Chirps from Center Ice

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

Penguins / Senators Series Preview

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Eleven times walking up to the window, eleven times walking away from the window empty handed. Such has been the case for the past eleven postseasons for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins.

You can debate for days on what matters more, winning the championship of your league and becoming an obscure afterthought or being a constant in the postseason year after year after year.

For the Penguins and Binghamton Senators, neither is a stranger to the postseason. The B-Sens won it all in 2011 were a playoff team last year, facing these same Penguins. Binghamton was swept last year by the Penguins. Will it happen again? Read on.

The Penguins went 3-3-1-1 against the Senators this past season and winless at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena up in Southern New York. The B-Sens have home ice in this series so if the Penguins want to have success and get past their closest East Division rival, they must win at least one game on the Southern Tier.

The B-Sens were led in points this year by Mike Hoffman. Hoffman paced the B-Sens with 30 goals this season. However, Hoffman was recalled to Ottawa and hasn’t been seen since. Good news for the Penguins, right? Wrong. Binghamton isn’t led by just one, but by a pack. That pack mentality dooms opponents because if you make a mistake against this team, usually you are fishing that mistake out of the back of your net.

The Binghamton Senators led the AHL in scoring with 3.63 goals per game. The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins led the AHL in defense, limiting opponents to 2.43 goals per game.

It’s the unstoppable force vs. the immovable object.

Time to break it all down.

Schedule

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Series “C” (best-of-5)
3-Binghamton Senators vs. 6-W-B/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 25 – W-B/Scranton at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 26 – W-B/Scranton at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 30 – Binghamton at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 4 – Fri., May 2 – Binghamton at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Mon., May 5 – W-B/Scranton at Binghamton, 7:05

* – if necessary

Forwards

Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos leads Wilkes-Barre with 47 points. The B-Sens have six players that have more points than Kostopoulos. This should tell the tale as to who has the advantage. Wilkes-Barre’s “X-Factor” is a one-two punch of playmaking center Andrew Ebbett and NHL veteran Chuck Kobasew. Kobasew set the AHL on fire by scoring 11 goals in 12 games after being outcast by Pittsburgh late in the year. Ebbett had a 12 game point streak at the end of the year. You get this duo rolling in the right direction and you are going to win a lot of playoff games.

Advantage: Binghamton. Relying on Kobasew and Ebbett to get hot as a game plan is a recipe for failure. There’s just too much firepower up front for the B-Sens.

Defense

The Penguins have again led the American Hockey League in defense, giving up the fewest goals allowed (185) in the 30 team league. The B-Sens gave up 232 goals and seemed to win games by way of firefights. That doesn’t happen often in the playoffs.

Advantage: Penguins

Goaltending

For the Penguins, it started out with Jeff Deslauriers and Eric Hartzell and ended with Peter Mannino. Hartzell won AHL Goaltender of the Month honors in January. Mannino was named in March. For Binghamton, it started with Nathan Lawson and Andrew Hammond and ended with Hammond playing 48 games. You think that with Hammond, in his first year in the League that he would be over matched, wide and starry eyed. Hammond won 25 games. He also lost 19 of them, probably due in large part to the fact that Binghamton was, again, involved in a 8 or 9 goals scored game. How Hammond holds up in his first postseason run could define this series.

Advantage: Penguins. Mannino hadn’t let in more than two goals since November but was torched by Binghamton this past Saturday. That’s probably not going to happen consistently in this series.

Intangibles

John Hynes and Luke Richardson are going to be behind NHL benches some day. No one gets more out of his players than Richardson. Hynes prepares his group for this moment from the first meetings in September. Advantage Penguins, slightly here. Binghamton was top five in the AHL in power play this year. The Penguins power play has been a joke all season. Wilkes-Barre has slightly better success on the penalty kill than the B-Sens, but Binghamton led the league with 16 shorthanded goals. The Penguins were second with 14. Playoffs are a different animal though, so it’s a push, for now. Special teams is an ever evolving beast so the first team to take advantage will probably have it for this brief five game series.

Social Media Coverage

For the Penguins…

Twitter: @WBSPenguins / @WBSGameDay
Radio: @MikeOBrienWBS
Beat: @CVBombulie
Facebook: /WilkesBarreScrantonPenguins
Instagram: wbspenguins

For the B-Sens…

Twitter: @BSens_Hockey
Radio: @BSensRadio
Beat: @PSBSens
Facebook: /binghamtonsenators
Instagram: bsens_hockey

Prediction

Penguins in five. In order for this to come to fruition, the Penguins must get at least a split this weekend on the Southern Tier. Limiting mistakes and what chances the opposition throws at you with steady defense and goaltending, something that the Penguins have had all season long, and the Penguins are on to the next round.

But they don’t play these games on cyberspace. They play then in brick and mortar buildings filled with rabid fans. Game 1 is tomorrow. The Gameday Setup hits the blog Friday at 3 p.m.

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