Chirps from Center Ice

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

Penguins / IceCaps Series Preview

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For the second time in three years, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and the St. John’s IceCaps will battle in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Two years ago, in the Semifinals, the IceCaps took out the Penguins in seven games. The IceCaps would then go on to face off against the Norfolk Admirals, who swept the IceCaps out of the Playoffs then sweep their way to their first Calder Cup in Norfolk.

Syracuse last year. Norfolk the year before. Binghamton before that. Hershey before that.

The trend of an East Division team representing the Eastern Conference in the Calder Cup Finals has been on a ten year streak. The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are looking to make it eleven.

Standing in their way, are the solid St. John’s IceCaps.

The IceCaps have been a consistent team all season long. Playing in the Atlantic Division they finished second behind the division and conference winner Manchester, but owned the Monarchs head-to-head, going 6-3-0-1 against them.

The Penguins took out the East Division Champion Binghamton Senators in four games in the Conference Quarterfinals. St. John’s did the same to the Albany Devils. The IceCaps needed six games to oust the Norfolk Admirals while the Penguins were pushed to the brink of elimination vs. the Providence Bruins.

So what you have is a mirror image. Both teams dispatched their first round opponents in four games and struggled but managed to get past their second round opponent. Wilkes-Barre went 2-2 against the IceCaps in the regular season.

Does this series go the distance? Keep reading…

Schedule

Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
4-St. John’s IceCaps vs. 6-W-B/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Sat., May 24 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
Game 2 – Sun., May 25 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 28 – St. John’s at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 4 – Thu., May 29 – St. John’s at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sat., May 31 – St. John’s at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Tue., June 3 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 4 – W-B/Scranton at St. John’s, 6:00

* – if necessary, all times Eastern

Forwards

The IceCaps are lead by experienced wingers Jason Jaffray, Andrew Gordon and Jerome Samson in the regular season. You already know the names Tom Kostopoulos, Nick Drazenovic, Andrew Ebbett and Harry Zolnierczyk. Gordon is joined by Eric O’Dell and Zach Redmond at the top of the post season list in point production while the Penguins have Chuck Kobasew and surprising rookie Conor Sheary at the top of the postseason scoring list. The Penguins get points by committee it seems. Jayson Megna, Brian Gibbons and Josh Archibald all came in late and provided an immediate impact.

Advantage: Push. The IceCaps look like a four line offensive threat but the Penguins big guns can go off at a moments notice as evidenced in the five goal explosion exhibited Wednesday in Game 7 vs. Providence. Whoever emerges as the favorite in this matchup as the series wears on will, obviously, have the advantage.

Defense

Penguins defenders aren’t molded to put up a ton of points, but rather shut an opponents top line forwards down. Surprise! Surprise! The IceCaps are the same way! In playoffs, Will O’Neill, Zach Redmond and rookie Josh Morrissey are at the tops of the IceCaps postseason scoring. Brian Dumoulin has really emerged as a offensive force on the Penguins blue line and is tied with Chuck Kobasew for the postseason team lead in scoring.

Advantage: Since it’s really a tossup, but I don’t want to push for the second time in a row, I’ll go Penguins, based solely on experience.

Goaltending

Peter Mannino and Michael Hutchinson are the goaltenders in this series. The Penguins will not be facing a two-headed monster in goal like they did with Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban in the Providence series. Hutchinson’s 1.77 postseason goals against average is better than Mannino’s, which hovers around two. Hutchinson’s .941 save percentage is 40 percentage points higher than Mannino’s (.901)

However, I don’t think that this series is going to be won on the strength of any goaltender’s performance.

Advantage: Penguins. Mannino kept the Penguins in games against offensive juggernauts in the postseason against Binghamton and Providence and his numbers were better than Hutchinson’s in the regular season. Hutchinson faced two teams in Albany and Norfolk that are known for playing more defense than offense.

Intangibles

John Hynes and Keith McCambridge will be in the NHL someday. I don’t see an advantage here. On special teams, there’s virtually no difference either. If you made me, I’d go Penguins based off of Chuck Kobasew’s five points on the power play and the fact that Brendan Mikkelson hasn’t really busted out yet and is due…

Social Media Coverage

For the Penguins…

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

For the IceCaps…

Twitter: @IceCapsAHL
Radio: Mr. Brian Rodgers does not dabble in 140 characters.
Beat: @telybrendan / @telyrobinshort
Facebook: /stjohnsicecaps
Instagram: stjohnsicecaps

Prediction

Penguins in six. Could easily be seven, or five, but I like the Penguins chances here. Wilkes-Barre made a lot of mistakes in the Providence series which nearly cost them the series. The tying goal by Ryan Spooner with .6 left in Game 4 comes to mind. Nearly blowing a 5-0 lead in Game 7 comes to mind too. I think the Penguins have seen it all this postseason and will use these experiences to dispatch the IceCaps and advance to the Calder Cup Finals.

It begins to unfold Saturday night in St. John’s. Gameday hits the blog Saturday at 2 p.m., for the 6 p.m. start in Newfoundland.

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