Chirps from Center Ice

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

2021-22 Opponent Preview

Predicting what will happen in the American Hockey league is a tricky science because you genuinely never know what will happen. One month you can be up, and the other you can be down.

Anyway, I decided to bring these back this year, but mixed up a little than before. I am giving you something interesting regarding each team the Penguins will play, including when the Penguins play each team. Only the teams that the Penguins play are included here, so you Tucson Roadrunners fans which read my blog are out of luck.

Let’s get right to it, in no particular order, but starting in the Atlantic Division with Springfield.

Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis Blues)

Tell me something interesting about the Thunderbirds: They are a St. Louis affiliate now. It’s a silly game that the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL are playing where they don’t like each other anymore and aren’t affiliated with each other any longer. Carolina’s affiliate went to the Chicago Wolves, the Checkers are a Florida affiliate mainly and are also hosting Seattle’s AHL prospects while the new AHL team in Palm Springs debuts next season. Springfield, a team that basically gets the short end of pretty much everything of late, is left with St. Louis, who changes AHL affiliates more times than most people change their socks.

Blues prospects are good though, so look for this iteration of Springfield to contend for one of the six playoff spots available in the division.

vs. WBS: @ 10/30, @ 11/19, vs. 12/12, vs. 2/2

Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers)

Tell me something interesting about the Wolf Pack: They are one of the two teams I don’t think will make the silly expanded playoffs in the division. Rangers are full on rebuild mode but on the upswing, Wolf Pack made a late push late in last years forced exhibition season but that won’t translate to a more normal season. Someone is going to have to finish last in the division and it may very well be Hartford.

vs. WBS: vs. 10/22, @ 10/29, @ 11/6, vs. 3/13, vs. 3/30, @ 4/24

Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals)

Tell me something interesting about the Bears: Hershey took care of Hershey this offseason, adding big names, but Washington’s depth for NHL prospects is as bad if not worse than Pittsburgh’s. Despite that, the Bears reloaded and will probably play at the top of the division all season.

Tell me something else interesting about the Bears: We play these fools twelve times in the season, but the first game isn’t until the month of December.

vs: WBS: @ 12/5, vs. 12/5, vs. 12/8 (editors note: that’s three straight games against Hershey) @ 12/18 (editors note #2: that’s four times in a five game stretch) vs. 12/27, @ 12/29, @ 1/8. @ 1/9, vs. 1/16, @ 1/25, vs. 3/9, vs. 4/15

Bridgeport Islanders (New York Islanders)

Tell me something interesting about the Islanders: Wait a minute, who? Huh? Islanders? Weren’t these the Sound Tigers? Yes, Lou Lamoriello doesn’t like facial hair on his employees and likes continuity in the lineage of his franchises. You had the New Jersey Devils, the Lowell / Albany and Binghamton Devils in the AHL and at one time you even had the Trenton Devils of the ECHL. Nobody knew what a Sound Tiger was anyway. The AHL team in Bridgeport isn’t going anywhere, despite always being in the rumor mill, so changing the name to match up with the NHL counterpart is a thing that no one will notice come November.

Bridgeport is probably a playoff team, unless they aren’t, because Lou doesn’t really care that much about his AHL clubs.

vs. WBS: ‘member how I said we don’t play Hershey till December? The Penguins don’t meet up with the Sound Tigers Islanders until February 4 in Wilkes-Barre. Rest of the schedule goes like this: @ 2/26, @ 3/4, @ 3/5 (editors note #3: three games against Bridgeport in a four game stretch) vs. 4/2, vs. 4/16

Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers)

Tell me something interesting about the Phantoms: They kept Hershey honest last years exhibition season and should contend and push for the division crown this year. Philly is a long term buy on a franchise who is going to find success sooner or later. Where does that start, usually? On the farm. You saw that in the 2010 to 2015 iterations of the teams in Wilkes-Barre, and Pittsburgh went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Philly’s prospects are the best in the group that play AHL hockey in the state of Pennsylvania.

vs. WBS: vs. 10/16, @ 10/24, vs. 10/27, @ 11/3, vs. 1/14, @ 1/15, vs. 1/19, @ 2/12, vs. 2/23, @ 3/20, @ 4/1, vs. 4/6

Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins)

Tell me something interesting about the Bruins: Won a three team division last year with a mediocre Bridgeport and a bad Hartford team. But for a few games with Utica, that’s all who Providence faced off against last year. Bruins won’t have ex-Penguin coach Jay Leach behind the bench as Leach defected for NHL Seattle in the offseason. Ryan Mougenel gets that honor this season, having served as a Leach assistant last season. What does it all mean? It means the Bruins are probably a lock for the postseason and will contend. If you want a dark horse team to win the division, look no further.

vs. WBS: vs. 11/5, @ 11/20, vs. 11/27, vs. 2/5, @ 3/6, @ 4/22

Charlotte Checkers (Florida Panthers / Seattle Kraken)

Tell me something interesting about the Checkers: Florida affiliate now, splitting with neophyte Seattle while Palm Springs gets their AHL ducks in order for next season. They didn’t play last year so they are a bit of an unknown as to how good they can be. They are the other team I think that does not make playoffs this season, despite how well they look on paper. They will be in the mix till the very end, but I can see them faltering and finishing seventh, probably behind the Penguins and well ahead of the Wolf Pack. I’m probably wrong about this however and the Checkers missing out is probably the least confident I am in all my picks of who or won’t make playoffs.

vs. WBS: vs. 10/17, vs. 11/12, vs. 11/13, @ 11/23, @ 11/24 (editors note #4: four times in a six game stretch here) vs. 12/4, @ 2/15, @ 2/16

Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Tell me something interesting about the Penguins: They could be good this year and could contend for a bit, but I don’t see them as a top four team. We ragged the expanded playoff announcement in the summertime by the AHL, but that could play into the hands of Wilkes-Barre / Scranton. Alex D’Orio is probably the #1 in goal with a steady vet in Louis Domingue as the veteran presence. I have them as a #6 seed and a play-in team. Need to play .500 or better hockey against one of either Hershey or Lehigh Valley, maximize points against bad clubs like Hartford and teams in the North Division in order to have a shot at a spot. They could punch above their weight and contend for a bit, but everything would have to fall into place perfectly. With Pittsburgh’s core aging and the walking M*A*S*H unit that it is, don’t expect the group that plays opening night to be the same come March, probably way sooner. 

Now onto the aforementioned North Division, where the Penguins play every team at least once.

Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadians)

Tell me something interesting about the Rocket: Laval is an early Calder Cup favorite. They played a few percentage points worse than league best Hershey last season, absolutely ran circles around their Canadian counterparts in last years circus of a season and will carry that momentum into this season. Hands down a favorite to win the North provided things fall into place. I really want to see how they stack up against Syracuse and Cleveland in the division and Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Providence in the Atlantic.

vs. WBS: vs. 3/12, @ 3/26

Cleveland Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Tell me something interesting against the Monsters: Should be a dark horse contender. Played in the Central Division last “season” against the likes of Iowa, Grand Rapids and Chicago. They have a decent mix of prospects. I have them as a playoff team. They are an above average team that plays in an above average division.

vs. WBS: vs. 12/31, vs. 1/1, @ 1/28, 1/29

Utica Comets (New Jersey Devils)

Tell me something interesting about the Comets: Devils affiliate this year, Devils were bad last year in Binghamton, so this is one of the two teams I do not think make playoffs this season. Probably the one team I would put money on (if I did that) to miss playoffs. Team will be looking to maximize points against this team early and often.

vs. WBS: @ 1/7, vs. 3/18

Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres)

Tell me something interesting about the Americans: They are probably the other team that doesn’t make the expanded playoffs this season. Buffalo is a dumpster fire, and that stuff normally runs downhill. Plain and simple.

vs. WBS: vs. 11/10, @ 12/22

Belleville Senators (Ottawa Senators)

Tell me something interesting about the Senators: They still have Troy Mann running things behind the bench for them. But for how long is the question because Mann is a hell of a mind and with all the turnover with NHL head coaches it won’t be long and you can argue is well overdue that Mann gets his shot. On the ice Belleville is projected to be a playoff club. They will just have to outlast the Laval’s and Cleveland’s of the division and maximize points against the Utica’s and Rochester’s.

vs. WBS: vs. 2/11, @ 3/25

Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Tell me something interesting about the Crunch: One of a handful of teams who require you to be vaccinated in order to take in a home game. Keep that in mind if you plan on heading to Syracuse this season. On the ice, a good team who will mix it up with the Laval’s and Cleveland’s of the world. Should have ex-Penguin Max Lagace tending nets.

vs. WBS: @ 12/3, vs. 2/27, vs. 3/19, @ 4/9

Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Tell me something interesting about the Marlies: They signed a bunch of guys I never heard of for the farm. Things are a powder keg in Toronto, with the Maple Leafs seemingly ready to break out but instead, implode. How does that carry over across town to the AHL affiliate when you may already have five good teams to make playoffs is anyone’s guess. Marlies are probably a solid five seed behind some combination of Laval, Syracuse, Cleveland and Belleville.

vs. WBS: @ 12/21, vs. 1/21, vs. 1/22, @ 3/23

So there you have it. I am probably wrong about the playoff chances for most of these teams because, like I said at the top the AHL is a funny league. Teams that are bad go on runs, teams that are good go through dry spells. There is always one or two surprise teams. That’s why we watch.

I’ll be back Thursday with the weekend preview of the games against Lehigh Valley on Saturday and Charlotte on Sunday. Gone are the daily Gameday setups, at least for now. Check me out then.

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