Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

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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Calder Cup Preview — Western Conference

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A tradition, unlike any other. It’s an Eastern Conference blogger taking a jump into the Western Conference pool in an attempt to handicap the eight teams that qualified for the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs.

The concept is simple. A factual based look at each team with 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. New this year is a category called, “How they’ll win it” in place of the Calder Cup Odds from years past.

Here goes nothing…after you jump through…

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AHL Power Rankings: Week 28

Year Two of another season of the Chirps from Center Ice AHL Power Rankings is in the can. This has been my most popular segment that is run here on the blog, viewed hundreds of times when it is published. Thank you for reading, sharing and commenting. When I put these together on a Sunday night, I often wonder if there is anyone in Milwaukee, Chicago or Portland that would care if I don’t give full effort on a capsule. To know that I have readers in other cities that visit and share the rankings and even pass off words of, “how can you underrate us?” (I am looking at you, Utica) is a real treat because the intent with these wasn’t to just put the Penguins at the top every week, it was to grow a readership base and let other people in other cites know that there is a blogger in Wilkes-Barre that doesn’t just “cover” his local team but also keeps tabs on the other 29 teams in this great League.

In keeping with last years theme, winners of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are 1-2 in the season finale of the Rankings and the divisional winners fill out spots three through six. All the other playoff teams fill out the top 16 and then the best of the rest fill out the rest of the rankings.

I have a boatload of other stuff to write this week, so I won’t keep you any longer. Click through the jump to see where your favorite team ended up in the final offering of the 2014-15 Chirps from Center Ice AHL Power Rankings and rest assured that we will be back and better than ever again in 2015-16.

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Before the Weekend, Award of Caution

The AHL has been announcing awards this week and Matt Murray has won pretty much every one he has been eligible for.

Earlier this week, Murray was named the AHL’s Most Outstanding Rookie. This goes with his prior nominations to the 2014-15 AHL All-Rookie Team and the 2014-15 AHL First Team All-Star.

Today, he was named the AHL’s Most Outstanding Goalie.

You don’t need me to tell you what Murray has accomplished this season. Nearly every statistical category that Murray has gone up against he has broken. And not by a little, he’s basically taken a sledgehammer and shattered the records to pieces.

He still has three more games to bust up some more of the smaller fragments of what used to be AHL records.

The AHL still has yet to hand out its regular season MVP award. Cases can be made for other mortals, but the AHL’s players and media who vote on these end of year awards would be hard pressed not to give the award to Murray, hell, he has won everything else.

Outside of Murray’s crease, Coal Street added more insurance pieces.

First, Scott Wilson was recalled to Pittsburgh. He was the only forward recalled. As you know, Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington went up Sunday.

The Penguins added Jaden Lindo, Pittsburgh’s 2014 sith round pick, to an Amateur Tryout Agreement. The vibe picked up by Jonathan is that Lindo isn’t expected to get into any games.

The Penguins also added Sean Escobedo to a Professional Tryout Agreement. Escobedo is an ECHL’er, wrapping up his season with the Greenville Road Warriors. Jonathan had a dossier of Escobedo’s play in his Wednesday update.

The Penguins clinched a playoff spot last week, but their seeding and whether or not they can win the East Division remains up in the air.

Hershey lost to Lehigh Valley 4-1 on Tuesday. The Bears have a three point lead (96) on the Penguins (93) and have two games left to play, Friday and Saturday against Binghamton and Lehigh Valley, respectively.

The Penguins have three games left, two at home against Albany and Norfolk and then Sunday in Allentown against the Phantoms.

Seeding wise, the Penguins can finish as high as second but no lower than sixth. Right now, they have a two point lead over fifth place Syracuse (who has two games left) and a four point lead over sixth place Providence (three games left) and have the tie breaker (regulation or overtime wins) over every team they are competing with for seeding.

The Penguins need two more points to wrap up a finish of no less than fourth. That is because Syracuse and Providence can only max out 95 points.

It is becoming highly unlikely that the Penguins and Bears meet in the first round. The Penguins would need to lose out and Syracuse or Providence would need to finish a point ahead of Wilkes-Barre to drop them to sixth. Hershey would also need to finish third, but the Bears would only need a point more to finish no higher than second, because they are five points up on third place Hartford (91 points, three games left) and the Wolf Pack can only max out at 97 points and the Bears own the tie breaker. Hershey would need to lose out and have Hartford win out in order to get passed for second.

My head hurts.

The picture will get clearer as the weekend goes on. First things first though, the Albany Devils. Gameday for this hits the blog Friday at 3 p.m.

Let’s Go Pens!

AHL Power Rankings: Week 27

Come on in, the water is warm!

If your team punched their ticket to the Calder Cup Playoffs, congrats! If your team is close, buckle up, this is your last week to make a run. If you are eliminated, better luck next year.

This season, the Calder Cup goes through Manchester, New Hampshire. The Monarchs won the regular season championship Sunday and will have home ice in the Calder Cup Playoffs until further notice.

But there is another team in Cedar Park that got in this week that will look to keep what they have earned last season, the Texas Stars.

Some great things to watch out for this week. The Western Conference Championship hasn’t been decided yet. The Midwest Division is still a great race to watch. The East Division race is getting interesting.

All 30 teams ranked from top to bottom. All you have to do is click through the jump….

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Everything’s Even, Except the Chocolate

Friday night in the AHL’s Eastern Conference has come and gone. Every team in the top eight has played 71 games except for the Hershey Bears, who have played 72. Here’s who did what tonight which matters to the Penguins: (sorry Syracuse)

her14_200     @     stj14_200

3                       2

Bears were down 2-0, but came back and scored three unanswered and win 3-2 up in St. John’s. The win shrinks Hershey’s magic number to clinch the East Division to four. Bears could clinch tomorrow with a win and a Wilkes-Barre regulation loss in Portland Saturday.

15WOR     @     15PRO

1                       5

Providence takes Game 1 of the home and home series between them and Worcester by a score of 5-1. The win sealed up a spot in the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs for Providence.

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0                       5

Hartford blasted the Springfield Falcons tonight by a score of 5-0. Yann Danis had a 29 save shutout. Hartford clinched a spot in the Playoffs with the win.

POR     @     MCH

2                       3

Was probably the best game of the night in the Eastern Conference. Manchester takes it in a shootout, 3-2. Portland has a two point cushion over Springfield for the last and final spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Here’s an updated look at the standings. Top three are division leaders.

Rank Team Points Saturday Opponent

1

MCH

99

@ Providence

2

HER

96

@ St. John’s

3

SYR

91

vs. Springfield

4

WBS

89

@ Portland

5

PRO

87

@ Worcester

6

HFD

87

vs. Albany

7

WOR

86

vs. Providence

8

POR

83

vs. Wilkes-Barre

Here’s Jonathan’s Friday update with news on Conor Sheary’s return and thoughts from Coach John Hynes on the possibilities of recalls to Pittsburgh come Sunday or beyond.

Gameday setup for the first game against Portland will be up at 3 Saturday.

Let’s Go Pens!

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