Chirps from Center Ice

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

AHL Power Rankings: Mid-October 2019

You know as I was doing these first Chirps from Center Ice AHL Power Rankings for the 2019-20 season, I kind of missed doing these weekly. However, for now, I am committed to running these bi-weekly as opposed to weekly to start. If you really want these to go back to weekly, let me know down in the comments section and I’ll see what I can do. The Power Rankings portion of the blog content is the most up in the air feature I have here. It isn’t going away, I just don’t know where to put it or when to run it anymore.

Anyway, with that out of the way, it’s time to see where your favorite team sits two weeks into the season. There are two undefeated teams and two teams still sitting on preseason points (0).

The Marlies, of course, are the early class of the field. Toronto is out to a 4-0 start after a pair of wins over Manitoba and victories over Belleville and Hershey to start the season.

The San Antonio Rampage, yes, the Rampage, are out to a 3-0-0-1 start and lead the Central Division which is as wide open as far as where you’d expect contenders to be early on.

Utica is the other undefeated team in the league and are third. You have to like the early start that the Comets are on.

Iowa hits the ground running and are out to a great start as well and are fourth and the surprise leader at the top of the Atlantic are the Hartford Wolf Pack which round out the top five.

Hit the jump past the Wolf Pack if you didn’t link in direct to see where your favorite team sits just two weeks into this early season.

1

Last Games: BEL 1 @ TOR 4, TOR 3 @ MTB 2, TOR 4 @ MTB 0, HER 3 @ TOR 4
Toronto debuts at number one this season after a 4-0 start, tying a franchise record. The Marlies are beating all types of teams. Monsters stop by this weekend.

Next Games: vs. CLE 10/19, vs. CLE 10/20, @ BNG 10/26, @ SYR 10/27
Record: 4-0-0-0

2

Last Games: MTB 1 @ SA 2, TUC 2 @ SA 5, CHI 0 @ SA 3, CHI 2 @ SA 1 (SO)
Raise your hand if you thought that the Rampage would have points in all of their contests. Now put your hand down, you liar.

Next Games: @ TUC 10/18, @ TUC 10/19, @ WBS 10/25, @ WBS 10/26, @ RFD 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-1

3

Last Games: UTI 4 @ BNG 3, UTI 4 @ WBS 3 (OT), SYR 2 @ UTI 6
Comets are 3-0 and off to an undefeated start. Utica stays busy over the next two weeks against some good competition.

Next Games: vs. CHA 10/18, vs. RCH 10/19, vs. BNG 10/25, @ HER 10/26, vs. BNG 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-0

4

Last Games: RFD 2 @ IA 3, MIL 2 @ IA 5, TEX 4 @ IA 5 (SO), TEX 2 @ IA 1 (SO)
Points in all of their games, which have been four at this point, has to feel good for Tim Army’s crew as the season kicks off. No rest for the weary, as Iowa has five games inbound in the next two weeks.

Next Games: @ MTB 10/18, @ MTB 10/19, @ TUC 10/25, @ TUC 10/26, @ GR 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-1

5

Last Games: CHA 3 @ HFD 5, BRI 3 @ HFD 4 (OT), SPR 1 @ HFD 3, RCH 3 @ HFD 2 (SO)
Hartford are still unbeaten in regulation. How long does this run continue? Busy week with some healthy competition coming up for the Wolf Pack.

Next Games: vs. SPR 10/18, @ BNG 10/19, vs. LAV 10/25, vs. BRI 10/26, @ BRI 10/27, @ LAV 10/30
Record: 3-0-0-1

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See a Devil, Say Noesen – Pens WIN 5-3

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3                                     5

You can’t win a game in the first period but you can give it away.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins were outshot 20-10 in the first period and were down 2-1 and at one point went down 3-1 but then rattled off four straight and win 5-3 behind a solid effort in goal by Emil Larmi and a late game winner by Stefan Noesen. Noesen ended with two goals (an empty netter at the end of the game) he also leads the AHL in goals scored.

Binghamton was a quick team in the first and came at Wilkes-Barre from all angles and the Penguins looked shellshocked. Credit to Mike Vellucci for righting the ship as the Penguins locked it down from there. I wonder what the message was in the room.

Emil Larmi opposed Evan Cormier.

Lineup: Essentially Michael Kim for Matt Abt and Justin Almeida for Thomas DiPauli.

And for Binghamton…

First Period: Binghamton connected on a tic tac toe power play goal started by all ex-Penguin players consisting of Joe Morrow, Ben Street and Chris Conner. Conner connected off a nice tic tac toe play that gave the Devils a very early lead.

Conner’s 200th AHL goal.

32 seconds later, Jake Lucchini walked through a defenseman like grass through a goose and scored this pretty goal that brought the sides level at one.

The Devils would continue to bombard the Penguins with speed and shots, twenty in total in the first period and took a lead with 1:38 to play when Ben Street came in hot off the bench on a delayed Penguins penalty and connected for a goal through a screened Larmi which made it 2-1.

Second Period: The Pens outshot the Devils 16-4 in the middle frame but made a terrible mistake when Michael Kim misplayed a puck by Larmi’s net that ended up inside of it for a 3-1 Devils lead.

Yikes.

The Penguins did manage to break through for a goal when Justin Almeida sniped home his first pro goal with this effort in the final minute of the period that got the Penguins to within one.

That was confidence boost / builder for Almeida, playing in just his second game of the season.

Third Period: Jake Lucchini had a hell of a game. He had a chance early in the third but was denied. Later, Kasper Bjorkqvist scores his first pro goal that tied to game at three.

Wilkes-Barre kept coming and coming and finally broke through with 2:14 left in regulation.

Devils called time out and eventually pulled Cormier, but Noesen scored from about Public Square to ice the game away and give the Penguins the win.

The Good: The smothering defense from Wilkes-Barre after the first period and the no nonsense goaltending from Emil Larmi to lock down the Devils and deny any more goals.

The Bad: That Michael Kim giveaway was bad, bad, bad. If you’re in between him and Matt Abt, you’ve got a problem. It’s just one game though.

Turning Point: This happened in the second period with the Penguins down 3-1:

Around the Division: Providence was in Laval and came back from four goals only to lose in a shootout 5-4…. Hershey was in Toronto and lost 4-3.

Standings: Hartford and Providence with 7, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre with 5, Charlotte and Springfield with 4, Lehigh Valley and Bridgeport with 3.

Wheeling Update: Nailers were off. They are in Fort Wayne on Friday.

Video Highlights: 

Pens are off Friday, the only Friday off all season (that mid-December meeting with Cleveland got bumped from that Sunday to Friday) so enjoy the night off. I know I will. Power Rankings will be here Thursday morning at 11. Gameday setup for Bridgeport will be here Saturday afternoon at 3.

Let’s Go Pens!

GAMEDAY: vs. Binghamton 10/16

vs. 

Who: Binghamton Devils

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza

When: 7:05 p.m.

Last Game: Wilkes-Barre was in Hershey on Sunday and lost 4-1. Niclas Almari scored the only goal for the Pens on a late third period power play. For Binghamton, the Devils were in Belleville, Onatrio on Saturday and lost in overtime 5-4. Chris Conner had a goal and two assists in the losing effort.

Record: For WBS: 1-2-1-0 (3 pts., 8th place Atlantic Division) // For BNG: 1-1-1-0 (3 pts., 6th place North Division)

Referees: Peter Schlittenhardt / Anthony Tapper

Linesmen: Patrick Dapuzzo / Ryan Knapp

Why You Should Care: Penguins need some type of response after coming away from a three in three weekend last weekend with just one point. Binghamton is the opponent tonight and I’m not expecting the Devils to make it easy for Wilkes-Barre. Should be a good competitive midweek game between these I-81 rivals.

Listen: Nick Hart on the call on WILK.

Watch: AHLTV is back for another season and better than ever.

Other Game to Watch: Hershey visits Toronto. This is an excellent test for Hershey, going up against a very good, undefeated Marlies team.

Next Five Games: @ BRI 10/19, @ BNG 10/23, vs. SA 10/25, vs. SA 10/26, @ LV 11/1

Asked and Answered 10/15

Opened up the Mailbag for your questions after four games. Let’s jump in…

Scarfo up. I wonder if there is an as yet undisclosed injury in WBS.
– CyGuy

Here’s a little insider information for anyone that wants to get ahead of these things. Normally, when a guy is coming up from Wheeling it is tipped a day in advance in the ECHL Transactions which always hit around 5 p.m. Wilkes-Barre time. The ECHL has very complex rules about rosters and such that I frankly don’t care to comprehend. Anyway, in the Transaction release Monday, Scarfo’s name was on it. Coal Street later made it official Tuesday morning.

I don’t think it’s an injury per se as much as it is just trying to get a look at what you have depth wise. Mike Vellucci went with the same forward lineup and didn’t switch up the lines at all Sunday in Hershey from Saturday at home against Utica. For all of he misconceptions about the way that Clark Donatelli ran a bench, he always switched things up. Perhaps its a coaching philosophy thing, I don’t know.

Here were Sunday’s lines…

Sam Lafferty, Joseph Blandisi and Adam Johnson are all in Pittsburgh. That leaves you with…

  • Ben Sexton. Hurt.
  • Justin Almeida. They kind of forced him into duty Friday in Allentown when Andrew Agozzino was returned to Wilkes-Barre late that day. I didn’t notice him as much as I should have but collectively, the Penguins were bad Friday.
  • Jamie Devane. Hurt.

So it does make sense to have an extra healthy forward if you aren’t going to use Almeida with Devane and Sexton are still a few weeks away. For what it’s worth, I didn’t notice Nick Hart on radio call out that a player was missing on the bench Sunday. They didn’t practice Monday so we will have to wait and see if someone did pick up a knock, but I like my theory better.

Steve Oleksy was released Saturday. Seems they didn’t really give him a shot.
– Dave

I disagree. They have nine defensemen on the NHL roster that they don’t know what do do with and a lot of defensemen in Wilkes-Barre on NHL contracts. They also have a veteran overage problem when healthy. Oleksy has those two things (he’s a veteran defenseman) working against him. There is no practical room for yet another defenseman, a veteran no less, eating up minutes that your rookie defenseman could be in the same situation in. It’s just how development at this level works.

Who do you think Matt Abt has incriminating photos of?
– Mike

I know I haven’t released my expanded charts quite yet because of the busy week of the mailbag, a Wednesday home game and the AHL Power Rankings coming Thursday, but Abt has been on the ice for six total goals against (five at even strength). I’d counter that Abt in comparison to his other defensive partners has company, because everyone as a unit have all been bad. Wilkes-Barre is only carrying seven defensemen right now, with Michael Kim as the extra. There are no players with Pittsburgh right now other than John Marino and Juuso Riikola who can come down without waivers. (Zach Trotman maybe, but he is currently injured and needs waivers) In Wheeling you have Blake Siebenhaler and Macoy Erkamps as viable recalls. Both are righties (Abt is a southpaw) and the only right hander on the WBS blue line is Niclas Almari. So you are kind of really stuck with Abt right now on a defensive unit who hasn’t really lit the world on fire through four contests. Hang in there.

Jason, your crystal ball please: barring a trade, who comes back when/if Pittsburgh gets healthy?
– John M.

I think it’s simple. Of the injured guys you have Evgeni Malkin, their second best player; Alex Galchenyuk, a guy they acquired when they traded Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust who they wanted playing with a line with Malkin and Galchenyuk. Pittsburgh’s entire fourth line on Sunday against Winnipeg was Wilkes-Barre call-ups. That said, provided no one else gets hurt, you’re looking at Joseph Blandisi, Sam Lafferty and Adam Johnson all heading back at some point, unless there is a trade. You aren’t sitting any combination of Malkin, Galchenyuk or Rust for Lafferty, Johnson or Blandisi, you just aren’t. So they will all be back in due time.

What is going on with Dustin Tokarski?
– Barbara T.

Good question. Honestly, they are trying to swing a trade for one or two of their excess defensemen and probably Tristan Jarry. So essentially what they want to do is continue to have Emil Larmi develop as a backup, keep letting Casey DeSmith get starters reps and let Tokarski rest up for good what ever it has been which has been ailing him. He’s a pro who has won two Calder Cups. He doesn’t need the miles on him now if there’s a logjam organizationally. Eventually, something will happen where Jim Rutherford swings a trade that frees up movement where DeSmith is recalled again and order is restored with Tokarski and Larmi as your one-two in Wilkes-Barre. The Penguins least worry right now is in goal. You basically have a Calder Cup winning goaltender waiting on the shelf ready to play whenever the coach taps him on the shoulder. This is a good thing.

Good mailbag again. Solid questions. Thanks for participating. We will do it again the final week of October after five more games to see where we are at that point.

Mailbag Monday 10/14

After a weekend three in three, the first of seven total for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins this season, it’s time to reopen the Mailbag for your questions this week. What you’ve liked, what you didn’t like, what can be improved after the Penguins 1-2-1-0 start.

If you participated in the first mailbag, then you know how this goes. Leave your name (it doesn’t have to be a real one) and your thoughts / comments in the form below. Depending on input, I’ll string together a post Wednesday morning or afternoon before the Gameday setup against Binghamton at home later that evening.

This Mailbag is closed. Check back for another on on or around October 28, 2019!

Boy Oh Boyd — Pens LOSE 5-1

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The Penguins looked tired and non-competitive in a Sunday afternoon start in Hershey and lost 5-1. Travis Boyd had a big day, scoring two goals and assisting on another. The Penguins are 1-2-1 after four games and went 0-2-1 on the weekend, with a pair of losses to in-state rivals.

You can write it off to call-ups. Adam Johnson, Sam Lafferty and Joseph Blandisi are in Pittsburgh. That’s a good chunk of offensive bite missing from the lineup early on.

Friday, they took a bunch of shots from the perimeter that Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon ate up easily.

Saturday, they failed to close out the resilient Utica Comets, got a point but lost in OT.

Sunday, feeling the strain of a third game in three nights, they were obliterated in Hershey against a Bears team that only traveled to Allentown Saturday and had off Friday.

Callups happen all the time to all 31 teams in the AHL. Would some offense have helped this weekend? Sure, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt.

Casey DeSmith opposed Pheonix Copley.

Lines were…

And for the Bears…

Lineup: No changes up front for the Penguins at all. Lines were the same as they were Saturday in Utica. Matt Abt was with Jon Lizotte and Niclas Almari was with Kevin Czuczman. Joseph and Warsofsky stayed paired with one another.

First Period: Pens looked flat to start, Hershey hit two posts, but the Penguins got their legs under them but then ran into penalty troubles and found themselves down 2-0 after the Bears scored two power play goals.

Travis Boyd on the first power play…

…and then Matt Moulson scored on a goal assisted by Boyd when Stefan Noesen picked up an extra instigator after a fight with Erik Burgdoerfer after Burgdoerfer had a big hit on the wall on Jake Lucchini.

Here’s the hit that led to the second Hershey power play.

I mean, I don’t know what they expect to do anymore with these instigators they are handing out like candy at Halloween. Burgdoerfer runs over a guy and has to answer with a fight. Punches were thrown, yet Noesen picks up the instigator? Get out of here with this, just outlaw fighting altogether if you are going to call garbage like this.

Second Period: The hits continued for the Penguins, who saw Hershey score two more goals on them in the middle frame.

Travis Boyd again on the wraparound. Shades of Game 7 in overtime from a few years ago dancing around my head…

So much wrong with this play. First DeSmith pulled way out of his net, then Boyd’s attempt was going to go wide but it went off of Abt’s skates and into the net for a 3-0 Hershey lead.

The Penguins then went on a power play only to see Martin Fehervary beat Casey DeSmith on a two on one shorthanded to make it 4-0 Bears.

😬 😬 😬 😬

Third Period: Penguins couldn’t get anything going offensively. Mike Sgarbossa scored to extend the Hershey lead to 5-0.

Niclas Almari scored on a late power play goal to break up the Copley would be shutout bid that made it 5-1. Great setup by Chase Berger from behind the net.

Three Stars: 3) Matt Moulson (goal, assist) 2) Martin Fehervary (goal) and 1) Travis Boyd (two goals, assist)

The Good: Hard to come up with one. They looked flat, sometimes overmatched and let their goaltender get shelled. Kasper Bjorkqvist had a good game I thought, he was hooked on a breakaway which led to a Penguins power play chance late in the third.

The Bad: Where to start? Special teams seems to be a work in progress. Hershey seemed a step quicker which I think you can write off to Wilkes-Barre playing Friday with Hershey off.

Turning Point: Stefan Noesen getting sent off for 17 minutes of play time took out a large offensive piece for Wilkes-Barre / Scranton.

Around the Division: Rochester beats Hartford 3-2 in overtime….Springfield picks up a big win in Providence beating the Bruins 5-2.

Standings: Hartford 7, Providence 6, Hershey 5, Charlotte and Springfield 4, Lehigh Valley, Bridgeport and the Penguins 3.

Wheeling Update: The Nailers were off.

Video Highlights: 

This Week: Mailbag Monday morning for you. I suspect there will be a lot to talk about….Pens are back in action Wednesday at home against Binghamton….Power Rankings this Thursday. I haven’t decided when or where I am going to run the chart this week with all the stuff going on the blog this week. I may just delay them to next week with the Penguins having only played four games thus far and only one game this weekend in Bridgeport. I may just do that instead.

Keep the faith. Let’s Go Pens!

GAMEDAY: @ Hershey 10/13

@  

Who: Hershey Bears

Where: Giant Center

Last Game: The Penguins had their home opener against Utica last night and lost in overtime 4-3. Stefan Noesen continued his hot start, scoring a goal. Noesen has four goals in three games for Wilkes-Barre. Hershey was in Allentown Saturday and won in overtime 4-3. Travis Boyd with the overtime game winner with a second left to play in OT.

Last Meeting: Last Saturday in Hershey, the Penguins won 4-3. Stefan Noesen had a pair of goals in his Wilkes-Barre debut and Garrett Pilon had a pair of assists for the Bears.

When: 5:00 p.m.

Record: For WBS: 1-1-1-0 (3 pts., 6th place Atlantic Division) // For HER: 1-1-1-0 (3 pts., 4th place Atlantic Division)

Referees: Patrick Hanrahan / Alex Ross

Linesmen: Colin Gates / Richard Jondo

Why You Should Care: Looking to close out the weekend on a positive note and in the win column, the Penguins head to Hershey for another date with the Bears. We liked what we say from the Pens Saturday night against the Comets, so applying that this afternoon against a Bears team is going to be crucial.

Listen: Nick Hart on the call on WILK.

Watch: AHLTV is back for another season and better than ever.

Other Game to Watch: Springfield visits Providence this afternoon in the only other divisional action this Sunday.

Next Five Games: vs. BNG 10/16, @ BRI 10/19, @ BNG 10/23, vs. SA 10/25, vs. SA 10/26