So the Penguins are probably a playoff team, barring a collapse. That collapse could come this week as there are some really dangerous teams in this week as the home schedule wraps up with three this week and a Tuesday game next. Let’s dive right in.
First up are the Charlotte Checkers who are on a proverbial tear of late. 8-1-1 in their last ten and the first team in the division to wrap up a playoff spot. The Checkers are gunning for the divisional title so signs of letting off and playing the schedule out to gear up for a playoff push are off the table.
Then Hershey comes in. The Bears have been mercurial. They swept the Springfield Thunderbirds at home this past weekend and coming into this week, are five points clear of the Penguins for the four seed.
Finally Bridgeport will be in on Saturday, still smarting from that 9-2 beat down the Penguins laid on them two weeks ago. Don’t think the Islanders will be cooked up for revenge? Think again.
Assuming that third place Providence does not fall into the clutches of four on back, let’s just focus on the Bears, Penguins, Wolf Pack and Islanders. I’ll give you the record and games remaining with each capsule. The Bears are fourth in the division, Penguins are fifth, so on and so forth…
Record: 33-27-5-4, .543 points percentage, 7 games left.
Bears swept the Thunderbirds at home Saturday and Sunday after dropping a decision in Allentown to last place Lehigh Valley last Friday. Go figure. Have Hershey righted all their wrongs? I don’t think so. It may have been more of a style thing with Springfield really. Last Saturday was a blowout for the Bears and Sunday was much more tighter. The Thunderbirds came from down 2-0 to start the third to force overtime.
Hershey has Lehigh Valley Wednesday, the Pens Friday then Providence on Easter Sunday.
Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins
Record: 31-28-4-4, .522 points percentage, 9 games left.
Boy, they better hope they don’t run into Syracuse in the playoffs because I don’t like their chances. Max Lagace with a 48 save shutout for the Crunch, his second shutout of his former team, and the Pens lose 1-0 in their only game of the weekend last this past Saturday.
Pens have Charlotte Wednesday, Hershey Friday and Bridgeport Saturday.
Hartford Wolf Pack
Record: 30-28-6-2, .515 points percentage, 6 games left. One of the teams only playing 72 games in the division.
Hartford was obliterated in two games in Charlotte then finally beat the Checkers in overtime to stop the skid on Sunday, winning in overtime. If there is a team that I would put money on to miss the playoffs, it’s Hartford. They are 2-7-1 in their last ten and free falling. They have Toronto and Rochester on the road this Friday and Saturday.
Record: 29-28-7-4, .507 points percentage, 4 games left.
The Islanders have the fewest games left of all the teams in the division and have to make every game count, sitting outside of a playoff berth. They have this weekend (away at Lehigh Valley Friday, away at Wilkes-Barre Saturday) then next weekend home against Springfield Friday and Hartford Saturday.
That final game against the Wolf Pack may be the biggest game in the AHL this season for both teams.
Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out?
Radim Zohorna and Anthony Angello are back from Pittsburgh, so currently there is no one on NHL recall. My guess is defenseman Taylor Fedun is done for the regular season. No one is up from Wheeling and the Pens didn’t make anymore ATO additions.
Who’s in Goal?
You kind of have to go Louis Domingue for all three, right? Or at least Domingue for the first two then reassess everything and see where things are Saturday standings wise? I don’t see a start for Tommy Nappier anywhere with how tight things are getting. If the Pens want to be a playoff team their playoffs start now. You ride your number one till the wheels fall off.
You are likely getting the oppositions number ones also, so Joey Daccord, Pheonix Copley and Jakub Skarek in that order.
What can we learn about the Penguins this week?
Fourth place fell into their lap Friday when they were off and the Bears lost to the Phantoms. Could they get the four seed? Yes, absolutely. Should they stop there and gun for higher? Yes, conceivably. But the four seed, with it being within reach, should absolutely be the goal here. Why? Four plays five in the first round, which is best of three. Three plays six also. The top two teams get byes. Get the four, possibly the three, and have home ice and the luxury of last change in a razor thin best of three series.
Play Charlotte like you did Syracuse, which is not an inch of space for their big guns to run wild, and do the same with a rival in Hershey, then finally put to bed Bridgeport’s playoff hopes with another big win in front of the biggest crowd of the weekend. It’s absolutely conceivable here and should be the number one goal. You want to be the hot team coming into a playoff series, win your best of three in a sweep then catch the higher seed napping in Game 1, steal home ice in that series (which is best of five) and let the chips fall where they may.
That’s how I have it mapped out. But that’s me, from my seats in Section 104, without skates under my feet and without a stick in my hands and pads on my shoulders. These guys have shown flashes of brilliance, so it’s time to put the plan into action.
All six points is a must this week if you want the above to become reality. I think they are OK with 4 out of 6, anything less and it gets crazy tight with the possibility of falling out altogether, depending on the out of town scoreboard.
Who is running the show?
Michael Zyla and Mike Dietrich are here with Tom DellaFranco and Michael Magee on the lines on Wednesday. Justin Kea sets up shop on Friday and Saturday joined by Marc-Olivier Phaneuf with Tyler Loftus and J.P. Waleski on the lines Friday and then on Saturday Peter Schlittenhardt drops by with Kea again and Waleski sticks around too and makes room for Richard Jondo.
Pens close out their home schedule with a makeup date next Tuesday against Hershey then head to Providence Friday, Springfield Saturday and Hartford Sunday.
Give us a bold prediction…
In his finest performance of the season, Louis Domingue finally gets his first shutout of the season in one of these games this week.