The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins secured the number four seed in the Atlantic Division Sunday evening when their first round opponent in the Calder Cup Playoff, the Hershey Bears, were defeated by the Syracuse Crunch.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team which hovered at sixth place in the division for the majority of the season. The Penguins used home ice to their advantage and benefitted from other teams (Hartford for one, Hershey the other) stumbling to make their luck and finish fourth. With COVID related delays in mid-to-late December, the Penguins are one of a handful of teams finishing out the regular season this weekend.
Fourth place is a major accomplishment for a team bereft of a true finisher and a lineup which seemed to never set in night after night. Under the old format, the Penguins are still a playoff team, which you can feel good about.
One in Syracuse and one in Lehigh Valley. Last week the Penguins went 1-2, but in that one game, a win in Providence, they methodically took down a Providence Bruins team 4-1 and with the win and help from out of town, secured a playoff spot. They lost in Springfield on Saturday and in Hartford on Sunday but again, with help from out of town, backed into the four seed and are locked in there.
So they are going to play out the string here and these next two games are in essence, meaningless from the standings perspective. Sure, you want to win them, but it’s vitally important to rest the key guys and make sure that no important player get hurt.
That’s why I think you see a lineup on both nights full of rookies and ATO guys.
Friday’s opponent Syracuse has locked up a playoff spot but are still jockeying with all the other teams not named Utica who have qualified for a playoff spot for positioning. They can finish either second or third.
Saturday’s opponent is Lehigh Valley, who will most likely finish last in the Atlantic and have nothing left to play for. Expect a lineup full of kids for the Phantoms as well.
The Penguins are locked into the fourth seed in the Atlantic with a 35-31-4-4 record.
Syracuse is 40-25-7-2, and presently second in the North division.
Lehigh Valley is 28-32-10-5 and in last in the Atlantic Division.
Who is up, down, out?
Goaltender Louis Domingue is backing up Casey DeSmith in Pittsburgh. No one is up from Wheeling as the Nailers are in the Kelly Cup Playoffs other than goaltender Alex D’Orio. The injured players are D Taylor Fedun and G Filip Lindberg.
Who’s in Goal?
Tommy Nappier is your Game 1 starter against Hershey next weekend. You won’t see him this weekend. I would be shocked if he even travels with the team this week. Joel Blomqvist will get a game and Alex D’Orio will get the other. My guess is Blomqvist goes Friday and D’Orio goes Saturday.
For the opposition, it depends on what Syracuse is up to seeding wise and if they get locked in by Friday or not. If not, Max Lagace, who owns the Pens this year, will likely get the nod. For Lehigh Valley, you will probably see an ATO guy.
What can we learn about the Penguins this week?
Not much. There isn’t much to play for outside of whomever that gets the opportunity to play makes a positive first impression if it is his first professional game this weekend. A preview of 2022-23 coming attractions maybe? That’s all. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt. They want to be competitive.
Hey, whatever happened to the AHL Power Rankings?
I put too much time and effort into them and too few people cared to read them. I could put 45 minutes into the entire project of listing each team from 1-31, writing a blurb about each club, editing and formatting to only have 30 or fewer people check out the work. It’s been that way for a while, back when I used to list who each team played and who they play the following week with records. Way too much time put into something that people read less and less. It’s not worth it. Maybe I bring them back next year with a top ten, and if they are receptive enough start expanding them. After I stopped writing about them, no one asked, so I take that as no one noticed and no one cared.
Who is running the show?
Carter Sandlak and Mike Sullivan have the assignment on Friday in Syracuse with Tory Carissimo and Peter Feola on the lines then on Saturday Katie Guay, who you may remember refereed the first game of the season against these same Phantoms back in October, has the duties with Beau Halkidis joined by Jud Ritter and Bill Lyons on the lines.
Blog wise, I will probably do a playoff preview of the league’s action followed by a breakdown of Pens / Bears the following day with a prediction although that may change. I may just put together an entire preview with a Calder Cup prediction.
Give us a bold prediction…
Whoever I pick to win the Calder Cup probably won’t win it.