Chirps from Center Ice

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

2017 Conference Final Previews

A couple people asked for it, so here it is. My stab at predicting the 2017 Eastern and Western Conference Finals which will include the San Jose Barracuda vs. the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Western Conference and the Providence Bruins against the Syracuse Crunch in the Eastern Conference. Here goes, starting in the Western Conference…

     San Jose (P1) vs. Grand Rapids (C2)     

How the Barracuda got here: They beat the pesky Stockton Heat in five games in Round 1 and dismantled a stronger San Diego Gulls side in just five games in Round 2. Barracuda have been a consistently great team now for months.

How the Griffins got here: Swept Milwaukee in Round 1 and dispatched the Central Division Champion Chicago Wolves in five games. The only team left which hasn’t been tested yet.

How they match up: The Barracuda own a regulation and shootout victory over the Griffins from the regular season.

Key player so far for San Jose: Ryan Carpenter leads the way for the Barracuda with 10 points in 13 games.

Key player so far for Grand Rapids: Jared Coreau is a quiet 7-1 in the postseason for Grand Rapids in net.

Prediction: San Jose in six. Griffins will put up a fight and may jump out to a 1-0 series lead or a 2-0 lead in a game, but Roy Sommer’s group overcomes and advances against a Grand Rapids group who finally get a challenge here in the Calder Cup Playoffs that they cannot overcome.

     Providence (A4) vs. Syracuse (N1)     

How the Bruins got here: Playing out of the four seed in the dangerous Atlantic Division, the Bruins went on the road four times in elimination games and won all four games, the first team in AHL history to accomplish such a feat. They beat Wilkes-Barre twice on the road to win Round 1 in five games and beat Hershey twice on the road in Round 2 to beat the Bears in seven games. Providence was a team which limped into the playoffs as a four seed but had a complete transformation as the best, most complete team in the Eastern Conference, and you could argue overall of the four teams left.

How the Crunch got here: They beat St. John’s in four games in Round 1 and used home ice advantage to dispose of Toronto in seven in Round 2 in a series which saw the home team win every game. The fact that Syracuse, who won the North Division, does not have home ice advantage over a four seed playing out of the Atlantic in Providence, is more of an outrage than it is anything else.

How they match up: Both split a win and a loss in two meetings during the regular season.

Key player so far for Providence: Remains Zane McIntyre. His timely saves in big moments for the Bruins against Hershey in Round 2 energized his side and got them rolling in the right direction.

Key player so far for Syracuse: Cory Conacher had seven points in the Toronto series. He missed out on a chance to bring home a Calder Cup for Syracuse a few seasons ago. He doesn’t want to miss this time.

Prediction: Providence in six. You have Syracuse, who have battled adversity all season long and has played the role of underdog and come away clean as a whistle in the end. But regardless of who came out of the Atlantic, advantage was going to lie with that team because they came out of a den of hornets in the regular season and played out of a pool of fire in the postseason. Syracuse steals a game in overtime, but Providence is a team firing on all cylinders at the right time and not rattled by a thing and make it to the Calder Cup Finals.

So that’s how I see it boiling off. If you are a fan of one of the four, good luck and enjoy the games.

Go West, Young Man! Go West!

I have yearned for the day that the Penguins would announce that they have mixed in a Western Conference opponent onto the schedule for the coming year and year after year I have been left disappointed.

Not this year.

The Penguins announced Thursday afternoon the schedule of opponents for the 2017-18 season. Along with the usual suspects in Hershey and Allentown you can also add the Rockford IceHogs, the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Milwaukee Admirals to the list of opponents that Wilkes-Barre will face-off with in 2017-18.

The Hershey Bears will follow suit with the Penguins in taking on Rockford, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. I didn’t see any other Eastern Conference teams mention any Western Conference flavor.

As to when, my guess is a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday date starting in Rockford, traveling to Grand Rapids then Milwaukee and flying out of Milwaukee Sunday afternoon for the Penguins. The full schedule will be announced in the summertime.

The American Hockey League also announced divisional reformatting again with the losses of St. John’s and Albany and the additions of Belleville and Laval. The Penguins divisional opponents shall be the following:

Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Charlotte Checkers
Hartford Wolf Pack
Hershey Bears
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Providence Bruins
Springfield Thunderbirds

Yes, Virginia, the Charlotte Checkers are back and are in the same division as the Penguins. The last time we saw the Checkers in Wilkes-Barre was six years ago when the Penguins collapsed in Game Six and lost to the Checkers. It will be good to see Charlotte come home to the East where they belong and in the Penguins division.

On Bellevelle and Laval, the Penguins will be heading there too as the Senators (Belleville) and Rocket (Laval) are the two teams that replaced essentially Albany and St. John’s. Along with those two teams, the Penguins will also face the Marlies, Binghamton Devils, Crunch, Americans and Comets to fill out their schedule.

Coal Street did not put out a matrix of how many times the Penguins will face off against the opponents on the schedule for next year but I did see that Charlotte will play the Penguins four times, Binghamton six times and Hershey twelve times. Wilkes-Barre will probably play the IceHogs, Griffins and Admirals twice, once at home and once on the road.

With the way that the divisions are uneven, you are probably looking at the crossover coming back for next season. The League didn’t specify details on playoff format for next year other than to say that an announcement will come in July.

One more thing before I go out the door, Jason Botterill was named as the General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres today. Botterill was one of the guys behind the scenes that built the roster on Coal Street. His departure will be missed, but I have the full faith that Jim Rutherford will name an individual who will step in his place and pick up where he left off.

Fumanta Bianca – Kostopoulos is Back

You may delay, but time will not. – Benjamin Franklin

Someone forgot to tell Tom Kostopoulos.

The Penguins captain confirmed Monday morning that he is coming back for a 19th season of professional hockey.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

These lyrics rattled around in my head when the Penguins went out in five games to the Providence Bruins in five games as I wondered, we all wondered, whether this was the last of Tom Kostopoulos as a Penguin. If you recognize those lyrics, leave the name of the song and artist in the comment section.

That someone to show the way is Kostopoulos, who still clearly has the desire to play another season and who deeply wants a long playoff run to the Calder Cup, something which has eluded Kostopoulos and Penguins faithful to date.

Haven’t gotten to the Offseason Moves List yet, something which will go up at the end of Pittsburgh’s playoff run, but it’s good to know that Kostopoulos’ name won’t have to be on the list of players not yet confirmed on returning.

Oh, and for extra, extra credit, if you know the meaning of the headline, leave that in the comment section as well.

2017 Division Final Previews

There are eight teams left in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. Sadly, the Penguins aren’t one of them. Of those that remain though, we are going to take a look at how they did and how they match up against their opponent.

Let’s start in the Western Conference first.

     San Jose (P1) vs. San Diego (P2)     
Pacific Division Finals

How the Barracuda got here: San Jose survived a scare in the Stockton Heat, beating the Heat in five games with a shorthanded goal and in overtime to boot.

How the Gulls got here: San Diego got past Ontario in five games but in the final game the Reign started their third string goaltender which went about as good as you’d expect, and San Diego advanced.

How they match up: Pretty evenly, actually with each team winning five over the other in the regular season.

Key player so far for San Jose: Ryan Carpenter, whose seven points in the postseason not only leads his San Jose side but the AHL Playoffs in whole. You know that the Gulls will be keying in on him this series.

Key player so far for San Diego: Jhonas Enroth’s 1.82 GAA and .945 SV% is impressive considering that the series with Ontario went the full five games.

Prediction: San Jose in seven. Perhaps the Heat exposed a flaw in the Barracuda that the Gulls can expose more and it’s San Diego that gets by, but I like the unfettered way that Roy Sommer’s group plays that has got them the Pacific Division and Western Conference Championships so far.

     Chicago (C1) vs. Grand Rapids (C2)     
Central Division Finals

Note: This series started Wednesday and I tweeted my prediction a few hours before to preserve it. See below.

How the Wolves got here: Needed five games to get past the resurgent Charlotte Checkers in a series that was over in a week.

How the Griffins got here: The only unblemished team left, they swept away the Milwaukee Admirals in three games last round.

How they match up: The one matchup the Wolves did not want was Grand Rapids, who went 8-2 against Chicago in the regualar season.

Key player so far for Chicago: He’s the league MVP for a reason. Kenny Agostino.

Key player so far for Grand Rapids: Jared Coreau is unbeaten in net for the Griffins so far.

Prediction:

     Syracuse (N1) vs. Toronto (N2)     
North Division Finals

How the Crunch got here: Went down in Game 1 against the St. John’s IceCaps and pulled it from the brink in Game 2 down a pair of goals. Syracuse scored twice to tie it then won in double overtime to force it back to Syracuse tied 1-1. The Crunch would win Game 3 then Game 4 in overtime to advance.

How the Marlies got here: Same story, different verse for Toronto. Shutout in Game 1 by Albany, won Game 2 big to tie the series coming back to Toronto and won in one overtime in Game 3 and three overtimes in Game 4.

How they match up: Throw everything away in the regular season away with these two because it’s an entirely different group of Crunch players. This may be the most evenly matched series out of all the division finals games.

Key player so far for Syracuse: Matt Taormina was named Defenseman of the Year this past season and so far has lived up to the award. Four points so far for him.

Key player so far for Toronto: Taormina will probably be staring across at fellow blueliner Justin Holl, whose six points and +5 rating cannot go without notice.

Prediction: Syracuse in six. Crunch fans waited a long time for all the pieces to come home from Tampa Bay and now that they are, it’s Syracuse’s spot in the finals we think is theirs to lose. Toronto keeps in interesting, but goes out in six games.

     Hershey (A3) vs. Providence (A4)     
Atlantic Division Finals

The only one and two seeds not to advance with all the other one and two seeds was Wilkes-Barre and Lehigh Valley, proving how tough the Atlantic Division really was.

How the Bears got here: Not by winning on home ice, that’s for sure. Hershey lost both games at Giant Center to Lehigh Valley in a series where the home team never won.

How the Bruins got here: They did not shock the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, not by a long shot. That series was dangerously even and the Bruins took out the regular season champion Penguins in five games.

How they match up: Bruins went 3-3 against the Bears, with a win in the shootout.

Key player so far for Hershey: Stanislav Galiev is a point a playoff game player for the Bears and not someone first on your list of players to shutdown, but at the end of the night he is one you wish you did.

Key player so far for Providence: Zane McIntyre straight up stole Game 5 from the Penguins, stopping fifty shots.

Prediction: Each team took out a higher seed expected to advance over the other. But Zane McIntryre is going to continue to be a difference maker for his team and will stymie the Bears offense. Going Providence in six.

If you still have a team going in this, good luck.

2016-17 Season in Review – Part Two

In continuing with the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguin Season in Review, we continue with the second half of the season. If you missed Part One it’s here or you can scroll down if you didn’t link in direct.

This one nearly touches 4,000 words, so it’s going to take you a while. Hell, you have all summer. Click through the jump if you didn’t link in direct.

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2016-17 Season in Review – Part One

The season ended a lot quicker than the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins would have liked to on Sunday in Game 5 against the Providence Bruins in the Atlantic Division Semifinals.

But instead of rehashing that painful memory all over again, let’s take a look back at the Penguins season in whole, starting on that Saturday night in October in Wilkes-Barre, opening night against the Hartford Wolf Pack. The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins had a very successful regular season for themselves. In this first of a two part series, I look back at each game the Penguins played in the regular season up to the midway point of the season. Check back tomorrow for Part Two.

It’s a meaty piece, over 2500 words here, so settle in and let’s take a look back at the year that was after the jump…

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Hit ’em With The Hein! — Pens LOSE 2-1

   button_adk200       vs.       WBS

  2                                           1

I don’t know what to say.

I had a feeling, around December or January, when the call-up started happening and the Penguins maintained first place overall in the AHL and the Eastern Conference that this year was going to be different.

This was the year I thought. Our Cup to lose I said to a select few.

In the 30 team American Hockey League, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins were the best overall team in it during the regular season. They won the Atlantic Division, the Eastern Conference and the Kilpatrick trophy.

But none of that mattered in the postseason. Ask any favored team going into a playoff series. Golden State Warriors in basketball. The Atlanta Falcons in the third period of the Super Bowl past.

In the postseason, you aren’t playing the 30 team AHL schedule any longer, your focus is one opponent.

For the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, it was the Providence Bruins.

I went through the stats that one afternoon and looked at how dead even the two teams were in every facet. Goaltending, Offense and Defense, it was almost a dead heat.

I gave the advantage to the Penguins, as did many others, and erroneously selected them to advance in four games.

A masterful, herculean, down right impossible effort by Bruins goaltender Zane McIntyre Sunday afternoon, stopping 50 shots sent his way. Danton Heinen scores twice, once in the first on a power play after a too many men on the ice call, the third in the series called against the Penguins and then late in the third with seven minutes to play. J-S Dea pulled one back for the Penguins on a later power play but the Penguins fate had already been sealed. Penguins fall 2-1 in Game 5 and bow out of the playoffs in the first round. The are the first regular season champion since the 1995-96 Cornwall Aces to not advance in past the first round of the AHL playoffs.

They failed to score on a double minor right after the Heinen first period goal, already down one, and McIntyre settled into groove that stole one for the number four seeded Providence Bruins, who finally overcome the postseason nightmare which is the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins. The ghosts of a 3-0 blown series lead a few years ago and a sweep last year die a cold death on the ice at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.

I don’t think there is anything left here to recap. Penguins shot themselves in the foot with a too many men on the ice call that the Bruins capitalized on :09 later on, couldn’t convert a double minor high sticking call on Tom Kostopoulos immediately after, put a mountain of shots on Zane McIntyre and could not advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Seth had some nice quotes here which I think sum up the game and the series for me. Your mileage may vary.

To sum, the Penguins offense sputtered when it had a 2-1 series lead when the clock struck midnight Friday morning.

But to be fair, these teams were evenly matched and were built from goaltender on out.

And sometimes you get beat.

Three stars were all Providence, Jordan Szwarz was third with two assists, Danton Heinen was second with two goals and Zane McIntyre was first with 50 saves on 51 shots.

I will have a Year in Review piece on the blog thus week. I’ll probably go back and look at what I got wrong in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs and try to predict Round Two sometime later this week.

Things will be quiet here until the end of the playoffs after that unless there is breaking news like a guys signing overseas or someone signing on for next season. My offseason moves chart will probably go up at some point within say a month or so.

I will most likely have the AHL Free Agent Big Board again around July 1. I’ll crowdsource it again like I did last year. Apply today!

Thank you.

Thank you to the Penguins for another good season of content here on the blog. It’s easy when you are good and the Penguins were this season and that made for some goofy and awful puns and some overall good times during the regular season. Thank you to Brian Coe in the front office, the braintrust that makes all of this social media go. Voices of the Penguins Mike O’Brien and Nick Hart had another stellar year as a tandem. You will go to bed tonight bummed that the Penguins didn’t win the Calder Cup they were favored to win, but remember this, the team that beat the Penguins doesn’t have a broadcaster, and has little to no social media presence whatsoever.

Thank you to you, the reader, who reads this blog religiously either by stopping me on the concourse, finding me on Twitter or Facebook and saying how you enjoy the blog or by subscribing via e-mail. Growing a reader base doesn’t come overnight. It takes work, hard work, to grow a base of people who consider your stuff on par with the print media. For that I say thank you.

Thanks to Seth Lakso of the Citizens’ Voice and Tom Venesky of The Times-Leader for another stellar year of coverage of the team. Another thing to consider when you turn in for the evening and begin to start your summer, the newspaper business is a fading industry. Most towns don’t have a full time beat covering their minor league team. Ask any Texas, Hershey, Binghamton, Hartford, or Rochester fan off the top of my head what it’s like having to go to the internet to read a final score of that night’s game. Wilkes-Barre has two beats that religiously follow the team.

So that’s all she wrote.

One final video from the best in the business…

Thank you again. Enjoy your summer, and Let’s Go Pens!