Chirps from Center Ice

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

Weekend Preview — 4 O’Clock Grind

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins hit the road this week for a pair of 4:00 home games Saturday and Sunday before yet another trip to play the Hershey Bears on Wednesday.

Music to set the mood….

Yeah, I know. It’s a five o’clock world, your headline says 4 o’clock grind. Just work with me.

A Quote….

I write seven days a week, starting at 4 o’clock in the morning, including Christmas.
– Dan Brown

There’s your 4 o’clock tie in. Happy now?

The Setup

Split with Charlotte which was fine, bigger story was Filip Hallander getting stretchered off Friday. He’ll be fine, eventually, then a comeback for the ages against the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday. This week, a trip to Hershey Wednesday, then two in Charlotte this weekend. Really, really important games. How important? Pens can solidify themselves as a solid three seed in the Atlantic with 43 points assuming they take all six points available.

There’s a mangrove of mediocrity with Bridgeport, Springfield and Lehigh Valley with Hartford creeping in which you want to avoid at all costs. Play more like Wednesday and less like the first period Saturday and you put yourselves in good position to propel yourselves away from the averages and start pushing at the Providence’s and Hershey’s in the division.

Bears are coming off a 3-1 loss to Charlotte Saturday and then fending off Syracuse 4-3 Sunday. Bears are getting healthier and are getting big bodies back from Washington. Does Joe Snively ring a bell for anyone? He should be making his debut for Hershey Wednesday. Hershey is actively pursuing the top seed in the AHL but is getting pushback from Providence and a bunch of really good Pacific Division teams. I don’t do power rankings on the blog anymore but if I did they would look like this, this week:

  1. Coachella Valley Firebirds: Just started playing home games in December, and have just 6 regulation losses.
  2. Calgary Wranglers: Deep heavy team that just grinds opponents.
  3. Providence Bruins: I think the Bruins are better than Hershey more wholly.
  4. Hershey Bears: But it’s the Bears who have led the Atlantic for much of the first half of the season.
  5. Texas Stars: Stars use a point run to race up to the top of the Central with a cushion.
  6. Toronto Marlies: I think there are a lot dark horses in the North but it’s Toronto who lead this division.
  7. Utica Comets: Comets took down Providence Sunday. Eleven game point streak, yet are six off Toronto’s lead for the division.
  8. Abbotsford Canucks: 8-2 in their last ten, six off Coachella Valley in the Pacific.
  9. Rochester Americans: 7-3 in their last ten, doing what they can to keep up with Utica’s 11 game heater and the pace that Toronto sets.
  10. Charlotte Checkers: Took down Hershey in Hershey and split with the Penguins.

That was easier than I thought it would be. Hmmm.

You notice just one Central Division team in Texas. There is a lot of mediocrity in the Central. Rockford is four off Texas in second.

Penguins would probably be 15-20 if you forced me to complete the list for all 32 teams.

I snuck Charlotte in there at 10 so I can move on, but they did lose 5-0 to last place Hartford 5-0 yesterday.

Records

Bears lead the division with 23-8-2-1 and 49 points, Charlotte is third with a 18-13-2-1 and 39 points and the Pens are fourth with 16-10-2-3 and 37 points.

Charlotte will have hosted Hartford again on on Wednesday before hosting the Penguins.

Who’s Up, Who’s Down? Who’s Out?

Forward Drew O’Connor, Defensemen Ty Smith and Goaltender Dustin Tokarski are all up with Pittsburgh. Mark Friedman was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre from Pittsburgh this morning. Kyle Olson, Xavier Ouellet and Filip Hallander are out. Jamie Devane returned from injury. A couple guys were in the non-COVID protocols. Taylor Gauthier and Tommy Nappier are up in goal for the Penguins. Sean Josling, Chris Ortiz, Adam Smith and Colin Swoyer are up also. Filip Lindberg was OK to back up Wednesday but then the Pens called Nappier up and it was Nappier who backed up Friday and Saturday.

It will be interesting to hear who is on the Charlotte trip (Lindberg and Hallander being would be positive signs)

What can we learn about the Penguins this week?

Do they want to push to be among the elites or are we dealing with a buoy in the ocean whos size changes when the tides roll in and out? They had no business being down 3-0 against Hartford and no business letting Charlotte score three straight in a four minute span in the second period Friday.

They give Hershey fits and have Charlotte figured out. They are dealing with callup and injuries to a lot of key guys. Newsflash, they aren’t the only team.

Nathan Legare has shown flashes. Lukas Svejkovsky’s game has grown by leaps and bounds recently. Alex Nylander is probably their best player now and Drake Caggiula and Sam Houde are like TNT and can go off at any time.

So it boils down to limiting mistakes and capitalizing on others. Simple, really.

Who’s in goal?

I guess it depends on how the rehab is going with Filip Lindberg but I’d say it’s a lock that Taylor Gauthier starts his fourth straight Wednesday in Hershey and possibly fifth Saturday in Charlotte. This far out speculating on who starts Sunday is a fools science.

Zach Fucale will probably get the nod Wednesday for Hershey and Mack Guzda will likely face the Pens for both games this weekend because Alex Lyon was recalled to Florida on Tuesday afternoon, although you may see veteran J-F Berube in one of the games.

Who’s running the show?

Mike Dietrich and Mike Sullivan (no, not that one) dish out penalties and Bill Lyons and Michael Magee make sure the boys stay onside Wednesday. Conor O’Donnell and Chris Waterstradt work the Saturday game in Charlotte with Sean D’Loughy and Brady Fagan on the lines and on Sunday it’s Jake Kamrass joining Waterstradt with Brandon Grillo and Dan Kelly working the lines.

Looking ahead…

Next Wednesday at home against Syracuse, then Lehigh Valley stops by next Friday. Pens then head to Bridgeport on Saturday.

Give us a bold prediction….

The Power Rankings will return. Someday.

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