So the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are probably going to be a playoff team. The issue for the Penguins isn’t so much about making the playoffs (they had the longest streak of consecutive appearances) as much as it is about success in the playoffs (they have no championships)
Taking a look at the weekend set of games, there is the Saturday game with the Utica Comets which looms largest. Taking nothing away from Friday’s opponent, Syracuse, but Utica has been the class of the field in the Eastern Conference all season. Check it out, speaking within the confines of the Eastern Conference only:
- .717 win percentage – second best team (Springfield) has a .634
- 12 regulation losses – second best teams (Providence and Springfield) have 17.
- Second in the Conference in goals for at 189 (Charlotte has 195 but have played five more games) – league leader Ontario have 203 (with two less games played than the Comets, who have played 53 games)
- 144 goals against, pitting them second in the Conference to Providence who have only let in 142 (with one less game played)
- Special teams aren’t anything spectacular, but when you are boat racing teams with goal differential, who cares?
So the moral of the story is that Utica is going to play Final Boss in the Conference and while the Penguins most likely have to get through a best of three play in series, then a division semifinal and final before you even hope to get to the Comets, Utica is going to be a measuring stick to see how the Penguins can fare in the postseason.
Syracuse thumped a suddenly average Hartford Wolf Pack team 4-2 on Wednesday at home. The Crunch are on a 5 game point streak (4-0-0-1) and aren’t going to be a pushover.
Utica is going to be well rested, having beat the Belleville Senators this past Tuesday 3-2 in overtime.
The Pens swept the weekend behind hot play in goal by Louis Domingue, winning 6-2 and 4-2 over Laval and Hartford, respectively.
Pens are sixth in the Atlantic Division, two games over .500, with a 25-23-4-4 record with a .518 points percentage.
Syracuse is fifth in the North Division, 26-21-6-2, good for a .545 percentage, .001 ahead of sixth place Rochester. It’s highly likely that the sixth place in the North Division team will have a higher points percentage than the sixth place in the Atlantic team and that team won’t make the playoffs yet the sixth place team in the Atlantic will.
Utica, highly discussed in the open, have a stunning 35-12-6-0 record and a .717 points percentage in first in the North.
Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?
Radim Zohorna is in the NHL. Jamie Devane and Chris Bigras are back from their injuries. Taylor Fedun missed last weekend again and Filip Lindberg is out for the year.
Who’s in Goal?
No reason to believe it won’t be Louis Domingue in both games for the Penguins this weekend. Expect the starters for the Crunch and Comets, being Hugo Alnefelt for Syracuse and Akira Schmid for the Comets.
What can we learn about the Penguins this week?
How they handle a desperate but hot team in Syracuse, who are in a battle for their playoff lives and how the stack up against the absolute best team they will play in the regular season in the Utica Comets.
I see a lot of similarities with Syracuse; maybe a team who wasn’t expected to run away with a division title but expected to contend but hasn’t played to expectations this season.
Things come easy these days for Utica, who conceivably should swat the Pens away like a fly. Wilkes-Barre played the Comets to a shootout loss the last time these teams played in December when Wilkes-Barre’s lineup was COVID depleted.
Do the Penguins sweep these two teams then take off to Canada next week and win just one of the four games scheduled?
They play better when Alex Nylander is in the lineup, Valtteri Puustinen is on, when the power play is cooking and they get better than average goaltending. Now, they have exceptional goaltending in Louis Domingue and all of the other usual suspects in play. Conceivably, Wilkes-Barre are competitive in both contests and put themselves in position to win both.
Who is running the show?
Terry Koharski and Jack Young are here for the weekend, getting the assignment from the League for both games this weekend. C.J. Murray and John Rey have the lines on Friday and Josh Cleary and Tom George have the lines on Saturday.
Tuesday and Wednesday in Toronto, Friday in Belleville, Saturday in Laval. It’s a hellish week of games against some pretty good North Division clubs, all playoff teams too.
Give us a bold prediction…
The Penguins shutout the Comets on Saturday.