Seeking their first power play goal since the Carter Administration, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins embark on a four game road trip. This weekend sees the Penguins in Springfield, Massachusetts for a date with the Thunderbirds Friday, then off to Providence, Rhode Island for a Saturday night date with the Bruins.
The Pens played in three games last week and won just one of them. They got smoked by Rochester Wednesday at home 5-1, beat the Charlotte Checkers at home 2-1 Friday on a late goal by defenseman Chris Bigras then were shut out the next night against the same Checkers side 4-0. Cole Schwindt bagged a natural hat trick and goaltender Chris Gibson, of his sub .900 save percentage and plus 4 goals against coming into that game, shut them out.
Springfield comes off a 2-1 overtime win last Saturday and a 6-4 setback against Hartford the night prior. They also lost their leading scorer, defenseman Scott Perunovich, to recall by the St. Louis Blues this week.
Providence, on the other hand, suffered the same fate as the Penguins in that they only won one game last weekend too with a 6-3 pasting of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last Friday at home then a loss in overtime to the Hartford Wolf Pack last Saturday at home.
On account of a loss by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Sunday, the Penguins moved up to sixth in the Atlantic on percentage points. The Penguins are a .500 club with a 6-6-0-1 record….Providence is a few percentage points better in fifth place at .542 percentage points with a 5-4-2-1 record and Springfield still sits atop the Atlantic with a 9-2-2 record and a .769 points percentage.
Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?
Wilkes-Barre got help in the form of defenseman P-O Joseph and Juuso Riikola, goaltender Louis Domingue and forward Drew O’Connor all being sent down on Sunday when Pittsburgh returned back from its Canada trip, seemingly at full strength health wise and COVID free.
In related transactions, the Penguins sent forward Sam Houde, defensemen Chris Ortiz and Dylan MacPherson back to Wheeling. MacPherson was released from his PTO.
Injury wise, forward Anthony Angello still has yet to appear in a game from his lower body injury. His status was finally switched from the laughable day to day variety to a more manageable week to week. Goaltender Filip Lindberg left after the second period on Friday and has a lower body injury. He was sent for an MRI this week. His status is unknown, but figure with a diagnostic such as an MRI, he’s week to week. The Penguins had to recall Alex D’Orio from Wheeling for Saturday but sent him back Sunday with the return to Domingue from Pittsburgh.
What can we learn from the Penguins this week?
The special teams are an unmitigated disaster, top to bottom. They haven’t scored a power play goal in their last 36 tries and have given up a league high four short handed goals in the process. While not all directly responsible for the losses of late, bagging a power play goal or maybe not allowing an opponent to score short handed may tip the scales in their favor.
Do I think that P-O Joseph is the straw that stirs the drink? No. I don’t. This club has so many gaping holes offensively and defensively that one player isn’t the entire team.
However, this influx of top end talent should help.
Otherwise, you have to build the roadmap of a game by not allowing the opponent to score first and keep it close like they did Friday against Charlotte. If not, things can and will go off the rails quickly, as it did Wednesday against Rochester and Saturday again against the Checkers.
It kind of has to be a back to basics type of thing with this club, which is a silly thing to say given the fact you are dealing with professional athletes playing the game at the second highest level in the world.
Who’s in Goal?
Louis Domingue Friday in Springfield and, depending on the work rate he faces then, right back to him Saturday in Providence. You will pretty much know or have a feel for it after the first or second period. If the Pens are in a close one, and limiting the Thunderbirds in shots and chances against, Domingue should have enough in the tank to go right back in net again Saturday in Providence. Tommy Nappier is capable, but if you are looking to essentially rebuild and hit restart on the young season, you want your de facto number one goalie to carry you through the short two game road set this weekend.
Expect Joel Hofer Friday to oppose Domingue Friday in Springfield and likely Kyle Keyser Saturday in Providence.
Who is running the show?
Rob Hennessey and Carter Sandlak have the assignment Friday with Ryan Jackson and Nick Briganti on the lines. For Saturday, Carter Sandlak and Ryan Jackson again (I wonder if they carpool?) with Referee Jason Williams and linesman Kenneth Gates.
Quick turnaround for the Pens as they will bus back Saturday after the game in Providence, a likely day off Sunday and then a travel day Monday for a flight down to Charlotte for a pair of games there Tuesday and Wednesday.
Give us a bold prediction…
One of the players sent down by Pittsburgh has an immediate impact in both games and the Penguins win them both.