Chirps from Center Ice

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

2019 Opponent Outlooks

I decided to go in a different direction this season with what I guess you could consider a season preview for the AHL. Instead of dedicating an entire day and an entire post to the AHL’s Pacific Division, a division that the Penguins will never see in the regular season, or have to look up the name of the arena that the Iowa Wild play in¹, I decided to dedicate this seasons previews to the teams that the Penguins face off against in the regular season.

So that’s everyone in the Atlantic, everyone in the North Division but for Toronto, Laval and Belleville and Texas and San Antonio in the Central.

I’ve slimmed it down this season, giving you the parent team, last seasons record and playoffs and the outlook. Less is more, I suppose you could say.

Let me know what you like, you don’t like and if you’d like for me to bring back who the Bakersfield Condors broadcaster is² in next years version of this.

Here goes, starting in the Central, traversing through the North and ending in familiar territory in the Atlantic. Note that for the “vs. WBS:” section, Penguins home games are listed in bold.

Texas Stars

NHL Affiliation: Dallas Stars
Record and Playoffs: 37-31-4-4 (82 pts., 6th place Central, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Stars did not make playoffs last season after representing the Western Conference in the Calder Cup Finals the season before. The prognosis for this season is kind of up in the air. Nothing really to write home about signings wise either. Are the days of the Stars being the best AHL team in Texas over?
vs. WBS: 12/6, 12/7, 1/15, 1/17

San Antonio Rampage

NHL Affiliation: St. Louis Blues
Record and Playoffs: 31-38-6-1 (69 pts., 8th place Central, no playoffs)
Outlook: Everyone was competitive in the Central Division last year but for the Rampage, who finished with 69 points, 11 points back of the seventh place team who were just seven points out of a playoff spot. That obviously needs to change this season and we think it will with some solid additions made in the offseason.
vs. WBS: 10/25, 10/26, 1/18, 1/21

Binghamton Devils

NHL Affiliation: New Jersey Devils
Record and Playoffs: 28-41-7-0 (63 pts., 8th place North, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Devils rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic this season. A team that finished in last place last year comes into the campaign with marginal upgrades across the board with the biggest question in goal. For a team that gave up the most goals against (278) last year faces a steep challenge in a loaded division.
vs. WBS: 10/16, 10/23, 2/5, 3/6, 3/8, 3/27

Cleveland Monsters

NHL Affiliation: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record and Playoffs: 37-29-8-2 (84 pts., 4th place North, lost in four games to Toronto in North Division Finals)
Outlook: It is shaping up to be another good season for a fairly solid Cleveland side who yo-yo’d in and out of a playoff spot down the stretch last season. If they can improve and run with the Toronto’s and Syracuse’s of the division, they may be able to make a deep playoff run with a talented group of players.
vs. WBS: 12/13, 12/14, 3/18, 3/20

Rochester Americans

NHL Affiliation: Buffalo Sabres
Record and Playoffs: 46-23-5-2 (99 pts., 2nd place North, lost in three games to Toronto in the North Division Semifinals)
Outlook: The Amerks laid an egg in round one of the playoffs last year, getting swept by rival Toronto. A solid offseason of veteran signings should get them to playoff consideration again this season and Rochester could challenge for the division crown.
vs. WBS: 12/11, 3/28

Syracuse Crunch

NHL Affiliation: Tampa Bay Lightning
Record and Playoffs: 47-21-4-4 (102 pts., 1st place North, lost in four games to Cleveland in the North Division Semifinals)
Outlook: The Crunch had a disappointing end of the season when they went out in four games to Cleveland in Round 1 unceremoniously. They were, at one point, without any goaltending prospects for a short time during the offseason. They have a decent crop of players who will most likely get Syracuse to another playoff appearance.
vs. WBS: 11/9, 2/28

Utica Comets

NHL Affiliation: Vancouver Canucks
Record and Playoffs: 34-34-6-2 (6th place North, no playoffs)
Outlook: Utica played bland, .500, uninspiring hockey last season and it didn’t translate to a playoff spot. Nice upgrades in goal with Zane McIntyre and up front with Carter Camper give Comets fans hope on what could be a season where Utica pushes back to the playoffs.
vs. WBS: 10/12, 11/8

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

NHL Affiliation: New York Islanders
Record and Playoffs: 43-24-6-3 (95 pts., 2nd place Atlantic, lost in five games to Hershey in the Atlantic Division Semifinals)
Outlook: You can expect Bridgeport to contend again, with the additions of Colin McDonald over from Lehigh Valley as the shoe-in captain with returning players which helped the Sound Tigers to second in the Atlantic Division last season. If things break the right way, Bridgeport can be a contender for a division title and definitely a team you can pencil in for playoffs.
vs. WBS: 10/19, 11/30, 12/21, 2/1, 2/15, 3/7

Charlotte Checkers

NHL Affiliation: Carolina Hurricanes
Record and Playoffs: 51-17-7-1 (110 pts., 1st place Atlantic, won Calder Cup in five games over Chicago)
Outlook: This team buzzed its way to the Calder Cup with a chainsaw and then turned the chainsaw on themselves and were ripped apart after the parade and trophy celebration. Most of, if not all of, the key cogs which got the Checkers to the pinnacle last season have defected or graduated. The biggest name was their head coach Mike Vellucci, who took the head gig and GM position with the Penguins. The Checkers will struggle this season. Don’t expect them to see playoffs and don’t be surprised if they finish last overall in the division.
vs. WBS: 11/23, 1/8, 1/24, 1/25

Hartford Wolf Pack

NHL Affiliation: New York Rangers
Record and Playoffs: 29-36-7-4 (69 pts., 8th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: The rebuild continues in the Connecticut capital. The Wolf Pack should improve this season and could be a late contender for a playoff spot, but it seems like an amalgamation of a lot of good players, and not a single great player.
vs. WBS: 1/11, 2/12, 2/22, 4/3, 4/4, 4/11

Hershey Bears

NHL Affiliation: Washington Capitals
Record and Playoffs: 43-25-4-4 (94 pts., 3rd place Atlantic, lost in four games to Charlotte in the Atlantic Division Finals)
Outlook: It’s going to be interesting to see how the Bears start the season, as they left off last year as one of the hottest teams in the second half. The pieces are there with a lot of solid veterans mixed in with hungry first and second year players. It could very well be a three horse Pennsylvania race for the top spot in the division with the Bears leading the charge.
vs. WBS: 10/5, 10/13, 11/13, 12/8, 12/28, 1/3, 1/10, 2/7, 2/21, 2/29, 3/14, 3/21

Lehigh Valley Phantoms

NHL Affiliation: Philadelphia Flyers
Record and Playoffs: 39-30-4-3 (85 pts., 5th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Phantoms signed tons of solid scoring in the offseason and should, on paper, have one of the best offenses in the AHL this upcoming season. Consistency bit the Phantoms all season last and as a result Lehigh Valley failed to qualify for the playoffs. Head Coach Scott Gordon has the key elements to win a lot of games in Allentown this season. Phantoms have to execute, which is something they lacked consistently last season.
vs. WBS: 10/11, 11/1, 11/6, 11/16, 11/27, 11/29, 12/27, 1/31, 2/8, 3/11, 3/13, 4/5

Providence Bruins

NHL Affiliation: Boston Bruins
Record and Playoffs: 38-37-8-3 (87 pts., 4th place Atlantic, lost in four games to Charlotte in the Atlantic Division Semifinals)
Outlook: They always field competitive teams in the Rhode Island capital and this year shouldn’t be any different. Do we see the Bruins as head of the class? No, but they aren’t the school dunce either. Expect another 85-95 point campaign and another playoff appearance from Jay Leach’s crew.
vs. WBS: 12/18, 12/20, 2/14, 2/23, 2/26, 4/8

Springfield Thunderbirds

NHL Affiliation: Florida Panthers
Record and Playoffs: 33-29-9-5 (8- pts., 7th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: The Thunderbirds were an average hockey team in an above average division last year, and don’t expect that to change this season. There isn’t really a lot that jumps off of the page here when you look at their lineup, and compared to the Lehigh Valley’s and Bridgeport’s of the division, spells another season looking outside of the playoff picture.
vs. WBS: 11/2, 11/15, 11/22, 12/31, 1/4, 4/10

 

Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

NHL Affiliation: Pittsburgh Penguins
Record and Playoffs: 36-30-7-3 (82 pts., 6th place Atlantic, no playoffs)
Outlook: Disappointing finish to a disappointing season for the Penguins, who come in rebuilt top to bottom with reigning AHL Coach of the Year Mike Vellucci ready to guide the Penguins back to the playoffs. Decent signings like Andrew Agozzino, David Warsofsky and Dustin Tokarski coupled with returning prospects should have Wilkes-Barre back in the playoff hunt come the Spring. Navigating through the divisional opponents may prove to be a challenge, but one that Vellucci & Company may be up for.

If you have a team going Friday good luck, but not too much if it’s one of the teams encapsulated above when facing off against the Penguins. Pens open up their 21st season of hockey in Northeastern Pennsylvania Saturday night in Hershey. The first Gameday setup of the season hits the blog Saturday afternoon at 3.

¹ – Wells Fargo Arena
² – Ryan Holt

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