Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Weekend Preview – Shaky Ground?

Let’s take a look at a snapshot of the AHL standings in the Atlantic Division real quick coming into this weekends action. Remember that the top six qualify.

4 – Hartford Wolf Pack: 13 games remaining, 29-23-5-2, .551 points percentage.
5 – Hershey Bears: 13 games remaining, 30-24-5-4, .548 points percentage.
6 – Bridgeport Islanders: 10 games remaining, 27-25-6-4, .516 points percentage.

7 – WBS Penguins: 14 games remaining, 28-26-4-4, .516 points percentage.

It is important to note that the Bridgeport Islanders are playing 72 games while the Penguins, Bears and Wolf Pack are playing 76. With the teams being ranked on points percentage, wins matter.

As it stands today, the Penguins are out of a playoff spot on tiebreaker. Now, let’s take a look at the strength of schedules for these teams:

Hartford: .563
Hershey: .536
Bridgeport: .533

Wilkes-Barre has the second highest strength of schedule of these four teams highlighted. Bridgeport has the lowest, or conceivably easiest, schedule the rest of the way.

The Islanders are on a 6-0-1 streak and 7-2-1-0 in their last ten games. They came back and won in Rochester on Sunday in impressive fashion, emptying the tank after a hellish week of travel that had them across the border in Toronto the night before. Down two goals, they tie it with seconds left to force overtime and win there.

It’s impressive, because here is who they have taken points from in this streak:

7-4 and 3-0 wins back to back over Providence.
3-2 overtime loss to division leader Springfield.
7-4 win over Syracuse.
4-1 win over conference leading Utica.
5-1 win over Toronto.
6-5 come from behind OT win over Rochester.

These aren’t cupcake teams. These are division heavyweights in Springfield and Providence and tough North Division teams. For some teams, their playoffs start when the season winds down and they start making a push to get into playoffs. You can say with full confidence that the Bridgeport Islanders are in full on playoff mode.

The Setup

Seemingly at the opposite end of the spectrum are the free falling Hartford Wolf Pack, who are nosediving and 3-7 in their last ten games. They are the Penguins opponent Wednesday. They were pummeled in Utica Monday and lost 7-3. They beat Hershey in a shootout Saturday and lost a pair of close ones to Springfield last Wednesday and Friday.

Lehigh Valley hosts the Penguins on Friday. The Phantoms are all but eliminated, nine points off the Pens and Islanders. They will be looking to spoil the Penguins push on Friday.

Bridgeport is the main event. The Penguins have two more matchups with the Islanders, Saturday being one of them. Is it must win territory? It might be, depending on how the week shakes out for all the teams I just mentioned.

The Records

Covered above. Pay attention!

Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?

Chris Bigras was given away for future considerations to the Chicago Wolves at the AHL trade deadline Monday. This was covered in depth on my blog post about it Monday. Radim Zohorna is still up with Pittsburgh. Anthony Angello, for some odd reason, joined him on Tuesday. The Pens signed Colin Swoyer Monday. He and Clayton Phillips, another guy that the Pens signed last week, are defensemen so look for one of them to get into a game soon. Pittsburgh also signed Ty Glover Tuesday, after they announced the Angello recall.

Who’s in Goal?

I’d go Louis Domingue against the playoff teams and Tommy Nappier in Allentown.

Keith Kinkaid, Felix Sandstrom and Jakub Skarek would be my guesses in who the Penguins will be shooting at this week.

What can we learn about the Penguins this week?

The Pens are getting a desperate, free falling Hartford team, a Lehigh Valley club looking to play spoiler and a rested Bridgeport team who will be waiting for the Penguins to return from their trip down the PA Turnpike this week.

Pens pumped then got pumped in back to back games in Toronto midweek last, beat a decent Belleville team Friday then lost on a late goal Saturday afternoon in Laval after battling back to tie. There is there, there with the Penguins, but they lack what they have lacked all season which is a pure finisher. They don’t have one. They need to rely on defense and goaltending and basically outgrit their opponents. Sometimes it works, like what you saw last Tuesday in Toronto and sometimes it works but they don’t, you know, score any goals, like what you saw March 18 at home against Syracuse, a game they lost 1-0.

5 of 6 points is necessary. The four seed is still within reach. You can get there with wins over all three teams. Anything less, such as 4 points or fewer, depending on how the game Saturday with Bridgeport breaks, and you may be packing for an early summer.

Who is running the show?

Michael Zyla and Carter Sandlak get the assignment Wednesday with Patrick Dapuzzo and Colin Gates on the lines. Friday in Allentown sees Sandlak again with Jake Kamrass and Tom George and Ryan Knapp on the lines. Saturday sees Kamrass again with Peter Schlittenhardt and J.P. Waleski and Patrick Dapuzzo on the lines.

Looking ahead…

Home game next Wednesday against Lehigh Valley and a Saturday trip to Syracuse.

Give us a bold prediction…

Pens will make it look easy this week, winning all three games, then will regress next week and lose both.

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