Chirps from Center Ice

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

Baby Steps — Pens WIN 2-1

 vs.

1                               2

I would consider this a successful weekend for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins.

They did everything right Friday and lost, but did everything right.

They did the same thing Saturday and won handily.

Sunday, they played the Atlantic Division’s best team tightly and eked out a 2-1 win on home ice.

4 points out of 6 when you should have got all 6 is okay. It’s excellent considering that you had just on in seven contests coming into the weekend.

Saturday, they theme was crawl before you walk. Today, I think you can start taking steps. Baby steps.

They have a lot of firepower up on a taxi squad in Pittsburgh. This present, playing unit in Wilkes-Barre was the best team in PA this weekend. Think of it, 0-7 against Hershey and the Phantoms come into the weekend on a six game win streak. Little ol’ Wilkes-Barre sticks to plan, plays the right way and gets 4 out of 6 points to start the climb out of the basement.

Tommy Nappier opposed Pheonix Copley.

Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: J.D. Forrest said on the pregame as I was driving in that Nappier earned back to back starts. Patrick Watling replaced Pascal Laberge up front.

First Period: No scoring. Pens spent a good majority in the offensive zone, and you could argue, despite a 7-7 even shot count, that Wilkes-Barre was the better team in the period.

Second Period: A power play goal by Alex Nylander had the Penguins out front. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either and I was at the game, my first since the Friday after Thanksgiving.

But Hershey would respond in kind with 7.7 left when the Bears version of the Phantoms Felix Robert in Shane Gersich scores on a puck left uncovered by Nappier to tie the game at one.

Puck left uncovered, referee right there on top of it, gotta cover up.

Third Period: Bears opened with a blitzkrieg to start but the Penguins withheld the charge. Pens get caught down low on a shot in their own end and Hershey charges out of the zone on a four on one. Here comes Nathan Legare, the subject of a healthy scratch last weekend, to make a back check and steal the puck away. He finds Patrick Watling, the last to exit the Penguins end on a naked breakaway. Watling,  one of the Wheeling Nailers leading scorers and up on a PTO, does this…

Big goal by a guy filling a hole in a big moment. All you can ask for.

Bears pull Copley for the extra man but don’t find the equalizer.

Three Stars: 3) Alex Nylander (goal) 2) Tommy Nappier (23 saves) 1) Patrick Watling (goal)

The Good: Bears had just one power play opportunity, but the Penguins played that fair and played an overall solid, sixty minute hockey game.

The Bad: Nitpicking, 1/4 on the power play for Wilkes-Barre. It isn’t so close if you score on the delay of game call against Hershey there in the third period.

Turning Point: Legare’s back check and Watling’s goal is what gets it here.

Around the Division: Texas beats Charlotte 6-5. Goaltender Matt Jurusik signed an SPC with Texas and won the game for the Stars. You may remember him as the guy that came out of no where and shut out the Springfield Thunderbirds a few weeks back…Toronto cuts down Lehigh Valley 4-3 in overtime…Providence roughs up Bridgeport 6-3.

Standings: Bears with the loss drop to third in the division on .603 points to Providence and Springfield’s .621 and .606 respectively. Hartford (.597) Charlotte (.563) Lehigh Valley (.467) Bridgeport (.446) and the Penguins in last at .433.

Wheeling Update: Nailers win in OT in Orlando 4-3. Justin Almeida scored two goals and the OT game winner.

Video Highlights:

Back at it Wednesday against Lehigh Valley.

Let’s Go Pens!

Crawl Before You Walk — Pens WIN 5-2

 @

5                                2

First win of the 2022 calendar year for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins breaking a 8 game winless streak good for their tenth win of the season (dude, it’s January) with a 5-2 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Saturday night.

They win this game doing the same thing they did Friday against these same Phantoms, tons of shots for, few against. You’ll win a hell of a lot more than you will lose employing that strategy, but they lost Friday. They won tonight.

They showed fire in Utica last Friday and lost to the Eastern Conference’s best team. That’s what good teams do, they find ways to win.

They were competitive-ish against Hershey in parts, few and far between, but still haven’t beat the Bears this season.

But this one felt good. Three goals in 97 seconds in the second period blew it open and while they still have a ton of holes (special teams are an abject disaster) they still were able to call this an easy victory.

Crawl, before you walk. There is still a lot of time here to make a push back up the standings.

Tommy Nappier opposed Felix Sandstrom. Here is how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Pascal Laberge (who used to play for the Phantoms) was signed to a PTO by the Penguins Friday and made his debut, replacing Nick Hutchinson. Chris Bigras replaced Cam Lee on defense.

First Period: Exact copy as Friday, Phantoms had three shots all period (two came in an early power play and the other at the end of the period) and the Penguins score first. This time it was Valtteri Puustinen kicking off the scoring.

Shots were 13-3 in favor of the Penguins. Listen, it’s been a hellacious month with the team losing games, losing games to COVID, losing their favorite blogger covering the team and still losing games. This was a good period. Crawl before you walk. Don’t plan a parade yet.

Second Period: Three goals within 97 seconds and the Penguins turned the game into a runaway.

Sam Poulin, Phantoms killed Felix Robert and Nathan Legare all with goals. These guys are the guys that you want to see get hot offensively and get on a roll.

Crawl before you walk.

Sick angle there by Sam Poulin.

Suomi says Upper Grandma. Listen to the WBS Pens podcast and you will know what I am talking about.

Transition, dishing and swishing.

Three penalties a side for both teams. No scoring.

Third Period: Lehigh made a push and scored on their two opportunities of the period to make it a 4-2 game and just maybe you thought that the Pens were about to throw the game away.

But no, time worked against the Phantoms and Taylor Fedun hit an empty net to make sure that the Phantoms would not come back.

Connor Bunnaman and Wade Allison scored for Lehigh Valley.

Three Stars: 3) Connor Bunnaman (goal) 2) Felix Robert (goal, assist) 1) Sam Poulin (goal)

A note on Robert, he had three points Friday (1-2) and two more Saturday. A nice game against Hershey and that’s AHL Player of the Week territory.

The Good: Nice to get the win after so long without one.

The Bad: Special teams is bad and we should all feel bad.

Turning Point: Those 97 seconds were hell for the Phantoms and it was fairly easy sailing for the Penguins after that.

Around the Division: It’s really a meaningless exercise when the team you cover is in last but we will skip around anyway. Bridgeport was off. Hershey loses to Toronto at home in overtime 3-2. Bears haven’t won all week, but they haven’t been playing the Penguins….Providence beats Springfield 5-3. Hartford shuts out Laval 4-0. Keith Kincaid continues career renaissance with a 31 save shutout. Charlotte throttles Texas 8-3 in the rare Eastern Conference / Western Conference matchup.

Bonus: Not the only East / West matchup tonight as Cleveland was in Rockford and won narrowly 5-4.

Standings: Again, meaningless when you are in last, but the Pens pick up a few percentage points and sit with .414. Idle Bridgeport has .458 in seventh.

Video Highlights: 

Wheeling Update: Nailers win 4-1 down in Orlando. Jared Cockrell with a hat trick for Wheeling.

Pens wrap the weekend with a 3 p.m. start against Hershey.

If it Wasn’t For Luck… — Pens LOSE 4-3

So they outshoot their opponent 42-16 and lose it in the third period 4-3. They faced another goalie I never heard of and of course the kid plays out of his mind and befuddles the Penguins.

When it rains, it pours.

Here is how they lined up, Alex D’Orio opposed Garrett Metcalf:

First Period: Penguins outshot the Phantoms 16-6. It was good to see, especially with how they got pushed around by the Bears these last however many games they have played Hershey. Felix Robert opened the scoring with a low shot in the slot that beat Metcalf to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

But Linus Sandin scored a goal for Lehigh Valley on a power play that tied the game at one.

But for that blemish on the penalty kill, a decent first period for the Penguins.

Second Period: No scoring, Pens continued to pepper Metcalf.

Third Period: Phantoms get two goals, another from Linus Sandin and one from Cal O’Reilly, to go up 3-1. Refs let them play so there wasn’t many power play opportunities. Not that it would have mattered with the Penguins dead last power play.

Valtteri Puustinen got a goal with just under 4 minutes to play to make it 3-2. J.D. Forrest pulled D’Orio and Adam Clendening scored on an empty net to make it 4-2 but as fate would have it Alex Nylander would score to make it 4-3.

Amazing. They did everything possible to score in the first two periods and in the games last four minutes, score two and still lose.

Three Stars: 3) Garrett Metcalf (39 saves) 2) Felix Robert (goal, two assists) and 1) Linus Sandin (two goals)

The Good: The quantity of shots was a good thing to see.

The Bad: The quality of shots were a bad thing to see. Most were routine.

Turning Point: Felt like the next goal to be scored would win the game in the third period and it came to fruition with Sandin bagging one for the Phantoms.

As fate would have it the empty net goal by Clendening stands as the game winner. What’s that about luck again?

They get a chance at revenge Saturday against the Phantoms.

Weekend Preview: Off Hiatus, Sorta…

If you don’t love me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.

Or something like that.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, on an 0-6-0-1 streak to begin 2022 and in last place in the Atlantic Division, come into a weekend set of games against in state rivals Lehigh Valley (who occupied the same grippe befuddling the Penguins for much of the Fall) and the Hershey Bears, who the Penguins are 0-7 against and can pinpoint the root cause of their misfortunes of late.

Where the hell have you been?

I needed a break. I still need a break, but I can’t stay away. Twitter is a desolate wasteland for me now, haven’t looked at or opened the app in a few days but for folks pinging me asking where I am. I have tweeted less, and smiled more.

This is sports. It’s an obtuse reality world where regular people vent their frustrations at paid professionals playing and coaching a game. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. Life goes on.

The moral here is, don’t take it seriously. When you do, like I have from time to time, step away. That’s what I did. I will gradually step back in.

The Setup

Home and home with Lehigh Valley Friday and Saturday and Sunday at home against the Bears.

The Phantoms are probably the hottest team in the AHL right now, at 6-0-1-1 in their last eight games. They were supposed to play up in Providence last weekend but, guess what, COVID worked its way into their locker room and those games were postponed.

Hershey has, well, beat up on a bad Penguins team. They lost last Friday to Syracuse, then curb stomped the Pens in back to back games, one was a shutout. The Bears coughed up a two goal lead Wednesday at home against Bridgeport and lost in a shootout. Seems like they are only good against the Penguins and meh against everyone else.

The Records

Hershey is up to second in the division with a 18-10-2-2 record, good for 0.625 points percentage. Lehigh Valley is sixth, 9-11-5-2 and .463 win percentage. The Penguins are in last, 9-14-1-3 with a .407 win percentage.

Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?

Recently, they have dressed a half decent lineup, which to be fair, hasn’t been really good. It’s a toothless offensive attack, dead last in the AHL in goals for (60), dead last in the League on power play (10.3%) and near the bottom (25th) on the penalty kill.

It’s not good. The players know that, the coaches know that and boy, the fans know that too.

What can we learn about the Penguins this week?

Where is rock bottom? Are we there yet? Can we start climbing back to the top? Is there any hope left? Lehigh is on a run, but cooled off by not playing last weekend due to COVID and Hershey is who we thought they would be.

So what’s a fair expectation? Shootout losses? Overtime losses? All losses? All wins? Depends.

They have to show competitiveness. They did, in parts, in Utica and Sunday in Hershey, but for most of the weekend, it was a toothless, feckless effort. No one wants that.

I think it is also fair to ask if J.D. Forrest is in over his head? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result every time. But, if you are handed a Porsche with four flat tires, you aren’t going to go very far no matter who you are.

Who’s in Goal?

Tommy Nappier or Alex D’Orio. Take your pick. I think they go D’Orio, Nappier, D’Orio, unless Filip Lindberg comes back then you go Lindberg, D’Orio, Lindberg. Or, if he does return, you go D’Orio, Nappier, Lindberg. Who knows.

For Hershey and Lehigh, probably Felix Sandstrom for the Phantoms on both nights and I don’t think it matters for Hershey. The Bears can put a cardboard cutout in goal and probably still beat the Penguins. It’s insane how good and how deep Hershey is in goal.

Who is running the show?

Veteran referee Tim Mayer is paired with Casey Terreri Friday with Jud Ritter and Richard Jondo on the lines. On Saturday, Mayer takes the trip down the PA Turnpike to meet up with Reid Anderson and probably takes Jud Ritter with him as those two will be in Allentown with Tom George on the lines.

Sunday sees Casey Terreri again with Morgan MacPhee running things and Tyler Loftus and Bob Goodman on the lines.

Looking Ahead…

Four more at home. Lehigh Valley Wednesday, Toronto Friday and Saturday, and Cleveland next Monday. It’s hellacious, but at least you factor out the travel.

Give us a bold prediction…

I’ll be back next week with another weekend preview.

On Hiatus

Blog is on hiatus for the time being. They brought back taxi squads, and the AHL club is dressing half baked, ECHL type lineups. You may or may not have noticed I didn’t even write about the last two Penguins games against Hershey, completely non-competitive 4-1 and 6-1 throttlings at the hands of the Hershey Bears.

I am not paying to watch this anymore, and I know a lot of people with me in this regard. With that said, the luster of watching a half dressed / half attempt of a club come in to a game night and have the [redacted] kicked out of them isn’t something that interests me.

The AHL’s grand idea was to just add a week to the end of the regular season schedule. As if a COVID pandemic will conform to what Scott Howson and the rest of the clowns driving this car off a cliff’s ideas are. You postpone games daily, clubs just lost their six best players and starting goaltender to the NHL taxi squad and your bright idea is to whistle past the graveyard, pretend everything is normal and when pressed, just add an extra week and let the teams figure it out. Fantastic leadership being displayed there.

Pens have a lot of games to make up and not a lot of time to do so. I’ll direct you to their website on information in that regard. I have totally lost interest.

So I am hiatus for the time being. My opinion can change at any time and I’ll start putting content up again.

They have Utica this Friday, who has only lost one (1) game in regulation thus far this season and a Saturday and Sunday in Hershey, who have beat the ever living tar out of them. If they score more than four goals across the three games I’d be surprised.

I’ll still be around, just not involved as much.

Pens / Americans Postponed

This is getting old.

Includes Penguins at Rochester with the explanation as follows: “The American Hockey League today announced that due to league COVID-19 protocols affecting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins…”

This isn’t working. The NHL hit pause on their season early, I think it is high time for the AHL to do the same.

There Was an Attempt — Pens LOSE 8-3

 @

3                            8

They got their heads kicked in tonight and dressed two forwards short while Anthony Angello sat as a healthy scratch.

This season is devolving into a joke, like last year.

You have games being postponed daily. The Penguins have three players who played Tuesday in protocol. With the roster jockeying and postponements, it stops becoming fun and interesting anymore.

Pens lose 8-3.

I’m giving the AHL till the end of the year to figure out what to do. Pause the season, something. This isn’t hockey, this forcing a season through to force a  season through for the sake of forcing a season through.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to watch this anymore nor do I want to devote anymore time towards it.

Here’s a half assed attempt at a game recap.

Lineup Notes: Michael Chaput is week to week after he was injured on Tuesday. Pens took precautions and held Felix Robert, Radim Zohorna and Nathan Legare out because of COVID or a possibility of COVID. Anthony Angello is clear of all this and as a result Pittsburgh wants to hold him out now in event of a recall.

Bears were in the same boat. At some point this roster jockeying becomes dumb. Holding out Angello as a healthy forward when you have to dress 10 and float Will Reilly as a forward / D and go 8 defensemen? Why? If you don’t have enough players to play, why play? Dangerous and unsafe.

First Period: It went 3-0 Bears and you thought (I did too) that the game was going to go off of the rails quickly.

Kale Kessy scores on a tic tac toe play by the Bears to make it 1-0.

Kody Clark on a steal on a Penguins breakout. 2-0.

Ryan Dmowski with a slap shot in the slot and it’s 3-0.

I’m not GIFing all that.

Pens went 2/2 on the kill and were good in that department. After they killed the second, that was a kick in the pants I think that got them a goal to make it a two goal game. Here’s Jordy Bellerive:

Second Period: Bears got three more. Valtteri Puustinen scored the most desperate power play I think I ever the Penguins execute and scored to make it whatever it was at that time.

I think Taylor stayed with the game the whole night. I sure didn’t.

Third Period: Matt Bartkowski got one.

Bears got another, meaningless short handed goal that Nick Hart said after drove the Hershey faithful to the exits. They saw enough of a slaughter and wanted to go home.

Pens have a game Wednesday in Rochester. Will they have enough players?