Chirps from Center Ice

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

Blandisi and Lucchini Traded for Phil Varone and Riley Barber 2/20

We have seen this fish before.

If you have been around this blog long enough have been a fan of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins then you remember the names vividly, Barber with Hershey and Varone with Lehigh Valley. Varone was AHL MVP in 2018.

So proven goal scorers and point producers at the AHL level. Barber with Laval this season has 31 points in 39 games and nine NHL games (Montreal is the NHL affiliate of Laval) this year. He had 31 goals for a stacked Bears team last season. Barber is also an automatic 20 goal scorer.

Phil Varone had 70 points with Lehigh Valley in ’17-18 in his MVP season and was a point off Chris Terry of Laval that year for the point race. Varone this season with the Rocket has 27 games played, 4 goals and 10 assists. No NHL games this season.

Laval was in Providence Sunday and Mark Divver, one of the hardest working guys in the AHL and in Rhode Island, tweeted this…

So a clash in styles between two players who get shipped out to greener pastures in return for an NHL yo-yo in Blandisi and an unproven young commodity in Lucchini. I don’t know how anyone on this side of the aisle sees this as anything but and upgrade for the Penguins and winners of the trade. On the Laval side you get rid of two guys who look like they didn’t want to be there if Divver’s suspicions are true for a serviceable NHL piece in Blandisi and a good player in Lucchini with upside.

But we have been here before.

Mattias Plachta. Spencer Machacek. Danny Syvret. Ryan Parent. Derek Nesbitt. Colin Smith and Joseph Cramarossa. Chris Wideman.

Sure, Varone and Barber have great numbers and should, by rights, have an instant impact for the Penguins who are fighting for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. But history is an indicator (eight names isn’t an outlier, it’s a downright pattern and that is only some of the names) that these names may pop a few eyes here and there now and be the talk of the AHL going into and through this weekend, but the applications of the players putting in the work and producing remains to be seen.

By no means am I ruining this and saying that the trades are bad and you should expect to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division and miss playoffs for a second straight year. No, I am not saying that. Just take these trades with a guarded optimism that yes, they are massive upgrades over what you lost, but the history of pouting and clashing with management that comes with the trade is not something to be ignored and not just a young prospect thinking he should be in the NHL. Varone is 30, Barber just turned 26.

As to the immediate availability of the assets acquired…

In other news, Ryan Scarfo is up from Wheeling this week and Brandon Hawkins was sent back down. Zach Trotman went up to Pittsburgh on an emergency recall while John Marino recovers from facial surgery.

I was told this week that Kevin Czuczman was a full go in practice this week and Tyler reported that Dustin Tokarski practiced without limits too and also added that Thomas DiPauli won’t be available this weekend.

Also this, which happened Thursday at 5 right after my post went up…

I would assume that with DiPauli not available and Varone sorting out his visa issues, the recall of Knott was needed.

Around the division, Lehigh Valley and Hartford swapped backup goalies, J-F Berube to the Wolf Pack for Tom McCollum. Charlotte’s third leading scorer Julian Gauthier was traded to Hartford for their fourth leading scorer Joey Keane. The Wolf Pack look like they are going to go for a playoff berth this season.

Springfield too…

Same goes for the Penguins, and that applies to what you just read above.

Gameday setup is here Friday at 3 when Riley Barber squares off against his former team the Hershey Bears, provided Barber gets here in time.

AHL Power Rankings: End of February 2020

Major shakeup to the top five this week in the Chirps from Center Ice AHL Power Rankings.

The Belleville Senators are your top team this week after opening up an eight point lead over second place, largest in all the other AHL divisions. They are followed in second by Iowa, who have closed to within five of Milwaukee which was something unforeseen a month ago.

Two Pacific Division teams in Ontario and San Diego, the hottest teams in the division come in three and four and Hershey, who leads the Atlantic, slide up to fifth.

Jump past the Bears if you didn’t link in direct to see where the other teams fared.


Last Games: TOR 4 @ BEL 7, LAV 2 @ BEL 3 (OT), TOR 4 @ BEL 2, BEL 6 @ TOR 7 (OT), SYR 2 @ BEL 5, BEL 3 @ ROC 2 (OT)
Eight point lead over Rochester, who the Senators took down Wednesday. Belleville remains a complete team.


Next Games: vs. UTI 2/21, vs. MB 2/22, vs. LAV 2/26, @ CLE 2/28, @ CLE 2/29, vs. TOR 3/4
Record: 34-15-4-1


Last Games: STK 2 @ IA 5, STK 4 @ IA 7, SA 1 @ IA 2, SD 0 @ IA 3, SD 5 @ IA 2, IA 3 @ MIL 2
All of a sudden, five back of Milwaukee and a real chance that the Wild can overtake the Admirals for first in the Central.


Next Games: @ TEX 2/21, @ TEX 2/22, vs. CHI 2/25, @ STK 2/29, @ SJ 3/2, @ SJ 3/4
Record: 33-15-3-3


Last Games: ONT 10 @ BAK 3, TUC 5 @ ONT 1, BAK 2 @ ONT 4, ONT 6 @ STK 3, COL 3 @ ONT 6
Reign have pulled themselves up and look like they may push on to a first round home ice advantage playoff series quite possibly if they play their cards correctly.


Next Games: vs. COL 2/21, vs. SJ 2/23, @ SJ 2/26, vs. TUC 2/28, vs. BAK 2/29
Record: 26-19-4-1


Last Games: TUC 3 @ SD 5, BAK 2 @ SD 4, SD 0 @ IA 3, SD 5 @ IA 2, SD 2 @ STK 3 (OT), STK 2 @ SD 3
Quietly 7-1-2 in their last ten, two off another stout Ontario team in what’s shaping up to be a great finish in the Pacific.


Next Games: @ BAK 2/21, vs. SJ 2/22, @ TUC 2/26, @ STK 2/28, @ SJ 2/29
Record: 24-17-5-2


Last Games: HER 3 @ WBS 0, SPR 2 @ HER 5, HER 5 @ LV 2, HER 3 @ BNG 4 (OT), BNG 4 @ HER 2, LV 3 @ HER 5
Bears are looking good even though there were some stinkers in there. Lead the Atlantic and want to stay there.


Next Games: @ WBS 2/21, @ BRI 2/22, vs. CHA 2/25, vs. WBS 2/29, vs. CHA 3/1
Record: 32-16-3-3

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Kryptonite — Pens LOSE 3-2


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Tyler’s summation of this 3-2 Penguins loss was proper.

This hot, cold, hot, cold action that they are on isn’t good, and they can’t for the life of them, figure out a way to run Bridgeport out and beat them. The Sound Tigers are in last in the Atlantic but you wouldn’t know it by watching them play the Penguins.

Like Tyler mentioned, it wasn’t a bad effort, Wilkes-Barre outshot Bridgeport 36-28, but for a team that will be returning home this week with just two points out of the three game road trip, that isn’t ideal especially when you are battling for playoffs. They had a chance to go two clear of Providence last night and lost then a chance tonight to go back even with Providence and lost again.

Hershey, Hartford, two with Providence and Syracuse are the next five games. You know this if you read the Gameday setups four hours before every game on this blog. Those teams aren’t cakewalks by any means.

It’s frustrating because, despite the call-ups and injuries, they are close but keep losing. A young team does that. Oh well.

Casey DeSmith opposed Jared Coreau.


Bridgeport didn’t post lines.

Lineup Notes: None. Certainly would have expected Emil Larmi to get the start in net and for perhaps Macon Erkamps on defense, but they didn’t go in that direction.

First Period: Back and forth first half of the period, both teams traded power plays and Coreau and DeSmith also traded good save for save.

Then, Oliver Wahlstrom broke up ice on a delayed call and scored to give the Sound Tigers a 1-0 lead.

Second Period: You were looking for a response from Vellucci’s crew and got it.

First, Jamie Devane on a rebound that tied the game at one.

And then Joseph Blandisi on a rebound for a power play goal that made it 2-1 Penguins.

But then Simon Holmstrom took a nice pass from Bobo Carpenter (yes, that’s his name) and scored on a rocket of a shot that leveled it at two late in the period.

Shots were a hefty 18-11 in favor of the Penguins in the period, so the message of getting pucks to the net was delivered to the on ice personnel by Vellucci.

Third Period: I’m going to let my tweets set up this period. Bridgeport to a power play.

Simon Holmstrom, his second of the game, gives the Sound Tigers a 3-2 lead. Here is how he did it.

Penguins got close a few times, but Jared Coreau shut the door at every chance he could. Even with DeSmith pulled for an extra man they got close, but couldn’t find the equalizer.

A late too many men on the ice call pretty much iced their chances away at a comeback.

Three Stars: 3) Jared Coreau (34 saves) 2) Grant Hutton (two assists) and 1) Simon Holmstrom (two goals)

The Good: They are an Anthony Angello or an Andrew Agozzino away from a playoff team.

The Bad: Those players are still in Pittsburgh.

Turning Point: Holmstrom’s second goal of the game which gave the Sound Tigers the lead for good is the choice here.

Around the Division: Binghamton sweeps Hershey in the home and home series, beating the Bears in Hershey 4-2….Springfield gets a much needed win in overtime against Charlotte. 4-3 was the score….Lehigh Valley loses in a shootout to Hartford 4-3. Providence was idle.

Standings: Hershey 68 — Hartford 68 — Charlotte 62 — Providence 60 — Penguins 58 — Springfield 56 — Lehigh Valley 51 — Bridgeport 44

Wheeling Update: Nailers win big at home against Fort Wayne beating the Komets 6-1. Graham Knott, Ryan Scarfo and Cam Brown all scored goals.

Video Highlights: If the Sound Tigers put some out I will work an edit in here.

They are off until Friday when they host Hershey. I’ll have an update to my charts some time Sunday most likely. They auto update at the bottom of that link there except for games. AHL Power Rankings Thursday. Blog pieces and news as it comes otherwise till then.

Let’s Go Pens!

GAMEDAY: @ Bridgeport 2/15


Who: Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Where: Webster Bank Arena

When: 7:00 p.m.

Last Game: Last night in Providence, the Pens lost 4-2. Adam Johnson scored a power play goal, Jordy Bellerive scored too. For Bridgeport, the Sound Tigers were in Lehigh Valley and lost 3-2 in overtime. Travis St. Denis and Simon Holmstrom scored for the Sound Tigers in the loss.

Last Meeting: Bridgeport won in a shootout February 1 in WIlkes-Barre. It lasted seven rounds. Jake Lucchini and Joseph Blandisi scored in regulation. Josh Ho-Sang scored in regulation for the Sound Tigers.

Record: For WBS: 25-19-3-5 (58 pts., 5th place Atlantic Division) // For BRI: 18-27-5-1 (42 pts., 8th place Atlantic Division)

Referees: Brandon Schrader / Beau Halkidis

Linesmen: Jonathan Deschamps / Patrick Dapuzzo

Why You Should Care: Pens need to capitalize tonight against a Bridgeport team that got in late from their travels from Allentown last night. The Sound Tigers always play the Pens tough, so Wilkes-Barre needs to be careful.

Listen: Nick Hart on the call on WILK.

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

Other Game to Watch: Springfield, their playoff chances on the ropes here, host Charlotte.

Next Five Games: vs. HER 2/21, @ HFD 2/22, @ PRO 2/23, vs. PRO 2/26, @ SYR 2/28

Wrestling a Bear — Pens LOSE 4-2


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The term, “wrestling a bear” is used when you are dealt with a difficult task.

In this case, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are without defenseman Kevin Czuczman to injury and playmakers Anthony Angello and Andrew Agozzino to recall to Pittsburgh.

Every night is like wrestling a bear.

So they need to capitalize on the opportunities when presented.

They didn’t tonight.

A 4-2 loss to the Providence Bruins when crucial playoff points are on the line. The Bruins didn’t look like a team who have won just four games in their last ten. They gummed up the Penguins and have a hell of a goalie in Max Lagace tending the nets for them.

Onto Bridgeport Saturday, who will be coming up from Allentown overnight. The Bruins are off Saturday and it’s a chance again to draw even in points with Providence as we go on.

Casey DeSmith opposed Max Lagace.


Lineup Notes: Jordy Bellerive was back, on the the fourth line with Jamie Devane and Christopher Brown. Brandon Hawkins came out of the lineup to make room for Bellerive. No changes on defense. Kevin Czuczman, Dustin Tokarski and Chase Berger were all listed as, “week to week” on the pregame show with Nick Hart.

First Period: Not Niclas Almari’s best period.

Turned into a pylon on the first goal scored by Didier and then turned the puck over on the wall to the Bruins and Brendan Gaunce scored as he tried to olé his way back into the play. The Penguins are in big trouble if they are going to be without Kevin Czuczman for any length of time. The coaching staff has no faith at all in Macoy Erkamps and Matt Abt is banished to Wheeling. There really isn’t anything else in the ECHL affiliate to call up. For a team that is battling agin this season for its playoff life, plays shown above from Almari have to be corrected.

Yes, development league, yadda yadda. Save it.

Wilkes-Barre failed to score on the only power play in the period.

Second Period: Adam Johnson scored a power play goal in the opening stages in the period here.

And that was pretty much it for action in the period. Shots were 6-6 and I thought that the Penguins played better than the Bruins in the period. It resembled a lot of what they did in Hartford on Wednesday, they just were trailing here vs. leading there.

Third Period: Penguins had a great opportunity to score when Kevin Roy led a 2-on-0 up ice. His pass was broken up and then the Penguins buzzed around Lagace’s net before the referee lost sight of a puck in a mass of bodies when Joseph Blandisi pushed the puck in but the whistle had blown.

Two on one, Penguins defender goes to ground to cut off the pass and Joona Koppanen keeps it and scores to make it 3-1.

Penguins went into scramble mode from there and pulled DeSmith out of a media break with 4:21 left, scrambled some more and the Bruins hit an empty net. Jordy Bellerive tacked on a meaningless goal with .8 left to make it a 4-2 final.

Three Stars: 3) Joona Koppanen (goal) 2) Josiah Didier (goal) 1) Max Lagace (28 saves)

The Good: They didn’t take a penalty against.

The Bad: Niclas Almari needs to figure it the hell out already. You aren’t going to see me on his foreign exploits and put him as the second coming when he’s constantly lost out there on the ice night after night. He was responsible for both Bruins goals in the first period. At this point if I am Vellucci I run Macoy Erkamps out there to get a message across Saturday in Bridgeport.

Turning Point: Koppanen’s goal that made it 3-1 gets it. Lagace was dialed in from the drop, was beat early in the opening stages of the second on a power play goal but shut it down from there.

Around the Division: Binghamton clips Hershey in overtime 4-3. The Devils scored with an extra attacker to force and then won in overtime….Lehigh Valley beats Bridgeport in overtime 3-2….Hartford beats Laval 3-1. Charlotte and Springfield were off.

Standings: Hershey 68 — Hartford 66 — Charlotte 61 — Providence 60 — Penguins 58 — Springfield 54 — Lehigh Valley 50 — Bridgeport 42

Wheeling Update: Nailers are finishing up against Cincy. Box here.

Video Highlights: I doubt Providence will run a video highlight package.

Gameday setup for Saturday’s matchup against the Sound Tigers hits the blog Saturday at 3.

Let’s Go Pens!

GAMEDAY: @ Provicence 2/14


Who: Providence Bruins

Where: Dunkin’ Donuts Center

When: 7:05 p.m.

Last Game: Wednesday in Hartford, the Penguins won 2-1. P-O Joseph scored both goals, Casey DeSmith made 25 saves. For Providence, the Bruins lost Sunday at home in overtime to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Zach Senyshyn scored the only goal for the Bruins in the loss.

Last Meeting: December 20 in Wilkes-Barre, the Penguins won 1-0. Anthony Angello scored, Dustin Tokarski made 23 saves.

Record: For WBS: 25-18-3-5 (58 pts., 5th place Atlantic Division) // For PRO: 26-18-3-3 (58 pts., 4th place Atlantic Division)

Referees: Beau Halkidis / Casey Terreri

Linesmen: Jared Waitt / Michael Zyla

Why You Should Care: Big match up tonight in the Rhode Island capital. Both teams deadlocked at 58 points looking to solidify themselves as playoff teams. Providence has hit a bit of a skid of late, 4-3-2-1 in their last ten and the Penguins, but for a sour weekend at home last, have been one of the hottest teams in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. Which team is catching the other at the right time? We don’t have long to wait.

Listen: Nick Hart on the call on WILK.

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

Other Game to Watch: Bridgeport, coming off of a positive weekend, visits Lehigh Valley who is coming off of the same.

Next Five Games: @ BRI 2/15, vs. HER 2/21, @ HFD 2/22, @ PRO 2/23, vs. PRO 2/26

The P.O. Show — Pens WIN 2-1


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The Hartford Wolf Pack don’t lose in regulation on home ice this season. They had one regulation loss coming in to Wednesday’s matchup with the Penguins.

Until tonight.

Two goals by Pierre-Olivier Joseph, 25 saves by Casey DeSmith and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins defeat the Hartford Wolf Pack 2-1 on Wednesday to move into a tie with the idle Providence Bruins for fourth in the Atlantic Division with 58 points. Those two teams meet Friday in Rhode Island.

DeSmith opposed Adam Huska.


Lineup Notes: 

I didn’t catch Nick Hart’s pregame show because Wednesday is garbage night so I don’t have anything for you on Chase Bergeror Kevin Czuczman. Assume upper body, day to day.

First Period: They played 19:58 of inert hockey with a ton of icings, smattered with a quick pace and really needed it in contrast to getting scored on in every period last weekend against Hershey and Lehigh Valley until P-O Joseph had a shot blocked but he followed the puck and wound up and scored with 1.6 seconds left in the period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

Second Period: Wolf Pack come out and score early on in the period when they swarmed the goal and Ryan Dmowski was the last guy to throw it on net and it went in.

Teams traded some bullheaded power plays. Lucchini chucked a puck over the glass for a Hartford power play that was bad and Huska interfered with Lucchini behind his net for a Penguins power play which was worse.

P-O Joseph or Brandon Hawkins scored when Joseph shot the puck and Hawkins either deflected the puck or didn’t. Hawkins was first through the tap line but the off ice guys gave the goal to Joseph.

Third Period: They needed a quiet period given the score line and got one. Navigated through some penalty trouble, limited chances against and held on. With Huska pulled, Hartford never found the equalizer.

Three Stars: 3) Ryan Dmowski (goal) 2) Casey DeSmith (25 saves) 1) P-O Joseph (two goals)

The Good: They needed a quiet, you can say a boring affair and got one.

The Bad: Giving up one goal and winning is nitpicking in this department.

Turning Point: Joseph’s or Hawkins goal that gave the Penguins the lead for good was all that DeSmith and the Penguins defense needed as they took it from there.

Around the Division: Charlotte continue to win, their fifth in a row, as they sweep the Rochester Americans at home and win 5-2 in the divisions only action of the night.

Standings: Hershey 67 — Hartford 64 — Charlotte 61 — Providence and the Penguins 58 — Springfield 54 — Lehigh Valley 48 — Bridgeport 41

Wheeling Update: The Nailers were off.

I’ll look in the morning for video highlights. There really weren’t many. A DeSmith save here, a post hit there. The videos above should fill it all in for you.

They head to Providence for a huge matchup with playoff implications this Friday. I’m looking forward to that. Gameday setup is yours Friday at 3, but for anything breaking beforehand.

Let’s Go Pens!