Chirps from Center Ice

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

2022-23 AHL Schedule Released

Ho hum with these anymore.

League release here. Penguins release here.

TL;DR every team in the Eastern Conference like last year, Hershey and Lehigh Valley 12 times each. You see one schedule release, you see them all. But, for posterity, let’s do the thing.

1) Do you have a schedule matrix of opponents? Anyone in the Conference we are not playing?

2) Longest road trip? Longest home stand?

Four game home stand in March, spanning a week. No more than three games on the road. Charlotte trip around Thanksgiving, a Canada trip around Christmas and the other Charlotte trip in January.

3) How many three in threes?

Two. One in October. One in March. The benefit of a 72 game schedule.

4) Can I borrow your highlighter? I want to circle and highlight all the Sunday and worknight home games!

Two Sunday home games. One in February and one in March. Ten Wednesday games.

5) Show me more charts!

6) Any, “I have to close the door and act busy at work” dates on the calendar?

Nope.

7) The All Star Classic, are they doing that this year?

Laval. February 5 and 6, provided COVID doesn’t derail it like it has the last two seasons.

8) Anything else I need to know?

The Saturday home games start at 6:05 again. I don’t mind it, but they started it last year with something in mind with the earlier start and never did anything with it. But the 6:05 starts on Saturday home games remain a thing.

9) Playoff structure?

From the League release, cited above, it will stay the same. 23 teams make it.

The playoff field will include the top six finishers in the eight-team Atlantic Division, the top five finishers each in the seven-team North and Central Divisions, and the top seven teams in the 10-team Pacific Division. First Round match-ups will be best-of-three series; the two highest seeds in the Atlantic, the three highest seeds in each of the North and Central, and the first-place team in the Pacific will receive byes into the best-of-five Division Semifinals, with the First Round winners re-seeded in each division. The Division Finals will also be best-of-five series, followed by best-of-seven Conference Finals and a best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series.

10) You mentioned preseason games yesterday. Where are they?

A Wednesday morning preseason game against Hershey? Oof.

Schedule Tomorrow – Summer Vacation

AHL schedule will be released on Thursday.

It’s the same thing, different year with these things. Only difference this year is that all AHL teams are playing 72 games.

For the Penguins, they will host the (you guessed it) Lehigh Valley Phantoms on October 15.

Included in that release is the mention of preseason games that will be played as well.

In past years, the Pens weren’t the opponent for any other team and their home opener. Not this year.

You might be wondering why a Monday.

Makes sense for them.

Pens aren’t done being other teams home openers.

If I see any more additional teams tweet who they are playing and if it includes the Penguins, I’ll edit this space. Usually the AHL adds a link of all the home openers in the evening.

My question is whether they get everyone in the Eastern Conference like they did last year. Also, what will the Eastern Conference look like? There hasn’t been any mention of what the divisional alignment will look like for 2022-23. How many games with Hershey and Lehigh Valley?

I’ll be back at some point Thursday to break it all down for you.

Oh, and in case you are wondering where the blog has been and why I haven’t updated anything? I’m loving summer too much. Here’s a link to the offseason signings made by Coal Street so far this year.

Offseason Contract Statuses

Below is a list of all the names that touched or will touch the AHL’s version of the Penguins either this year or next year. If you spot an error or a glaring omission, please let me know in the comments below. This list below on the main blog won’t be updated but the separate page, found here will be.

Here is the key:

G6 UFA: Group VI Unrestricted Free Agent*
RFA: Restricted Free Agent
R-UC: An incoming rookie who is under contract.
UC: Under contract for the 22-23 season.
UFA: Unrestricted Free Agent

*- Definition from Puckpedia: A player becomes a Group 6 UFA if they are 25, completed 3 or more professional seasons, has a contract expiring, and has played less than 80 NHL Games.  For goalies, this is 28 NHL games with more than 30 minutes of ice time.  

I teetered between defining an NHL contacted player and non. I don’t think it matters.

Name Position Status Blurb
Niclas Almari D RFA I don’t know why they decided to bring him back after letting him bounce for overseas earlier in the season. He won’t get qualified and you’ll never hear from him again.
Justin Almeida F RFA Buried in Wheeling where he thrived. Wasn’t part of taxi squad when Wheeling went out, probably tell tale sign he’s not going to get qualified.
Corey Andonovski F R-UC Saw him a bit in early Spring with WBS. I think he’s poised for a big 2022-23 season.
Anthony Angello F G6 UFA He either re-signs and is an AHL player or signs someplace else and is still an AHL player.
Raivis Ansons F R-UC Played with Nathan Legare in juniors. Will play with him in the AHL also.
Matt Bartkowski D UFA An, “it is what it is” type player. Not for everyone, but good enough.
Jordy Bellerive F RFA Salt of the earth type player. If he gets qualified it’s probably more WBS time in 22-23.
Kasper Bjorqvist F RFA I think he’s in the Alex D’Orio camp, but maybe less so. I think they expect more from him and haven’t got it. He probably gets qualified.
Shaw Boomhower D UFA Nailers D man with a funny name.
Michael Chaput F UFA Banged up a bit. 33 points in 57 games.
Jamie Devane F UC Brought in for toughness. Filled that role OK in today’s game. Will be back in 22-23.
Louis Domingue G UFA Third option for the NHL Pens at goal, was thrust into duty in Round 1 vs. NYR. Was best option for WBS when healthy.
Alex D’Orio G RFA I don’t think they qualify him because I don’t think he’s developed the way they wanted.
Jan Drozg F RFA Given away to Grand Rapids for nothing. He won’t get qualified.
Taylor Fedun D UFA Played as captain. There will be a replacement for this role in 22-23.
Jordan Frasca F R-UC Put up tons of numbers with OHL Kingston. Different game playing with men, though.
Taylor Gauthier G R-UC I think he is Wheeling’s #1 for a part of next year.
Ty Glover F R-UC Saw two games with WBS at the end of the season.
Jonathan Gruden F UC Penalty killing forward who, when not on the ice on the PK, it shows.
Filip Hallander F UC In the the camp of “good but lacks finish” bucket of players.
Sam Houde F UFA Bounced between AHL / ECHL. Decent enough type player but probably doesn’t get an NHL contract.
P-O Joseph D RFA Should be #1 priority for a qualifying offer.
Cam Lee D RFA PIT signed a bunch of rookie D men. Lee was replaced in Game 3 vs. SPR for one of them. I don’t think he gets qualified.
Nathan Legare F UC Hit the rookie wall and was a healthy scratch towards the end of the year. Does he develop like Anthony Angello or more like Teddy Blueger?
Filip Lindberg G UC Broke his foot in the Winter. Last year was a wasted season for him. Now he has to play catch up.
Josh Maniscalco D UC Played in Wheeling. I don’t know if he cracks WBS in 22-23.
Tommy Nappier G UC Coming into his third year of his three year AHL deal. He’s been OK, holding things together in a tumultuous season.
Alex Nylander F RFA Should get qualified. Singlehandedly turned the Pens around after his trade from Rockford.
Drew O’Connor F UC Depending on how PIT does this offseason, probably a 13th / 14th forward option for PIT to start next season.
Kyle Olson F UFA OK AHL bottom six who plays with bite.
Chris Ortiz D UC Was buried in Wheeling for much of the year. Will be looking to breakthrough in 22-23.
Sam Poulin F UC Really took off as the season wore on. I think he’s probably ahead of Bjorkqvist, Angello, etc. developmentally.
Valtteri Puustinen F UC Was good, but lacked consistency most nights. Led the Pens in points, but this team lacked a finisher.
Will Reilly D RFA Another dime a dozen of the RFA group. If you like him, you want him qualified, but there are better options.
Mitch Reinke D UFA Good in flashes. Solid defensive depth.
Juuso Riikola D UFA Key PP QB for the Pens. He probably tries for another NHL deal elsewhere or bolts overseas.
Felix Robert F UFA I liked him. Played with pop. Wouldn’t mind seeing him again in a WBS sweater.
Lukas Svejkovsky F R-UC 2020 4th rounder by PIT will get his feet wet with WBS likely next year.
Colin Swoyer D R-UC Saw Game 3 against SPR. They think highly of him, and I think he’ll be fine.
Radim Zohorna F UC Can’t teach size. Solid NHL / AHL player.

Again, this list will update over here and if you spot an omission or error, please let me know and I will correct.

It Was 4-1. Now It’s Just Fore! — Pens LOSE 7-6 (SPR wins series 3-0)

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I’m not going to GIF all 13 of these goals tonight.

It was 4-1 in favor of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins in the first period. Springfield thunders back to tie the game in the second period then pulls ahead in the third. They win Game 3 7-6 and sweep the Penguins out of the Atlantic Division Semifinals.

The Penguins got in a fire fight with a team full of gasoline and it almost worked, but they faced a barrage in the second they were not able to overcome.

I don’t have anything bad to say about the team. They were in last in December. They battled back to a respectable fourth. They beat Hershey in the First Round of the playoffs and lost to a Springfield team which was better than them in nearly every aspect and were swept out.

Sure, the turning point of the season is probably when Casey DeSmith goes down in Game 1 and makes Louis Domingue the de facto number one starter. The idea is that Jarry makes it back, Domingue goes back down and steals the series against Springfield.

I still didn’t like the Penguins chances against who I think wins the Bridgeport – Charlotte series and that’s the Checkers.

So if you don’t make it out of the Division and win the Calder Cup, does it really matter?

Anyway, let’s get into it.

Here’s how they lined up. Cam Lee came out for Colin Swoyer.

First Period: Guns blazing for the Penguins, just 2:45 in and Jonathan Gruden scores to make it 1-0 Penguins. They get a power play and don’t score or even get a shot on starting goaltender Charlie Lindgren for Springfield.

Springfield then gets a power play and Sam Anas scores to tie the game at one.

Penguins push ahead with a goal by Filip Hallander and again with a power play goal by Sam Poulin. Nathan Legare makes up for the penalty that led to the Anas power play goal with a goal of his own that makes it 4-1 Penguins.

Second Period: Complete role reversal. Penguins get in penalty trouble. The officiating was awful Sunday. Justin Kea is probably going to be a full time NHL referee one day, but if he throws clunkers like today, it won’t be for long. Rob Hennessy is an overmatched hack who just fills a referee suit. He’s awful and needs to be carried by the other guy.

Anyway, Will Bitten scores (kicks) a goal to make it 4-2 on a 5-on-3 for the Thunderbirds. A long review by Kea / Hennessy and the goals stands. Then Steven Santini scores through a screen and it’s 4-3. Then Dakota Joshua ties the game at four.

It was a blitzkrieg of goals for the Thunderbirds under an avalanche of shots. Wilkes-Barre was outshot by a 4:1 margin at one point.

Third Period: I wondered if the comeback for Springfield would have taken all the starch out of them and the Penguins, as long as they played it close, would be fine and make it to a Game 4.

I was wrong.

Matthew Peca scores a rebound goal to make it 5-4 Springfield. Then 6-4 when Tommy Nappier stabs the puck with his blocker and up into the ai where Mackenzie MacEachern is waiting to whack it in for a 6-4 lead.

Sam Poulin brings the Pens back to within one with his second of the game.

But then Jonathan Gruden throws a puck out of play and the Pens are down a man and their best penalty killer and Hugh McGing scores a power play to reestablish the Springfield two goal lead in the third period.

Alex Nylander scores the final goal of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins season. WIth  Tommy Nappier pulled, the Penguins never found the equalizer.

Three Stars: 3) Matthew Peca (goal, two assists) 2) Sam Anas (goal, three assists) 1) Hugh McGing (goal)

The Good: Several of you won’t agree, but it was a successful season for the Penguins. Fourth place finish with this group? Get me a finisher and a little more steadier defense and goaltending and we will see where this goes.

The Bad: Another season, another playoff exit.

Turning Point: Alex Nylander turned the season around for the Pens. Losing Zohorna and Domingue and O’Connor hurt the Penguins chances against beating Springfield, but rest assured, I don’t think they make it past Charlotte or beyond.

Video Highlights: All 13 of the goals described above should be here:

Thanks for following along this season. I’ll be around. Have a great summer!

Let’s Go Pens!

Brinks — Pens LOSE 6-2 (SPR leads 2-0)

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I don’t want to blame a loss on officiating. But the tides turned for the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins when referee Conor O’Donnell made this call on Anthony Angello.

The Thunderbirds would score on the ensuing power play to tie the game at two at the time.

Seems like a harmless thing, but it wasn’t. The referees were letting everything go to that point. Everything. So yes, the Penguins were a bit shell shocked at the call and the goal.

:42 later, the Thunderbirds would score again and never looked back.

Oh, and starting goaltender for Springfield Joel Hofer scored a goal.

The Penguins are down 2-0 in the series now after losing 6-2 Thursday. The Hofer empty net goal and another makes the score line bigger than it really should be.

Series shifts back to Wilkes-Barre where the Penguins are 16-3 in 2022. But I said in my series snap on Wednesday that in order to beat the Thunderbirds in the series you would have to beat them in Springfield. The Penguins have yet to do that.

Anyway, here’s your story…

Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Radim Zohorna was recalled to Pittsburgh earlier in the day. Sam Houde went in for him, Jamie Devane came out and Nathan Legare went in for him. The Thunderbirds somewhat surprisingly went with Joel Hofer over Charlie Lindgren, but they want a long playoff run and don’t want to steam out their ace goaltender. Joel Hofer as we all know isn’t a pushover.

First Period: Even period at even strength, Thunderbirds score on their second power play of the period when Matthew Peca scored a backdoor goal which gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead.

They were trying that all period and the dummy backdoor to Neal worked. Peca was unmarked and didn’t miss.

Shots were an even 10 a side heading into the…

Second Period: Tale of two periods. The Penguins dominated the Thunderbirds with a barrage of shots on Joel Hofer and collected two goals to put them up ahead 2-1.

Traffic in front of Hofer. Take his eyes away. The Penguins were outshooting the Thunderbirds 12-1 in the period.

The officials (Casey Terreri and Conor O’Donnell) let everything go. Jonathan Gruden was high sticked, no call. There was a Thunderbird tripped right in front of one of those referees and no call. Guys were poked, tugged and slammed into the boards and they let it all go.

They call this a penalty? (Positing it again because I still can’t believe it)

Tommy Cross wastes no time in tying the game at two with a blast from the point.

(no GIF here)

And then as they were announcing that goal, Steven Santini hits Mackenzie MacEachern with a bullet point home run pass that is caught right at the blue line. MacEachern skates in and beats Tommy Nappier with a perfect wrist shot to give the Thunderbirds a 3-2 lead.

Springfield would outshoot Wilkes-Barre / Scranton 2-0 in this period. The Penguins were on tilt and rightfully so. They get called for a preseason cross checking penalty and see their lead evaporate and are chasing the lead again.

Third Period: Penguins get two quick power plays. That killed all of their momentum. They were great and have been great at five on five but have been a mess on special teams. They also gave up two short handed bids on a power play.

Nikita Alexandrov picks up a rebound and scores to make it a two goal lead and you got the sense it was all she wrote.

It was for the Penguins, but the excitement had yet to meet its crescendo for the Thunderbirds. With Tommy Nappier pulled for an extra attacker, Joel Hofer does this.

Luke Witkowski scores an empty net goal killing a penalty as a matter of happenstance. He banks a puck off the wall and it goes into the empty net to make it 6-2.

Three Stars: 3) Mackenzie MacEachern (goal) 2) Matthew Peca (goal, assist) 1) Joel Hofer (34 saves, goal)

The Good: The Penguins are the better team five on five in my opinion.

The Bad: The Penguins are 0/7 on the power play in the series and Springfield is 3/6.

Turning Point: That terrible call on Anthony Angello.

Video Highlights: 

Talk to you after Game 3 Sunday.

Let’s Go Pens!

Fifty Ain’t Nifty — Pens LOSE 4-1 (SPR leads 1-0)

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The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins didn’t see Springfield Thunderbirds netminder Charlie Lindgren all season. Lindgren was one of the top goaltenders for the Thunderbirds in the AHL and yet the Penguins, who played the Thunderbirds six times this season, didn’t see him.

Lindgren made fifty saves in Game 1 of the Atlantic Division Semifinals Wednesday night. Springfield wins 4-1 and lead the best of five series 1-0. Game 2 is Thursday at 7.

Besides the fact that the Penguins didn’t score on one of three straight power plays in the second period and all of the rubber stopped by Lindgren throughout the course of sixty minutes, all things considered, it was pretty even. I know that sounds weird, but one of those goals scored by the Thunderbirds was an empty netter, the other was a two on one in the third period.

It will be interesting to see how Wilkes-Barre adjusts and responds Thursday. We don’t have to wait long.

Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Springfield got help from St. Louis in the form of a Mackenzie MacEachern on a conditioning loan, and Dakota Joshua and Steven Santini on straight assignments. For Wilkes-Barre, Anthony Angello returned from injury and replaced Sam Houde. Injury wise, Michal Chaput is not on the trip, Taylor Fedun is and took morning skate.

First Period: Will Bitten scores a power play goal to put the Thunderbirds up 1-0 past halfway in the period. There was a review on account of a possible kick, but the goal stood.

Sam Poulin gets a good chance off of a one timer which Lindgren gets most of it. The other part he doesn’t rolls past him but hits the post and stays out.

At the end of the period, Will Bitten and Tommy Nappier came together and well, I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

Bitten and Nappier would pick up offsetting minors.

Second Period: At the expiration of a Penguins power play, Felix Robert would score to tie the game.

That’s the first goal the Thunderbirds have given up in three and a half plus games. The Thunderbirds shutout their last three opponents in the regular season.

After another power play for the Penguins, Klim Kostin with a bullet which beats Nappier low to re-establish the Thunderbirds lead.

I’m writing the game story on the fly so I’m here typing this in the second intermission, I’m getting at the fact that Penguins had another power play after the Kostin goal but didn’t score. That’s three consecutive power plays for Wilkes-Barre / Scranton. Let’s hope this doesn’t end up in “The Bad” at the end of this game story.

Third Period: After the Penguins killed a too many men penalty, Matthew Peca and Sam Anas came charging in on a two on one. Anas didn’t miss, sniping one over the glove of Tommy Nappier to make it a 3-1 Thunderbirds lead.

(No GIF here, use your imagination. Juuso Riikola was the lone Penguin defender back)

The Penguins continued to throw rubber at the Thunderbirds net. They managed 17 shots in each period. The Thunderbirds only had 4 shots in the third period. Two went in, one on an empty net when Dakota Joshua, who woke up in St. Louis, Missouri this morning, scored to put the game out of reach for the Penguins.

Three Stars: 3) Klim Kostin (goal, assist) 2) Will Bitten (goal, assist) 1) Charlie Lindgren (50 saves)

The Good: No flies on the Penguins here after a battle with Hershey in the First Round. 51 shots is something you want. You win more games being aggressive like that then you lose.

The Bad: Well, I’m now writing this paragraph after the game and those three straight power plays that the Penguins didn’t score on isn’t good, especially when it seems power plays are hard to come by in these Calder Cup Playoffs….The Penguins are now 3-11 in Game 1’s of Division Semifinals. That’s…something. It’s not good, but it’s something.

Turning Point: The Anas goal in the third or the save Lindgren had on Poulin in the first. Pick one, or both. The Anas goal tipped the scales for good for the Thunderbirds. The Lindgren save helped it get there.

Video Highlights: 

Talk to you again Thursday after Game 2.

Let’s Go Pens!

Penguins / Thunderbirds Series Snap

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins outlasted the Hershey Bears in the best of three First Round Series over the weekend. The Penguins advanced in three games, in thrilling fashion after blowing a two goal lead late in Game 3. Alexander Nylader, who came over from the Rockford IceHogs in a midseason trade, scored the overtime game winning goal propelling the Penguins into a series with the two seed Springfield Thunderbirds. It was the first series win for the Penguins since 2016, when they ousted the Providence Bruins, but were beaten in overtime in Game 7 by Travis Boyd and the aforementioned Bears.

Springfield, meanwhile, earned a First Round bye on account of finishing in the top two in the Atlantic Division, thereby getting the second highest seeded remaining team to make it out of the First Round. The Thunderbirds have not played since April 29, blanking the Providence Bruins 3-0. They come into the playoffs on the heels of back to back to back shutouts of their opponents.

Infographic time. If you can’t make it out on the screen you are looking at the blog on, click the image and it should enlarge for you. The infographic also has the series schedule for you as well.

It’s going to be Tommy Nappier for the Penguins again in net and most likely Charlie Lindgren, whom the Penguins did not see in the regular season at all in the nets for the Thunderbirds. Nappier’s backup to start the series is likely to be Samuel Harvey, until Tristan Jarry heals up from his foot injury and the Penguins get Alex D’Orio back. Lindgren is going to likely be backed up by Joel Hofer (or vice versa) so it’s going the Thunderbirds way in goal in this department.

What the Penguins need to do to beat the Thunderbirds: Stay out of the box. Springfield’s power play is lethal with names like James Neal, Sam Anas, Matthew Peca. Despite this, it has run into problems playing against the Penguins as the infographic above shows. Yet, that is fire I do not want to play with. Also, if the Penguins want to beat the Thunderbirds, they are going to have to beat them once at the Mass Mutual Center since it’s best of five now and the Pens do not have home ice.

What the Thunderbirds need to do to beat the Penguins: Defend home ice, get your power play going, be the better team in all areas. Look at the infographic again. Springfield’s top three scorers have more points than the Penguins highest scorer and this isn’t even factoring in James Neal who joined Springfield around mid-year and missed some games due to injury. However, despite all that, this is a matchup problem for the Thunderbirds. They were Aces against everyone else, but the Penguins who were the ones who gave them problems.

X-factor for Wilkes-Barre: Radim Zohorna. Three games, five points for the Penguins in the Hershey series.

X-factor for Springfield: Either Charlie Lindgren, who had impressive numbers for the Thunderbirds in goal or James Neal, an elite NHL sniper playing at the AHL level. The Penguins haven’t seen Lindgren yet this season, so he’s a big, big unknown.

What they are saying:

If you see any other predictions, leave them in the comments below.

I still like the Penguins in five. Here’s why. Foregone conclusion that they probably lose Game 1 tonight against the Thunderbirds based off of the amount of games, the type of games and the travel to and from Hershey, Wilkes-Barre and Springfield which they endured. The Penguins win Game 2. It comes back to Wilkes-Barre where they split and Springfield wins one in overtime or something in Game 4 forcing it back to Massachusetts. Head to head, I like the Penguins chances. I’m not confident that it goes the distance here because I could absolutely see a scenario where Springfield drops both at home and the Penguins either sweep or finish the Thunderbirds in four. Vice versa on that too, if the Thunderbirds power play stays hot and gets ripping against the Pens and Lindgren becomes an impenetrable wall for the Pens, it easily could be Springfield in a sweep or moving on in five or less games.

Still, styles make fights and that will be evident in the series. A series which in my opinion still favors the Penguins, all considered.

Who is running the show? Games 1 and 2 officiating crews are out. Nothing for Game 3 yet. It will be Jeremy Tufts and Conor O’Donnell with Justin Johnson and Brent Colby on the lines in Game 1 and Casey Terreri and Conor O’Donnell with Justin Johnson and Kevin Briganti on the lines for Game 2.

More tonight after Game 1.