After a 2-1 home win Sunday against Hershey, the Penguins set up shop at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza for a very busy stretch of home games. Four home games in six games, five games in seven with next Tuesday’s road trip to Hershey.
It is hellacious, but at least it is at home and not that far away from home. It also isn’t fair at all and is borderline dangerous, but that is AHL President Scott Howson and his circus for you.
Anyway, talking points aside, there are a lot of points at stake for the last place Penguins this week. Let’s dive right in.
Home games Wednesday against Lehigh Valley, then a pair with the Toronto Marlies Friday and Saturday then back at it for a home game Monday against the Cleveland Monsters then a road game Tuesday in Hershey.
The Penguins played the right way against the Phantoms in both games last weekend and won one and lost the other. The Phantoms are still recovering from COVID ripping through their locker room having lost to the aforementioned Marlies on Sunday in overtime.
Toronto makes a stop in Hartford this Wednesday before two this weekend in Wilkes-Barre. They are one of the North’s hottest teams at 7-3 in their last ten and winners of six straight. These wins are against last place in the North Belleville (who are a .500 team, that’s how stacked the North is) Utica, (who have been the best team in the AHL for months) Springfield, (a very good team) Belleville again then overtime wins against Hershey and Lehigh Valley.
Call Cleveland the worst so far of the bunch in the. North, just 3-5-2 in their last ten but underestimate this club at your peril. They have played exclusively Central Division teams in 2022 thus far. If you were going to get me to rank divisions, it would probably go North, Central and Atlantic. I don’t know enough about the Pacific to be dangerous other than Stockton and Ontario are the head of the class and that’s it. The Central will have Chicago, Manitoba and Grand Rapids play leapfrog for the division lead from now until April and wouldn’t you know it but, after a weekend split in Rockford, the Monsters played Chicago and Grand Rapids close but lost both.
The moral of the story is, they are a good team.
Hershey is who they are, you know them like you know your brother or sister, if you have one. They will play host to the Hartford Wolf Pack Saturday and Sunday before the Pens come in on their fifth game of the week.
Lehigh Valley comes in sixth in the Atlantic at 10-12-6-2 and a .467 win percentage, Toronto clocks in at third in the North at 17-10-1-1, good for .621 percentage points. Cleveland is fifth in the North, 12-10-4-3 with a .534 winning percentage and Hershey is third in the Atlantic with 18-11-3-2, good for a .603 win percentage.
The Penguins are last in the Atlantic with 11-15-1-3 record and a .433 win percentage.
But, if they play like they did this past weekend, it will not be for long.
Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?
Wilkes-Barre signed Pascal Laberge to a PTO Friday. He played in one game (Saturday) he was replaced by Patrick Watling on Sunday and Watling goes out and scores the game winning goal. The Penguins released Laberge Tuesday. Thanks for the fish, Pascal!
Pittsburgh sent Juuso Riikola back down Monday, then Anthony Angello, Kasper Bjorkqvist and Filip Hallander back Tuesday, so look for them to be inserted right in the thick of things with all these games coming up.
What can we learn about the Penguins this week?
Are they serious playoff contenders or are they pretenders? I think a lot of that will be answered (yes, I realize it is January) this week because in the playoffs, it’s one game after another, kind of like what you will be seeing this week.
Sticking to the game plan reaped big rewards this past weekend. It may just be a style thing against the Phantoms and Bears, so I will really be interested in seeing how they fare against the Marlies this coming weekend and what, if anything, they have left for Cleveland Monday and in Hershey Tuesday.
Ten possible points at stake. Six of those ten should be a reasonable enough request. That may be shooting a bit too low, but you need to remind yourself you are looking at a last place team with 11 wins coming off an 0-7-1 skid. Remember what I said in my game stories about crawling and baby steps?
How they get those six is important too. Wins over Lehigh and Cleveland and a shootout win over Hershey still leaves a stale taste in the mouth if Toronto comes in and stomps you for a pair Friday and Saturday.
Who is in goal?
Good question. I think it’s stock up Tommy Nappier and stock down Alex D’Orio. D’Orio is still winless. How good do you feel when he gets the nod? Is Filip Lindberg back? I think he is close. They sure can use him.
It’s a fools game to play trying to predict goalies for the next five games. Nappier, Nappier, D’Orio, Nappier, D’Orio? Maybe. Mix in a Lindberg if he is back.
I’ll do it for the opponents though. Garrett Metcalf goes Wednesday for the Phantoms, Joseph Woll and Erik Källgren split the net this weekend for Toronto and J-F Berube goes for Cleveland next Monday. Pheonix Copley is likely out first against the Penguins on Tuesday in Hershey.
Who is running the show?
Peter Schlittenhardt and Casey Terreri in the orange arm bands Wednesday with Ryan Knapp and Jud Ritter on the lines.
Mitch Dunning and Casey Terreri (again) are the referees Friday with Josh Cleary and John Rey working the lines Friday then Justin Kea and Michael Zyla (what, no Terreri for the umpteenth time this month?) dole out penalties with Brian Wasilewski and Josh Cleary on the lines.
League website doesn’t have the crews listed for Monday and Tuesday yet.
One interesting note about one of the referees assigned this weekend is Justin Kea. Kea spent last weekend in San Diego and Ontario, California. At some point this week he’s boarding a plane back to the Northeast where the high temperature this weekend will be below freezing. The average temperature in Southern California this time of year is 75 degrees. I’ve always wondered what goes through a referees mind when they look at their itinerary and it has them in sunny California one weekend then the cold Northeast the next.
Cleveland rocks. The Penguins play a pair in Ohio next Friday and Saturday.
Give us a bold prediction…
Justin Kea will be wishing he was still in the California sun.