Coming off of a week where we answered whether or not the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins turned the corner (answer: yes) with games against in division rivals Springfield, Bridgeport and Providence, the Penguins head up to Rochester Wednesday to make up a game scheduled there originally for December then host Belleville Friday and then hit the road for a key matchup against the Phantoms.
Wow, run on sentence.
They have turned the corner. The gremlins and bugs have been worked out of them. They can hang with any team (not named Hershey) that they play. They are catching Rochester in a rut. Amerks are 3-4-2-1 and losers of two straight against Charlotte and Toronto. Belleville comes in as a cellar dweller of the North Division, but to be fair, the North is top heavy. We all know who Lehigh Valley is. An inconsistent team that can explode at any given time. Belleville shut out the Phantoms 5-0 in Allentown on Tuesday.
Is the Pacific Division really going with ten teams next year?
Hah, you may have seen Patrick Williams sit down with Scott Howson’s State of the League where he mentions that Coachella Valley will be playing in the Pacific Division and they aren’t expecting any divisional realignment this season. It’s bat (bleep) crazy if you ask me. Why not move Tucson and Colorado to the Central, Grand Rapids to the North for a clean 8-8-8-8 divisional setup? Everyone plays 72 games next year. 8 and 72 are good numbers, you play everyone in your division at least 6 times if you are Colorado because everyone is flying in to see you anyway. Take a weekend and hit Chicago, Grand Rapids and Milwaukee then set up your next two weeks and have the IceHogs, Wolves and Admirals fly in for a pair each. You can still maintain your rivalries with easy flights to San Jose and Bakersfield.
Pens are 18-17-2-3 good for sixth with .513 percentage points. Americans are third in the North with a 22-15-2-1 record and a .588 percentage point showing. Lehigh Valley will have played Hershey Friday before hosting the Penguins Saturday. They have a 15-17-6-2 record as of Wednesday, good for .475 percentage points.
Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?
Valtteri Puustinen and Michael Chaput went up to Pittsburgh on Monday after the NHL returned from their All-Star Break.
Goalie Filip Lindberg remains out with an ankle injury. Chris Bigras and Jamie Devane are week to week still and Sam Houde was upgraded to day to day. They all have upper-body injuries.
Who’s in Goal?
My guess is Alex D’Orio starts two and Tommy Nappier starts one. D’Orio is a lock for Rochester, so where to Nappier fit? My guess is with Belleville on Friday. But, D’Orio has had the lion share of starts (by happenstance because Nappier was down with COVID) so does D’Orio start all three? It’s a possibility.
One of the reasons Rochester has slowed down is because they have been a mess in goal. It’s been a merry go round. Mat Robson and Aaron Dell started both games for the Amerks this past weekend. My guess is Dell.
For Belleville, Mads Sogaard is the Senators horse, starting 20 games. Filip Gustavsson is the backup. The Penguins drafted and traded this guy away.
For Lehigh Valley, it’s anyone’s guess with it being a Saturday game. My guess will be Pat Nagle with Felix Sandstrom starting Friday against Hershey.
What can we learn about the Penguins this week?
They have turned the corner, now what? Can they keep winning without their leading scorer Puustinen?
I think they have figured out their goalie and the defense seems pretty set. I think they are slowly becoming a threat on the power play and the penalty kill seems OK for the norm. So building the house from the inside out is working. I guess the only question is how high can they go. What’s the ceiling?
Division leaders? I don’t think so. They have too many hurdles to get through to get to the top. Are they a playoff team? I have said yeah all along. Top three? May be a stretch. You are confident (obviously) as a three, four or five seed. I don’t like hanging at six. That’s the drop zone. One injury or one bad weekend can derail your momentum.
So really it is important to make sure that they keep the momentum rolling against two known tough opponents in Rochester and Lehigh Valley and an unknown with Belleville.
Who is running the show?
Conor O’Donnell and Kyle Lekun get the assignment Wednesday in Rochester with Brian Wasilewski and Adam Tobias on the lines. Friday sees Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Laura White in the orange armbands and Justin Johnson and Patrick Dapuzzo on the lines. Saturday sees Samuels-Thomas again with Jeremy Tufts and Richard Jondo and Bill Lyons working the lines.
Trip to Charlotte early part of next week, Tuesday and Wednesday, a Friday off then a Saturday home game against Springfield.
Give us a bold prediction…
The Penguins score a power play goal in each of their three games this week.