The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are the current leaders in the American Hockey League for most consecutive seasons (14) where they have qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs. It is a remarkable feat for a modern day minor league team in a 30 team league that is so consistent in qualifying for a postseason berth giving itself the chance at the ultimate prize for any hockey player, coach, front office employee or fan. That is a championship trophy and celebration when it is all said and done that all the hard work of the season from preseason camp in September, to weekend three in threes, to grueling travel have led to this very moment where you can say that you are the champion.
For the Penguins, that day will come. Is this the year?
If the Providence Bruins have anything to say about it, the answer is no.
But let’s break it all down anyway.
Atlantic Division Semifinals – Series “B” (best-of-5)
A2-Providence Bruins vs. A3-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 20 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 2 – Thu., Apr. 21 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 3 – Sat., Apr. 23 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
*Game 4 – Mon., Apr. 25 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
*Game 5 – Tue., Apr. 26 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
* – if necessary
The Providence Bruins have a very talented forward corps that starts with Seth Griffith (24-53-77) and is followed by Alexander Khokhlachev (23-45-68) and Austin Czarnik (20-41-61) and ends with Frank Vatrano (36-19-55) Czarnik and Vatrano are probably pegged for full time NHL work with parent Boston next season. This rookie duo have a combined 56 goals scored among them, just seven shy of the Penguins Dustin Jeffrey (20) Carter Rowney (24) and Tom Kostopoulos (19) combined. Vatrano took home Co-Rookie of the Year honors and in 36 games played for the Bruins, has 36 goals.
The Penguins offense heavily relied upon the aforementioned Jeffrey, Rowney and Kostopoulos. Dominik Simon, Kael Mouillierat and J-S Dea are the other three active Penguins who have 20 or more goals scored for Wilkes-Barre this season.
Advantage: Providence. I didn’t even mention Alexander Khokhlachev’s name after the first sentence. The Penguins have one, maybe two, scoring threats on the ice at any time. Providence can mix and match and have a threat to score every second of this series.
Since there are not analytics at this level, I am forced to strictly rely on the dreaded +/- category. In this, Providence’s defense corps of Matt Irwin (+1) Chris Casto (even) Tommy Cross (+5) and Ben Youds (+9) are a combined +15, while Wilkes-Barre’s Tim Erixon alone is a +14. Even shutdown defenseman Steve Oleksy is a +8.
Tracking players on ice when there is a goal scored, I maintained a chart that I updated weekly for all Penguins players. Tim Erixon leads active Penguin defensemen with a 61.62% GF% and offensive defenseman Will O’Neill is next on the list with a 60.39% GF%. O’Neill was on the ice 93 times when the Penguins scored a goal, or 40.4% of the time when you take into account that the Penguins scored a total combined 230 goals in the 2015-16 campaign.
Advantage: Penguins, strictly based off of numbers only.
The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins goaltending situation has been in a state of flux ever since Matt Murray was called up to Pittsburgh in late February to back up Marc-Andre Fleury. Rookie goaltender Tristan Jarry was handed the reins and started nearly every game in March until being recalled when Matt Murray was injured in the final regular season game the Pittsburgh Penguins played in Philadelphia against the Flyers.
To make matters even worse, Casey DeSmith, whom the Penguins signed to a PTO when Jarry went up to Pittsburgh, was apparently injured in Wilkes-Barre’s final regular season game against Hershey with an apparent lower body injury and is day to day. Head Coach Clark Donatelli hasn’t named a starter for Game 1 Wednesday but it could be Sean Maguire, a rookie out of Boston University that joined the Penguins after his college season ended or it could be Brian Foster, currently with the Wheeling Nailers, who has a disastrous 3.51 GAA and a .857 save percentage in just nine appearances for the Penguins.
I don’t even have to mention anything about Providence’s goaltending situation. Projected Game 1 starter Jeremy Smith was loaned out to the Iowa Wild at the beginning of the season but was recalled back when Malcolm Subban went down with injury in February and has a 2.02 GAA with a .934 save percentage since his return to Providence.
Advantage: Providence. End of story.
Coaching and special teams gets a mention here. Providence’s Bruce Cassidy is in discussion for a promotion to Boston come the Fall. He always has his team ready to play and in contention to win most nights. Clark Donatelli took over for Mike Sullivan once Sullivan was promoted to the head coaching position of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Donatelli’s record since assuming the coaching position is 25-22-4-2. To be fair, when Donatelli took over, most of the pawns that got the Penguins off to such a hot start were either recalled to or on their way to being recalled to Pittsburgh. In Donatelli’s defense, he has done a fair job of steering the ship towards a playoff spot. I can’t see one coach outfoxing the other in any circumstance here in a quick five game series.
Special teams wise, the Bruins had the AHL’s best power play, scoring 22.6% of the time, but only once in 29 tries against the Penguins in the six game regular season series. The Penguins have the seventh best power play in the AHL but only struck once in 25 tries against the Bruins. I’m still going to slightly lean towards Providence in the special teams department given all the firepower up front and the question mark for the Penguins in goal.
Social Media Coverage
For the Penguins…
Twitter: @WBSPenguins / @WBSGameDay
Radio: @MikeOBrienWBS / @_NickHart
Beat: @CVSethLakso and @TLTomVenesky
For the Bruins…
Radio: No idea.
Bruins in four. Providence’s high powered offense overmatches the Penguins disarray of flavor of the week goaltending and Wilkes-Barre is blown away in four games. Penguins steal one game, probably a nail biter in overtime but that’s all she wrote. Additions from Pittsburgh in the form of either a goaltender in Tristan Jarry or more offense in the form of Daniel Sprong, whose junior season ended Sunday, do little to help the Penguins who will likely be overmatched and run out of the building by names like Vatrano, Khokhlachev and Czarnik.
Hey, I would love to be wrong, but I’m calling it as I see it. Gameday for Game 1 hits the blog Wednesday afternoon at 3.