It’s a lot of new tools in Head Coach J.D. Forrest’s tool chest, and with four games to close out February, sitting sixth in the Atlantic Division the Penguins have to use these new tools carefully. It only seems apropos then….
A makeup game Tuesday in Hershey, a home game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Wednesday and old buddy Adam Johnson, a Friday off, a trip up to Bridgeport Saturday to visit the Islanders and a Sunday home game against the Syracuse Crunch.
Hershey is coming into the game Tuesday having dropped two of three last weekend up in the Northeast. They lost twice to Providence on Friday and Sunday and dominated the Islanders Saturday.
Lehigh Valley played tight against the Utica Comets and gritted out a shootout loss Saturday then kept things fairly square with Springfield Sunday before the Thunderbirds firepower was unleashed.
Bridgeport played Rochester to overtime last Tuesday, lost Saturday to the Bears then shutout the Wolf Pack on Sunday. They will have played the Thunderbirds Wednesday before seeing the Penguins on Saturday.
Syracuse is the last of a few teams the Penguins have yet to play this season, have an extremely busy week where the Penguins will be their fifth opponent played after games Monday and Tuesday (in Belleville) Friday and Saturday at home (Rochester and Utica respectively) and then the Sunday trip to Wilkes-Barre.
The Crunch are in a similar position as the Penguins, battling for a playoff spot and, like the Penguins, should be a lot higher in the standings that they are familiar with.
In lieu of Power Rankings this week, this post is heading out on Monday afternoon. So the records are as of Monday, February 21.
The Penguins are sixth in the Atlantic Division at 20-21-2-3 good for .489 percentage points.
Starting with Hershey, the Bears are in fifth place with a 25-17-3-3 record in the Atlantic and a .583 percentage points….Lehigh Valley is in seventh with a 17-19-6-3 record and .478 percentage points….Bridgeport follows in eighth place with a 18-21-5-4 record good for .469 percentage points.
Syracuse is 19-18-4-1 and in sixth place in the North Division with a .512 percentage point total but again, the Crunch will have played four times this week before seeing the Penguins on Sunday.
Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?
No one is up other than the injured Louis Domingue, still nursing a foot injury sustained in practice in Pittsburgh. The Pens sent O’Connor and Zohorna back Monday with Freidman on conditioning and in a subsequent move, Coal Street sent Sam Houde down to Wheeling.
Status quo otherwise, forward Jamie Devane is out still with a broken jaw we think, goalie Filip Lindberg with his ankle and defenseman Chris Bigras remains out with something.
Who’s in Goal?
I like the little game of leap frog Tommy Nappier and Alex D’Orio are playing with one another here. Weeks ago you would have thought that D’Orio was your bonafide number one, but it appears that isn’t the case with them both being 1A-1B type goalies. A good problem to have. I think Nappier goes Tuesday in Hershey, D’Orio Wednesday at home against the Phantoms then D’Orio in Bridgeport Saturday and Nappier home Sunday against the Crunch. I could be wrong and probably am, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
For the opposition, I’ll take a stab. Zach Fucale, Kirill Ustimenko, Jakub Skarek and Amir Miftakhov in that order.
Hershey and Lehigh Valley are having some issues with goal, either with recall as in the case with the Bears or injury as is the case with the Phantoms.
What can we learn about the Penguins this week?
How much of an impact will O’Connor, Zohorna and Friedman have on the farm club this week? How reliant will the team be on their services? If the answer is ‘huge’ and, ‘a lot’ that doesn’t bode well for the overall success of the Penguins. Will it help solidify them as a playoff team? Sure, it might. Beyond that? You are a tweak or a trade away from O’Connor and Zohorna going right back up again and Friedman is a week rental player who is only here on conditioning, so you need to have these guys help the cause and not have them be the cause, if that make sense.
At this point in the season every point matters, so unless it is a weird thing that the Pens get jobbed out of a point because of a late power play for puck over glass, the Penguins need to get 6 of 8 points in order for me to feel good about their chances as a playoff team.
– Hershey: Ripe for the picking, struggled a lot against a really good Providence team. GIANT Center remains a house of horrors for the Penguins, though.
– Lehigh Valley: Can we Old Yeller this team already? They haven’t played like a team that belongs in a playoff spot, so just keep them down and put them out for good already.
– Bridgeport: Perpetual last place team. If you want to be considered a playoff team, you easily beat a team like this.
– Syracuse: Finally beat a Laval team on Friday they played four straight times on the schedule and kicked a Rochester team who had a hell of a week of travel. We will see how the Crunch do this week against Belleville twice, Rochester again and Utica, but this is a team that a lot of teams is better than, the Penguins included.
Again, 6 of 8 points this week is almost a must in order to keep pace as a sixth place side losing touch with fifth place, being hotly pursued by seventh and eighth. Let some other team worry about being the six and move up to five or more preferably four, if you can.
Who is running the show?
Another reason I decided to scrap the Power Rankings this week was because the League put out the scheduled officiating crews for the week Sunday night. For the Penguins they are:
– at Hershey Feb. 22: Referees Rob Hennessy and Jack Young. Linesmen Michael Magee and Tom DellaFranco
– vs. Lehigh Valley Feb. 23: Jack Young again with Alex Ross. Linesmen Jud Ritter and Patrick Dapuzzo.
– at Bridgeport Feb. 26: Referees Justin Kea and Stan Szczurek. Linesmen Eric Ernst and Kilian McNamara.
– vs. Syracuse Feb. 27: Referees Dre Barone and Jim Curtin. Linesmen Bill Lyons and Josh Cleary.
Three on the road starting in Bridgeport next Friday and Saturday for a pair there then Sunday in Providence.
Give us a bold prediction…
The Power Rankings will be back next Monday. A top five this week:
Stockton: Continue to roll at the top of the Pacific. Smacked pretenders Bakersfield twice this week.
Utica: The Eastern Conference looks more and more to be running through this Central New York town.
Chicago: Despite the contrary, rumors of the Wolves demise have been greatly exaggerated. Showdown this weekend in Winnipeg against the Moose.
Ontario: Keeping pace with the Heat with a pair of 4-3 victories over the Gulls.
Springfield: This isn’t your Uncle’s Springfield Thunderbirds team, unless they play the Penguins (who they haven’t beaten clean yet this season) then it probably is.