / Seth Griffith 20-30-50 / Craig Cunningham 25-22-47

Overview: P-Bruins were led by rookies in Khokhlachev and Griffith all season long. Rookie G Malcolm Subban was in the top five amongst AHL goaltending leaders. Bruins are a dark horse whom are looking to atone the 0-3 blown series lead against Wilkes-Barre last year.

First Round Opponent: Springfield Falcons

Record vs. the Falcons: 4-5-0-1

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 20:1

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Springfield Falcons

Record: 47-23-1-5 // 100 pts., 1st place Northeast Division (2 seed)

Power Play: 12th // 18.8%

Penalty Kill: 2nd // 86.9%

Top 3 Scorers: Carter Camper 12-39-51 / Michael Chaput 19-26-45 / Sean Collins 16-25-41

Overview: Springfield couldn’t catch Manchester all season for tops in the East. Goalies Mike McKenna and Jeremy Smith split time in goal for the Falcons. Springfield is the fourth highest scoring team in the league, scoring 3.25 goals per game.

First Round Opponent: Providence Bruins

Record vs. the Bruins: 2-1-1-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 12:1

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St. John’s IceCaps

Record: 46-23-2-5 // 99 pts., 2nd place Atlantic Division (4 seed)

Power Play: 13th // 18.1%

Penalty Kill: 9th // 83.5%

Top 3 Scorers: Jason Jaffray 18-41-59 / Jerome Samson 27-29-56 / Andrew Gordon 23-33-56

Overview: St. John’s is led by future hall of famers in Jaffray, Samson and Gordon. Third highest scoring team in the AHL. Goaltending has been a bit of a carousel for the IceCaps, with four goaltenders appearing in 10 or more games.

First Round Opponent: Albany Devils

Record vs. the Devils: Did not play.

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 14:1

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Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Record: 42-26-3-5 // 92 pts., 2nd place East Division (6 seed)

Power Play: 28th // 13.7%

Penalty Kill: 13th // 83.1%

Top 3 Scorers: Tom Kostopoulos 22-25-47 / Nick Drazenovic 13-29-42 / Andrew Ebbett 13-27-40

Overview: Top defensive team in the League is back for the twelfth time in a row looking to ascend to the ultimate summit of a Calder Cup Championship. With things as wide open in the East with no clear cut number one team, Wilkes-Barre is as good as any other team if not better. Tepid power play needs to come alive. Team plays well with a lead vs. trailing.

First Round Opponent: Binghamton Senators

Record vs. the Senators: 3-3-1-1

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 12:1

So there you have it. I return tomorrow with my Series Preview for the Penguins and Senators and break it all down for you as well as offer my prediction.

Calder Cup Playoff Preview — Western Conference

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I don’t know about the weather where you are reading my blog from, but in Wilkes-Barre the last few days it has been sunny and springlike. Yes, Spring is here, and so are playoffs in the AHL!

Today we take a look at the Western Conference. Teams like Chicago, Texas, Grand Rapids and Milwaukee are teams that places like Wilkes-Barre, Binghamton and Providence never see in the regular season.

For teams that I only see from time to time on my AHL Live subscription, below is snapshot of each team participating, their stats, leaders, who they play first round and how they fared. I offer an overview and my odds for the team to win the Calder Cup in June.

Here goes nothing…

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Abbotsford Heat

Record: 43-25-5-3 // 94 pts., 2nd place West Division (5 seed)

Power Play: 4th // 21.9%

Penalty Kill: 27th // 79.4%

Top 3 Scorers: Max Reinhart 21-42-63 / Ben Street 28-32-60 / Corey Locke 10-38-48

Overview: Gritty Heat led the West for a time before Texas went on its white hot run. Faltered then recovered and seems to be peaking at the right time. G Joni Ortio is in the Top 6 for goaltending leaders. Could upset Grand Rapids in a five game series.

First Round Opponent: Grand Rapids Griffins

Record vs. the Griffins: 1-2-0-1

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 25:1

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Chicago Wolves

Record: 41-21-5-5 // 100 pts., 1st place Midwest Division (2 seed)

Power Play: 30th // 12.6%

Penalty Kill: 4th // 85.6%

Top 3 Scorers: Ty Rattie 31-17-48 / Keith Aucoin 11-32-43 / Alexandre Bolduc 18-39-37

Overview: Up and down year for the Wolves, who were constructed on paper in the Fall to totally run away with things. Still managed to win the Midwest on the final weekend. The way the lineup is built with perennial hall of famers like Keith Aucoin and Goaltender of the Year Jake Allen in the lineup, the Wolves are looking like a tough out.

First Round Opponent: Rochester Americans

Record vs. the Americans: 1-1-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 10:1

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Grand Rapids Griffins

Record: 46-26-2-5 // 99 pts., 2nd place Midwest Division (4 seed)

Power Play: 7th // 20.2%

Penalty Kill: 5th // 85.6%

Top 3 Scorers: Teemu Pulkkinen 31-28-59 / Adam Almquist 4-49-53 / Cory Emmerton 16-30-46

Overview: Defending Champion Griffins looking to repeat this year having missed out on Midwest crown on the final day of regular season to the Chicago Wolves. But don’t let that fool you. The Griffins have been a top five team all season long. They know what it takes to win a championship.

First Round Opponent: Abbotsford Heat

Record vs. the Heat: 3-1-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 5:1

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Milwaukee Admirals

Record: 39-24-6-7 // 91 pts., 3rd place Midwest Division (6 seed)

Power Play: 14th // 17.5%

Penalty Kill: 7th // 83.8%

Top 3 Scorers: Miikka Salomaki 20-30-50 / Taylor Beck 17-32-49 / Austin Watson 22-24-46

Overview: Admirals never really were a threat to overtake division rivals Chicago and Grand Rapids, but that didn’t stop them from making their 12th consecutive playoff appearance.

First Round Opponent: Toronto Marlies

Record vs. the Marlies: 2-0-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 30:1

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Oklahoma City Barons

Record: 36-29-2-9 // 83 pts., 3rd place West Division (8 seed)

Power Play: 3rd // 22.1%

Penalty Kill: 28th // 78.9%

Top 3 Scorers: Roman Horak 23-32-55 / Anton Lander 18-34-52 / Brad Hunt 11-39-50

Overview: Barons surged past Charlotte, Rockford and Utica in the seasons closing weeks to claim the eighth and final playoff spot. The Barons are the only playoff team that has four or more wins against the Texas Stars this season.

First Round Opponent: Texas Stars

Record vs. the Stars: 4-6-2-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 50:1

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Rochester Americans

Record: 37-28-6-5 // 85 pts., 2nd place North Division (7 seed)

Power Play: 10th // 19.8%

Penalty Kill: 12th // 83.1%

Top 3 Scorers: Phil Varone 18-43-61 / Luke Adam 29-20-49 / Nick Deslauriers 19-23-42

Overview: Amerks looked for a time like they weren’t going to make playoffs, having lost nine in a row in March but managed to turn things around with a five game win streak and got in as a 7 seed.

First Round Opponent: Chicago Wolves

Record vs. the Wolves: 1-1-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 45:1

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Texas Stars

Record: 48-18-3-7 // 106 pts., 1st place West Division (1 seed)

Power Play: 1st // 25.3%

Penalty Kill: 3rd // 86.4%

Top 3 Scorers: Travis Morin 32-56-88 / Curtis McKenzie 27-38-65 / Colton Sceviour 32-31-63

Overview: The Stars tore through the regular season and won the Macgregror Kilpatrick Trophy. They have the league MVP in Travis Morin, they have the best power play in the league converting at over 25% and are top three on the penalty kill. Texas is the second highest scoring team in the league, barely being edged by Binghamton back East. This team is a powerhouse and the odds on lock for the Calder Cup in June.

First Round Opponent: Oklahoma City Barons

Record vs. the Barons: 8-3-1-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 3:1

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Toronto Marlies

Record: 45-25-2-4 // 96 pts., 1st place North Division (3 seed)

Power Play: 9th // 19.9%

Penalty Kill: 11th // 83.2%

Top 3 Scorers: T.J. Brennan 25-47-72 / Spencer Abbott 17-52-69 / Greg McKegg 19-28-47

Overview: Marlies have been the class of the North Division for years now. Very balanced attack can roll line after line at opponents and wear them down. A Division winner can’t be considered a dark horse to win it all, can it?

First Round Opponent: Milwaukee Admirals

Record vs. the Admirals: 2-0-0-0

Odds to win the Calder Cup: 8:1

So there you have it. Not bad for an East Division blogger that never sees half these teams in person, eh?. Tomorrow we roll with the Eastern Conference Playoff Previews.

PSST! Hey, Man? You Up!?

I put the following up on Facebook, but figured it’s too good to go there, so we blog.

Only I am in bed, sleeping. This is a scheduled blog for you night owls enjoying NHL playoff hockey, West Coast baseball, late night TV or something else…

Chris Conner was sent to Wilkes-Barre for conditioning. This puts the Pens at two over the veteran limit.

Jonathan reports that Reid McNeill is out this weekend with a lower body injury but will be ready for playoffs.

Binghamton burned their game in hand on the Penguins tonight. They lost in overtime to the Toronto Marlies 5-4. The B-Sens and Pens are now tied in points for the East Division lead. 

Easiest way for the Penguins to win the division is win the next two games. They get the B-Sens Friday then Utica Saturday. The Comets were eliminated from playoffs today. If Bingo wins in regulation, because they have the tiebreaker on WBS, they are the East Division Champions.

Bingo gets Norfolk Saturday. The Admirals will have bussed in from Virginia the night before. They beat Hershey tonight 4-3 in regulation. If they do that again Friday in the rematch they eliminate the Bears.

The Albany Devils have clinched a playoff berth. Albany’s first since the old River Rats days. The Devils are going to be a tough out. I project them as a 6 seed, meaning that the East Division Champion (either WBS or Bingo) gets them round one in the 3-6 matchup.

It all may be meaningless, as the Texas Stars locked up the best record in the AHL tonight and are my odds on lock to represent the West in the Calder Cup Finals in June.

Unless something big breaks Thursday, next blog update comes Friday afternoon for the setup vs. Binghamton.

Now, go to bed already!

Here’s Chuckie

When Chuck Kobasew was recalled back to Pittsburgh, I had honestly thought that was the last time we would see him in Wilkes-Barre. Kobasew, assigned to Wilkes-Barre March 5, put up 10 goals and an assist in 11 games. Seemingly a man playing a kid’s game.

He’s back.

Kobasew was re-assigned today by Pittsburgh along with Harry Zolnierczyk and Simon Despres as the Penguins are about to embark on their run for their first ever Calder Cup. With the unknown status of Brian Dumoulin and the injury to Philip Samuelsson, the addition of Simon Despres is welcome and needed.

Having Kobasew back in town adds one more body over the veteran limit, but at this time of year having seven healthy veterans is a good problem to have.

Our neighbors to the north and south of I-81 loaded up too.

Ottawa sent Cody Ceci, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mark Stone to Binghamton yesterday, made official today.

Washington sent Julien Brouillette and Peter Leblanc to Hershey yesterday. Tyson Strachan was assigned today after clearing waivers. Chandler Stephenson signed his ATO and joined the team en route to Norfolk, for two huge games against the Admirals for seemingly the right to go to the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Wilkes-Barre signed three guys to ATOs today. Jean-Sebastian Dea, Clark Seymour and Matthew Murray. A forward, defenseman and a goaltender. Seymour and Murray were with the team last Spring on ATOs. Dea wowed in the Fall and earned himself a contract. Out of the trio, I would bet we see Dea.

Sad news out of Abbotsford today, as it was announced that the Heat would not return for a sixth season. The five seasons in British Columbia have been a disaster at the turnstyle, with Abbotsford at the bottom of AHL attendance. To boot, the city had to subsidize the team for 10 years meaning that the taxpayers had to pay for the team. There’s speculation that the team may relocate to Glens Falls in the Fall, with the Phantoms already set to move to Allentown in October.

Be thankful you have a Penguins team that plays at or near capacity night after night.

Wednesday Notebook

A bunch of stuff to get to. Here we go…

Goaltender Tomas Vokoun was assigned to Wilkes-Barre today on a conditioning assignment.

In a reactionary move, G Eric Hartzell was sent to Wheeling to get games in. Also in that release is the recall of Cody Sylvester.

Scott Wilson has signed his ATO.

Two other teams are in playoffs. Reservations made for the St. John’s IceCaps and the Abbotsford Heat.

Kris Letang is back.

Andrew Ebbett is back too.

Jonathan had an update on the days news, with quotes from Vokoun. Coal Street put together an audio package that you can listen to here.

Some footnotes: The Ebbett re-assignment puts the Pens one over the veteran limit again. In case you were wondering, having Tomas Vokoun in town on conditioning does not affect the veteran limit because goaltenders are exempt from this rule…Cody Sylvester had his appendix removed a few days ago and was called up to get looked at medically here.

The AHL started rolling out its end of year awards. Schedule here. The All-Rookie Team was announced today. None of the Penguins were on it. But that game me an idea nevertheless. My own Chirps from Center Ice End of the Year Awards. We can do the standard Rookie of the Year, Best Forward, Best Defenseman, Best Goalie and MVP and any other category that comes to me within the final two weeks of the season. The good people at WordPress who host my blog allow me to use polls, so I am going to put it to you, the reader to decide who wins. Look for that in the coming weeks.

Next blog update will probably be the Friday afternoon setup for the game in Syracuse.

 

Peter Mannino Named Goaltender of the Month

Flashback to the evening of February 28. The Penguins had just been shutout by the Syracuse Crunch in Syracuse and were reeling.

Jeff Deslauriers had a terrible month in goal. He put up a 2-4-1 record with a robust 3.43 goals against average and a tepid 0.863 save percentage.

Rookie Eric Hartzell, the reigning January Goaltender of the Month, fared worse. A 1-3 record, with an even higher goals against average (4.45) and lower save percentage (0.838).

The Penguins as a whole, went 3-5-3 and were in fourth place in the East Division with 65 points and in a three way tie with the Hershey Bears and Providence Bruins for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Playoffs, seemed like a longshot.

Enter Peter Mannino.

Mannino, suspended by the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins in November for failing to report to the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, later reported to the Nailers in January and was re-assigned to the Penguins on February 28 in a swap for Eric Hartzell.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Mannino was named the March AHL Goaltender of the Month today. His March numbers are nothing short of staggering: 7-2-1 record, 1.09 goals against average and a 0.950 save percentage. In the 11 games Mannino appeared in, he never allowed more than two goals. The two losses to Utica and Providence were 2-1 defensive setbacks where, had the offense clicked better, we would have been talking about a goaltender that plays 10+ games in a month without losing a single one, with those numbers.

The Penguins now? Two points off of the division lead and solidly in playoff contention, sitting in the 5th seed in the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference. The magic number the night of the 4-0 blanking at the hands of the Crunch was a robust 43. Mannino’s magical month trimmed that number to a paltry 10.

The Penguins can, with help, wrap up their 12th consecutive trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs this weekend and enter the postseason with the League’s hottest, best goaltender. Other teams better take notice.

Let’s Go Pens!

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