Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

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.

Penguins / Monarchs Series Preview

wbs14_200          cc15_200          MCH

They made it look easy.

For the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it was a 3-0 sweep of the Syracuse Crunch by a combined 14-3, utterly dominating the Crunch in all facets.

For the Manchester Monarchs, they dominated the AHL all season from the jump back in October and ran away with the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL regular season champions. The Monarchs were the first team to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs this season.

Coach of the Year in Mike Stothers? Check.

MVP and scoring leader in Brian O’Neill? Check.

They made it look easy.

But playoffs are a different animal. Especially when you are dealing with one team standing in your way in a seven game series vs. a litany of other teams on any given three-in-three weekend.

For the AHL’s best team, it’s the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins.

Let’s break it down.

Schedule

Eastern Conference Semifinals – Series “I” (best-of-7)
1-Manchester Monarchs vs. 4-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 
Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
Game 2 – Thu., May 7 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
Game 3 – Sat., May 9 – Manchester at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 4 – Mon., May 11 – Manchester at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Tue., May 12 – Manchester at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Fri., May 15 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 7 – Sat., May 16 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00

*if necessary

Forwards 

Brian O’Neill ran away with the scoring title by ten points over the second place finisher and Jordan Weal finished third in overall scoring. The Penguins, obviously, must come up with a game plan to contain or shut down this duo. Wilkes-Barre is paced by Conor Sheary’s 45 points with Andrew Ebbett and Tom Kostopoulous a point behind. In the series against Portland, the Monarchs got the majority of their scoring from Michael Mersch (5-3-8) and Weal (5-2-7) and got scoring from 17 different players. It’s a deep and dangerous Manchester team that can have any line from one through four attack offensively. Wilkes-Barre’s postseason scorers are Conor Sheary (2-3-5) and Carter Rowney and Kasperi Kapanen (2-2-4 and 3-1-4 respectively) it’s a smaller sample size from that of Manchester’s based solely on the fact that the Penguins swept the Crunch in convincing fashion in three games.

Advantage: Manchester for now. The battle of who wins the series will probably be decided on which forward line produces the most. The Penguins have a potent scoring line which is their third line of Tom Kuhnhackl, Carter Rowney and Dominik Uher and have potential with a possible Oskar Sundqvist, Jayson Megna, Kasperi Kapanen pairing for the series and have long had the top line production of Sheary, Ebbett and Kostopoulos. But you are talking about two players on a line that scored a combined 149 points in the regular season against your top line of three players in Wilkes-Barre that scored a combined 133.

Defensemen

Both teams were 1-2 in the AHL in defense, with the Penguins allowing just 2.14 goals per game vs. Manchester’s 2.32 goals / game. Colin Miller was near the top of the AHL in defenseman scoring, coming in third place in points and second place in goals to Binghamton’s Chris Wideman, who won AHL defenseman of the year. The Penguins have more of a pack mentality when it comes to defense. For what it is worth these days, Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin finished fourth and fifth in +/- rating and missed the final weeks of the regular season due to NHL recall duty in Pittsburgh.

Advantage: Penguins. Wilkes-Barre is deeper on the blue line than the Monarchs are. When you have to scratch AHL veterans Ryan Parent and Danny Syvret as your seventh and eighth defenseman, you are very deep on the defensive end.

Goaltending

It’s Matt Murray’s show and will remain as such. Murray won the AHL’s Rookie of the Year award, led the AHL in shutouts, save percentage and goals against. A case could be made for honorable mention for Manchester’s Jean-Francois Berube, who led goaltenders in wins, but some of the luster is knocked off of that shine because Berube needed five games and essentially the third period in the final game to advance past the eighth seeded Portland Pirates.

Advantage: Penguins

Intangibles

Mike Stothers won the AHL’s Coach of the Year fair and square, but that may have been a cop out on behalf of the media, voting for the coach who coached the league’s best team. AHL bloggers like myself don’t get votes, but my candidates would have included Travis Green in Utica, Tom Rowe in San Antonio or Troy Mann in Hershey. Taking nothing away from the job Stothers has done in Manchester and coupling that with the defensive minded assassin in John Hynes here in Wilkes-Barre, where his clubs have led the AHL in defense for four out of the last five years, I see a push.

Manchester had the AHL’s top overall power play in the regular season, edging Binghamton out by a percentage point at 20.7%. The Penguins were a modest 14th overall (17.2%) Manchester was 16th in penalty kill followed closely behind by the Penguins at 17th (83.6% to 83.2%) So far in the postseason, the Penguins have not allowed a power play goal and lead the Calder Cup Playoffs in power play with 42.9% conversion rate while Manchester is 13th (14.3%) on the power play and 12th (71.4%) on the penalty kill. I see a push initially. You can’t take anything away from what Manchester did in the regular season on the power play and must know that the Penguins numbers on special teams in the postseason are a bit inflated for the simple fact that Syracuse was near the bottom in power play and penalty kill at the end of the regular season. While I don’t see this series being won and lost on special teams, whichever team which gets the edge on the other in this seven game series will most likely advance.

Social Media Coverage

For the Penguins…

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

For the Monarchs…

Twitter: @MonarchsHockey
Radio: @kenmonarchs
Beat: None that I know of.
Facebook: /MonarchsHockey
Instagram: monarchshockey

Prediction

Penguins in six. Again, may be a bit generous here, but there are doubts on both sides. For one, Syracuse didn’t really put up much of a fight against Wilkes-Barre and anyone that followed the final month of the season that saw the Crunch lose 9 of their last 10 games would know that likely any team would have swept them out of the playoffs. For Manchester, they needed five games to dismiss the eight seed Portland Pirates and were in a 3-3 deadlock against the Pirates in Game 5 heading into the third period after coughing up a 3-0 lead in the game and getting blown out and shutout in Game 4. If Manchester allows the Penguins that space, Wilkes-Barre can and will capitalize. Both teams have firepower up front, but the Penguins are the deeper and better team on defense and Matt Murray didn’t seem to miss a beat against Syracuse and there is no reason to believe that he cannot win the Penguins a game or two in this series. Ultimately defense and goaltending will win the day. I see a split coming out of Manchester this week then the Penguins winning at home Saturday and Monday, Manchester winning Game 5 to force it back to New Hampshire and the Penguins closing the series out next Friday to advance, for the third time in as many seasons, to the Conference Championship to face the winner of the Hartford / Hershey series.

The Gameday setup for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals hits the blog Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Make it the Monarchs

We have a second round opponent.

It’s the Manchester Monarchs, winners 5-3 in the deciding Game 5 against the Portland Pirates. I took the game in on AHL Live. Here’s the thumbnail summary….

Manchester scored twice in the first two minutes of the first and third period to ice the game away. They have scored first in the first two minutes at home in all three home games against the Pirates.

Portland had the better of the chances in the first period I thought, despite getting out shot 17-8 in the first period.

Portland had one shout on goal in the first half of the second period and Manchester went up 3-0, then the Monarchs imploded and the Pirates got three quickly, at the midway point in the second, with about five minutes left and with 0.5 seconds left in the second for a 3-3 score heading into the third.

Manchester scored twice in the opening 1:36 and Portland didn’t have another comeback in them.

Here is your schedule for the Eastern Conference Semifinals…

Eastern Conference Semifinals – Series “I” (best-of-7)
1-Manchester Monarchs vs. 4-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 

Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
Game 2 – Thu., May 7 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
Game 3 – Sat., May 9 – Manchester at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 4 – Mon., May 11 – Manchester at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Tue., May 12 – Manchester at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Fri., May 15 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 7 – Sat., May 16 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

You can check it out for yourself here. You can also see the Hershey and Hartford series as well and note that the Wolf Pack will play two games at the home of the Worcester Sharks because the circus is in town in Hartford.

Lots to break down here. Pens were 1-3 against the Monarchs this season. That one win was the Matt Murray shutout of the Monarchs en route to his shutout streak record. What I saw out of Manchester is that they play fast and loose game, really quick, which has been their modus operandi all season. Portland at times gave them difficulty in this particular game that I watched tonight and did run the Monarchs to the brink of elimination to the final period of the final game. What does it mean going forward? Stay tuned.

Pens practiced at Coal Street today since sweeping the Crunch. Bryan Rust and Nick Drazenovic both practiced in full and are possibilities for Round 2.

I updated the Postseason chart page to include the Monarchs production in their five game series win against the Portland Pirates. Check that out here. I am debating doing an overall chart, like you normally see, then a chart for the series itself. I’ll welcome any input thrown my way.

Let’s Go Pens!!!

A Penguin, A Bear and a Wolf Walk Into a Bar….

…I forget the punchline, but the Penguins playoff opponent for the second round got a lot clearer. Here’s what we know:

– The Hershey Bears defeated the Worcester Sharks and are on to the next round with a 10-4 drubbing of the Sharks in Game 4.

– The Hartford Wolf Pack won in overtime in the decisive Game 5 against the Providence Bruins by a score of 3-2.

So the 2, 3, and 4 seeds are onto the second round. The AHL re-seeds in the second round. Here’s what can happen tomorrow when Portland and Manchester lock up tomorrow in their deciding Game 5:

– First off, the Penguins cannot play the Bears in the second round. That means…

– If Manchester wins, the Penguins play the Monarchs and the Wolf Pack play the Bears in Round 2.

– If Portland wins, the Penguins play the Wolf Pack and the Bears play Portland.

Pick your poison, Pens fans. Portland rallied from two goals in the third period on the final day of the regular season to qualify for the postseason, and have won two straight against the Manchester Monarchs. The Monarchs have lost back-to-back for just the second time this season! The last time was way back in October. The Pirates shutout the Monarchs 5-0 Thursday. Even if the Monarchs rally, they are still the best team in the AHL and will likely use those mistakes made in Games 3 and 4 against Portland to ensure a similar fate doesn’t occur against the Penguins.

If Portland does pull off the reverse sweep, you are getting a Hartford team that won the Northeast Division that knows how to win close games. The Wolf Pack played the P-Bruins to triple overtime in Game 2 of that series. Neither team, Manchester or Portland, will be easy.

We will know more tomorrow. I’ll have a blog piece up at the conclusion of the game Saturday with opponent and schedule, if available.

Elsewhere, I played radio with the Great Bob Howard. Link here. I am somewhere around the half hour mark.

Let’s start a new joke… a Monarch or a Wolf walk into a bar….

Penguins / Crunch Series Preview

syr14_200          cc15_200          wbs14_200

It was June 5, 2014, literally less than 48 hours after the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins bowed out in Game 6 of the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs to the St. John’s IceCaps in the Eastern Conference Finals when the first signing for next year was announced.

It was the captain, Tom Kostopoulos.

Kostopoulos, at age 36, was third on the Penguins this season in scoring. He has been the unmitigated leader of the Penguins for the past two seasons and the heart and soul of the team. The fire still burns. Here is a quote that he gave Jonathan Bombulie last season:

“It’s pretty much all I’m playing for. I don’t want to retire without winning.”

Kostopoulos hasn’t yet achieved the zenith that every hockey player plays for which is a championship. The team that he captains, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, has made the playoffs for thirteen consecutive seasons and have yet to hoist the Calder Cup above their heads. That Kostopoulos, before he even packs a bag or gives an exit interview on that warm June day, makes his first order of business to re-sign with the Penguins sight unseen, speaks volumes at the level of competitiveness and determination that Kostopoulos has in delivering the city of Wilkes-Barre it’s first ever Calder Cup.

Standing in the way are fifteen wins to the pinnacle. This thousand mile journey begins with the Syracuse Crunch.

Here is your breakdown….

Schedule

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Series “D” (best-of-5)
4-W-B/Scranton Penguins vs. 5-Syracuse Crunch
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 4 – Thu., Apr. 30 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05

* – if necessary

Forwards

Jonathan Marchessault paced the Crunch this season with 67 points. Next closest for the Crunch was Yanni Gourde with 57 points and next closest is combinations of Mike Angelidis and Tanner Richard with 38 points each and Vladislav Namestnikov with 35 points. For the Penguins, it’s much more clumped together with Conor Sheary pacing the Penguins with 45 points followed by Andrew Ebbett and Tom Kostopoulos with 44 points and Scott Wilson, who is currently on NHL recall with 41 points. Other players such as Jayson Megna and Tom Kuhnhackl are getting hot at the right time. This is a Crunch team that has scored just 22 times in its last 10 games, 9 of 10 of these games Syrcause has come out at the losing end of while slipping out of division contention and being passed by the Hartford Wolf Pack. Conversely, for the Penguins, they have scored 31 goals in the past 10 games and stayed on the tails of the Hershey Bears up until the final weekend of the season and held off a number of teams for the 4 seed in the Conference. Syracuse’s forwards can get hot at a moment’s notice, but given the 10 game snapshot the Penguins are the more consistent unit up front.

Advantage: Penguins

Defenseman

All you need to know here is that the Penguins were the top defensive team in the 30 team AHL while Syracuse had more goals allowed (219) than goals for (218) and are the only team in the postseason with a negative goals differential. The Penguins may be without Taylor Chorney, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and Derrick Pouliot on recall to Pittsburgh but the choice is clear.

Advantage: Penguins

Goaltending

It’s not close and it will never be close for as long as the Penguins are alive and Matt Murray is healthy. Murray re-wrote the record book in 2014-15 with a record of 25-10-3 with a 1.58 GAA and a 0.941 SV%. Those numbers are astounding. Kristers Gudlevskis is Syracuse’s number one, and his numbers don’t come close to Murray’s.

Advantage: Penguins, running away.

Intangibles

Here is where we look at coaching and special teams. John Hynes vs. Rob Zettler. Zettler piloted Syracuse to the Calder Cup Championship two years ago and used Hynes’ Penguins team as the springboard to the Finals before bowing out to the Grand Rapids Griffins in six games. Syracuse then missed playoffs in 2013-14 while Hynes guided the Penguins through another season and to the Conference Finals again. Hynes has the benefit of home ice for a possible three out of five contests. Zettler’s club lost 9 of its last 10. That is something unheard of in John Hynes’ vocabulary. It’s advantage Wilkes-Barre. The Crunch were 25th or worse in both power play (25th, 14.2%) and penalty kill (26th, 79.6%) even by Wilkes-Barre’s standards, which has never been a club known for being lethal on special teams, that is pretty bad. But in a playoff series anything can happen and if a team clicks on special teams against an opponent in a series, especially in a tight five game series, it’s up in the air. You certainly can’t state that any team has an advantage over the other here on special teams, at least not yet. So it’s a push or more of a, “wait and see.”

Social Media Coverage

For the Penguins…

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

For the Crunch…

Twitter: @SyracuseCrunch
Radio: @Dan_DUva
Beat: @syrhockey
Facebook: /syracusecrunch
Instagram: /officialsyracusecrunch

Prediction

Penguins in four. That may actually be a generous allocation, because this could easily be a Wilkes-Barre sweep. I see the Penguins going up 2-0 in the series this weekend, the Crunch taking Game 3 in either overtime or by a large goal margin and the Penguins closing the Crunch out in four games next Thursday.

Game 1 Gameday blog setup hits Friday at 3 p.m.

Calder Cup Preview — Eastern Conference

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Yesterday I blogged about the Western Conference teams in the hunt for the Calder Cup and this evening I am back in more familiar territory in breaking down and handicapping the Eastern Conference. Same concept as yesterday, record, power play, penalty kill, top three scorers, an overview of how the team fared in the regular season and its first round playoff date and a record against that team. Don’t forget about my new category this year called, “How they’ll win it” in place of the Calder Cup Odds from years past.

Off we go…after you jump through…

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