How is it February and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are only NOW just getting around to playing every team in their division? This isn’t the bloated Pacific Division which boasts NINE teams this season and, if nothing changes with Coachella Valley coming in next season ten teams in the Pacific?
Tucson and Colorado will move from the Pacific to the Central, Grand Rapids will move from the Central to the North giving the AHL a symmetrical 8-8-8-8 division setup. That’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler.
Anyway, enough about AHL geography and let’s get to the games at hand.
I actually thought about renaming this segment this week to, “The Corner” because if you have read anything on the blog recently you have seen me talk about the “corner” that the Penguins may or may not be turning. The answer is going to come this week, because it’s all divisional opponents not named Hershey or Lehigh Valley.
Those divisional opponents are the Springfield Thunderbirds, the Bridgeport Islanders and the Providence Bruins.
Don’t Say What?
Yeah, the Sound Tigers are now the Islanders. I don’t know either. I guess they wanted symmetry when it came to their AHL team. We are all Islanders, or something along those lines. I am going to, despite my best efforts, call them the Sound Tigers at some point this weekend.
But before that, Springfield drops by on Wednesday. Don’t let their last ten record (3-5-2) fool you into thinking they are a bad team. It’s a wolf in sheep clothing. Yeah, they beat an injury ravaged Providence team and a .500 Lehigh Valley side last weekend. Hartford smoked them last Wednesday and the
Sound Tigers Islanders (see?) edged them in overtime a week ago last Sunday.
Pens are 2-0-0-1 against the Thunderbirds this season. One of those wins came in overtime. If you are battling this team for one of the six spots for playoffs, two points clean is a necessity.
I don’t have much of a book on Bridgeport other than they play teams tight and are a lot better than their standings (last place) indicates.
Providence has been pillaged by injuries and taxi squad callups. The taxi squads end this Thursday, so expect an influx of talent to be injected back into the Bruins when they hit the ice for games this weekend.
Pens are 16-17-1-3 good for seventh in the Atlantic and a .486 points percentage. Springfield is second, 21-13-4-1 and on .603 percentage points. Bridgeport is playing in a kids day game on Wednesday against Lehigh Valley at the time this post goes up, but prior to that are in last with a 15-18-4-4 record, good for .463 points. Providence has yo-yo’d up and down the top four of the division but come in fourth with a 17-11-3-3 record good for .588 percentage points.
Percentage Points Are Stupid.
I know. This is the last year for it.
Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?
Tommy Nappier is out of COVID protocol and backed up both games in Cleveland. Pens released Tristan Cote-Casenave Monday. They recalled Niclas Almari from Wheeling and Patrick Watling was called up but didn’t dress in Cleveland and was shipped back down Monday as well. Pittsburgh recalled P-O Joseph, Kasper Bjorkqvist and Michael Chaput, who returned from injury and played in both games last weekend out in Cleveland. Tuesday saw Juuso Riikola go up to the taxi squad.
With Pittsburgh and the rest of the NHL on break, expect all three back in some form or fashion throughout the course of the week.
Who’s in Goal?
No reason to take D’Orio out in my opinion. Let the kid eat and start in all three games. If not, you have Nappier for possibly Friday.
Expect Joel Hofer for Springfield Wednesday, Jakub Skarek for the Islanders Friday and Troy Grosenick for the Bruins on Saturday.
What can we learn about the Penguins this week?
Very simply, have they turned the corner? At the end of the week, if they have collected this many points, here’s the answer:
5-6 points: Hell yes. Points against quality opponents. Indeed, they turned the corner.
3-4 points: More data needed. Rochester next Wednesday up in New York? Oh bother.
0-2 points: No, they haven’t turned the corner. In fact, they have regressed, badly.
I think that’s a fair assessment. These are all home games. Springfield is stumbling, Bridgeport, despite the play on ice are a last place team and Providence will probably have bodies back from the NHL but so will the Penguins. Defend home ice against teams you’ll probably have to go through come playoff time, if you get there.
Who is running the show?
Jake Kamrass and Mason Riley get the duty on Wednesday of calling penalties with Josh Cleary and Patrick Dapuzzo handling offsides and icings.
Friday sees referees Brandon Blandina and Jim Curtin with Jud Ritter and Michael Magee on the lines.
Saturday has Jim Curtin stopping by again with Beau Halkidis and Caleb Apperson and Kirsten Welsh running the lines. Welsh is one of ten female officials the AHL hired this season. I believe this is the first time we see a female linesperson (lineswoman? I don’t know…) work a Penguins game.
Road trip up to Rochester next Wednesday, then Belleville stops in next Friday then the Pens are in Allentown next Saturday. So two road games sandwiched in between a home game.
Give us a bold prediction…
The Penguins will be above .500 at the end of the week.