Chirps from Center Ice

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

Conference Finals Previews

Four teams remain in contention for the Calder Cup. They are the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Toronto Marlies, Rockford IceHogs and Texas Stars.

Interesting series developments here. In the East, it’s a battle of the top two teams in the Marlies and Phantoms. In the West, it’s the veteran Texas Stars vs. the undefeated in postseason Rockford IceHogs.

Let’s take a crack at predicting each series, starting in the West.

     Rockford IceHogs vs. Texas Stars     

How the IceHogs got here: They haven’t lost a game yet, sweeping the Manitoba Moose in four games. The Moose led the Central Division for large chunks of the season while the IceHogs toiled at the cut line for most of the season. But as Rockford proved, it’s a new season now.

How the Stars got here: Beat Pacific Division Champion Roadrunners in five games. They got opportune scoring from their forwards and excellent goaltending from Mike McKenna and used experience to dismiss youth in a quick series that lasted just five games.

How they matchup: 1-2-0-1 if you are a Stars fan, 3-1 if you are a Rockford supporter.

How Rockford wins: IceHogs were unfazed by the Central Division Champion Chicago Wolves in Round One and smoked the division champs in a three game sweep. They stared down a Manitoba side that is going to be good next year and swept them. In order to do that to Texas, they will need to get to McKenna early and often, bottle up the Stars offense and make this series look as easy as the two prior. Easier said than done.

How Texas wins: It’s the experience that got the Stars here, and the experience that gets them past a pesky Rockford side that is that, “hot team at the right time” club that you sometimes see in these postseason tournaments in the AHL.

Prediction: It doesn’t end in a sweep, nor does it with Rockford advancing. Texas in six.

     Lehigh Valley Phantoms vs. Toronto Marlies     

How the Phantoms got here: Beat Providence easily in four games, and Charlotte the same way including the longest game in AHL history. Phantoms are playing tough teams and beating them easily.

How Toronto got here: Survived a scare in five games with Utica, then swept away a Syracuse team that looked at times to push the Marlies for the North Division lead in the regular season.

How they matchup: 0-1-0-1 if you are a Phantoms fan and 2-0 if you are a Marlies fan.

How Lehigh Valley wins: Alex Lyon stole the series for the Phantoms making 94 (yes, ninety-four) saves in Game 4’s five overtime thriller. The Phantoms will be heavily relying on their net minder to get them past the Toronto Marlies.

How Toronto wins: They made it look easy against a team they are familiar with in Syracuse, and will need to overcome their closest challenger in Lehigh Valley who finished runner up in the Conference. These teams played just two games against each other in what can only be described as a small, maybe insignificant, sample size.

Prediction: It’s the unstoppable Lehigh Valley Phantoms who are blitzkrieging opponents vs. the immovable object in the best all around team in Toronto. I haven’t picked the Phantoms to win a playoff series yet in this series I have been doing for the blog because I thought that the teams that they were facing in Providence and Charlotte were better than them. I know that Toronto is the better team here. Marlies have been good all season and know that they are a series away from playing for the ultimate goal. Toronto in five.

That’s how I see it shaking out. If you still have a team in it, enjoy the ride.

2018-19 Schedule Matrix Announced

I think Hershey was the first team to announce a schedule matrix of opponents for 2018-19 on Thursday. Other teams followed suit slowly. Well, Friday it was the Penguins turn.

No real changes from last year but for the addition of the Cleveland Monsters to the schedule docket. Wilkes-Barre will play every Eastern Conference team at least once and also go back to Grand Rapids, Rockford and Milwaukee.

Breakdown goes as follows….

Opponent Home Road   Opponent Home Road
Binghamton 2 2 Milwaukee 1 1
Bridgeport 4 4 Providence 3 3
Charlotte 2 2 Rochester 1 1
Cleveland 2 2 Rockford 1 1
Grand Rapids 1 1 Springfield 3 3
Hartford 3 3 Syracuse 1 1
Hershey 6 6 Toronto 1 1
Lehigh Valley 6 6 Utica 1 1

Thoughts:

  • I am not a fan of playing Charlotte, a divisional foe, just four times. Those games matter.
  • Further, I’m not a fan of playing Syracuse just twice. Those games turn into premier games in that it’s the only time all season that you will see the club. I don’t associate that at all with the Crunch.
  • Easy fix is to simply take two games off of the Hershey and Lehigh Valley series, only play the Phantoms and Bears 10 games, and add a game to the Charlotte series and one more to Syracuse.
    • That would likely mean that the Penguins would have to play three straight in Charlotte. I don’t know that they would want to do that because of distance.
  • The Cleveland series will likely be a back to back Friday-Saturday series in Cleveland.
  • I’m not complaining, but I would have liked to have seen Iowa and Chicago on the matrix instead of the same combination of Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Rockford. But hey, they are Western Conference teams.

Overall, pretty business as usual. Schedule should be out pretty soon, once the Calder Cup Finals wrap up in about a month.

The Offseason Moves List has its own dedicated page now, which you can access here or just use the tab at the top of the blog.

Next blog update will be the Conference Finals Preview. Toronto is in, awaiting the winner of Lehigh Valley and Charlotte. Texas is a game away from advancing past Tucson and Rockford has Manitoba in a 3-0 hole. Look for that very soon.

Penguin Contract Statuses

I figured I would bring this back from the dead after not doing it last season. It’s the contract board for the offseason for the Penguins.

I discuss only players that played in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre. In my next blog post, whenever that is, I will pin this to the top of the blog and add it to a page and edit it as the summer goes on.

Here we go, in no particular order.

Player Position Status Description
Dominik Simon C RFA Serviceable enough that the Penguins may qualify him. If not, he’s definitely a upper echelon tweener type player.
Josh Jooris C UFA Didn’t really have much of an impact after coming over in the Greg McKegg trade. Was a full time NHLer when the trade happened with Carolina. Could fit in nice somewhere else.
Andrey Pedan D RFA Rumor is he is KHL bound. PIT may qualify his North American rights.
Thomas DiPauli LW RFA Should get qualified. Injury cut short the remainder of his season.
Ethan Prow D RFA Should be a lock to be qualified and will be playing meaningful AHL minutes in 18-19.
Teddy Blueger LW RFA Had an NHL cup of coffee but never dressed in a brief call-up. Expect him to be qualified.
Lukas Bengtsson D RFA May have a European deal lined up. Has health issues which has kept him from playing a full season.
Tobias Lindberg LW RFA Was one of the minor keys in the move that brought Derek Brassard to Pittsburgh. Never played a game with WBS.
Daniel Sprong RW RFA GM Rutherford indicated on breakup day that he expects Sprong to be with Pittsburgh in the Fall. In order for that to occur he must be qualified.
Kevin Czuczman D UFA He’s the type of player you want to see come back next season. I think he moves on though.
Frank Corrado D RFA He’ll be 26 next year and has played in just 7 games for PIT. I let him walk. We’ll see what happens.
J-S Dea C RFA Didn’t really do much to establish himself this season in the AHL. He’s an interesting case.
Tom Sestito LW UFA Have a sense that if he decides to re-sign, he does so here in WBS as I get the sense that he has enjoyed his time here. Otherwise, I think he retires.
Jarred Tinordi D UFA He may be looking for NHL work elsewhere, but that ship may have sailed.
Zach Trotman D UFA Same as Tinordi above, Trotman is a year older, too.
Michael Leighton G UFA At age 36, that’s a lot of tread on the tires. He’d fit in perfect next year with Anthony Peters as his mentor as PIT doesn’t have any other goalies under contract eligible to play in the AHL next year.
Vincent Dunn C RFA Was one of the minor pieces in the Derek Brassard mega deal and never played in WBS.
Tristan Jarry G RFA Question becomes did Jarry establish himself enough to be Matt Murray’s backup for next year. Casey DeSmith is already under contract so Jarry is already behind the proverbial 8-ball. Plus, Jarry would need waivers.

Below are the players on AHL contracts only.

Ryan Haggerty RW UFA Wilkes-Barre re-signed him last summer. I’m sure they would like to to the same, but will he return for a third year?
Christian Thomas RW UFA While auditioning for international work, still managed a good year in the AHL. He’s high on my list to get back here in 18-19.
Jarrett Burton C UFA He’s a love him or hate him type player. The coaching staff seemed to love him as Burton was a staple in the lineup night in and night out.
Joseph Cramarossa C UFA Hard nosed, lunch pail type player. More success with WBS then with Stockton, where he came over from in a trade for Colin Smith
Cody Wydo LW UFA ECHL depth player. I don’t see a fit here with the crop of draft picks at forward coming down the pipeline.
Reid Gardiner RW UFA Sort of got lost in the shuffle after getting re-signed by WBS out of juniors. Can he carve an AHL niche? Sure. Will it be with the Penguins? Remains to be seen.
Patrick McGrath RW UFA Local product limited to 19 games because of one dimension.
Kevin Spinozzi D UFA Made team out of training camp and was used as ECHL depth.
Kevin Schulze D UFA Dime a dozen defender.
Cam Brown C UFA Decent year in the ECHL with the Nailers. Was contracted out to two AHL teams, the Penguins had his services for one game.
Gage Quinney F UFA AHL depth. Plays a role, but so do a lot of other guys in a similar boat.
Troy Josephs C UFA? I can’t find anything on his status as far as U/RFA. I think it’s fair to say he was lost in the shuffle this season.

2018-19 AHL Alignment Announced

This announcement from the League happens every year around this time and with how scarce news is while playoffs are still ongoing I figured I would drop in and note the news.

For the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and the rest of the Atlantic Division, the news yesterday didn’t really do much to affect the order of business. There were no changes. Divisional opponents remain Bridgeport, Charlotte, Hershey, Hartford, Lehigh Valley, Providence and Springfield. The Penguins will play the Bears and Phantoms 12 times, that you can bank on and a bunch more with the other teams in the division.

The rest of the alignment was standard and no real surprises. Expect the Penguins to play the Cleveland Monsters a few times next season as the Monsters join the North Division and come over from the Western Conference.

In the Western Conference, Texas and San Antonio leave the Pacific to join the Central Division and the new, 31st AHL team in Loveland, Colorado will play in the Pacific Division with the other part time teams that play 68 games.

Full release here. No mention of playoffs, but I would assume that now that you have every team in order with teams in a division where everyone plays the same amount of games, we can scrap the idea of ranking teams by percentage points and go back to straight up points.

2018 Divisional Final Previews

Well, since the Penguins are out of the playoffs and nothing to do for the next six months, I may as well stay up with the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs. I have had a few people ask me if I was going to continue to preview the next round and beyond so I may as well continue.

So in this round, it’s the teams that made it, how they got here, how they stack up and my prediction.

I was 5-for-8 in my first round picks. I picked Chicago, Grand Rapids and Providence to advance in round one. Chicago got swept, Grand Rapids got blown out in Game Five on home ice and Providence didn’t have enough for Lehigh Valley, going out in four games.

Hopefully this round will go better for my predictions. Here we go…

     Leh. Val. Phantoms vs. Charlotte Checkers     

How the Checkers got here: Made no mistakes and capitalized on Wilkes-Barre / Scranton’s. It was a methodical dissection of one of the better AHL teams in the league. Charlotte was favored in some circles but the sweep of Wilkes-Barre was a surprise.

How the Phantoms got here: Outlasted a Providence team in just four games. Bruins stole Game 2, and but for a close Game 1 and an overtime series clincher in Game 4, the division champs withstood a good Bruins team that just lacked the offensive punch that Lehigh Valley utilizes.

How they matchup: 4-4 both ways. So an even matchup if there ever was one.

How Charlotte wins: Continue to make no mistakes, push the Phantoms into pressure which worked somewhat for the P-Bruins in round one that got Providence some goals.

How Lehigh Valley wins: Use home ice and the raucous PPL Center crowd and the advantage of being the best team in the Division. There are a lot of similarities between Charlotte and Lehigh Valley, but it was the Phantoms that stayed at the top of the division and Charlotte who remained in fourth for much of the second half of the year.

Prediction: This may be the most exciting of the divisional finals. I got Charlotte in six. I witnessed first hand how it can methodically dissect a team and run away. Lehigh Valley’s inconsistencies are exposed and Charlotte advances.

     Toronto Marlies vs. Syracuse Crunch     

How the Crunch got here: Finished off a sweep of the Rochester Americans quite handily. Syracuse was the better team in the regular season matchup and quickly dispatched Rochester in three games.

How the Marlies got here: Got a scare from Utica, who pushed Toronto to five games. Garret Sparks 37 save clean sheet in Game 5 was enough to push the Marlies past the Comets to avoid the upset.

How they matchup: 3-5 if you are a Crunch fan and 5-2-1-0 if you are a Marlies fan.

How Syracuse wins: This is a strong group, but so is Toronto. So is it a clash of styles or the team that makes fewer mistakes? The Crunch have been here before. So it’s that experience that they need to use to carry themselves against the Marlies.

How Toronto wins: Well, whatever it was in the two games in Utica, burn that tape to the ground. It’s not a back to basics for a team that had 112 points in the AHL this season. But this is a matchup that favors Toronto, so it’s limiting your mistakes and capitalizing on the opponent’s that pushes the Marlies to the conference finals.

Prediction: Toronto in seven. Marlies outlast the Crunch in a classic between two heavyweights.

     Tucson Roadrunners vs. Texas Stars     

How the Stars got here: Needed just four games against an Ontario Reign team that started to give fits. But then Mike McKenna stepped in and didn’t allow a single Reign goal the rest of the way. Texas’ veterans outlasted a Reign side.

How the Roadrunners got here: Dispatches the San Jose Barracuda quite handily in four games. Tucson avoided the hot run that the Barracuda ended the season on and avoided the upset from the fourth seeded Pacific Division team.

How they matchup: 1-1-2-0 if you are a Stars fan and 3-1 if you are a Roadrunners fan.

How Texas wins: Nothing is going to change here. The veteran Stars continue business as usual against Tucson.

How Tucson wins: Continue to be the class of the division. Adin Hill closed out Games 3 and 4 with back to back shutouts. Roadrunners ride they goaltender forward to that special group of forwards.

Predication: I can see an “old lion” of Mike McKenna vs. “young lion” Adin Hill here and a good old fashioned goaltenders duel. Regardless, I get the sense that youth prevails. Tucson in six.

     Manitoba Moose vs. Rockford IceHogs     

How the Moose got here: Took out the defending champion Grand Rapids Griffins in five games. Overwhelmed the Moose in the deciding game and crushed the defending champs on their home ice.

How the IceHogs got here: Swept the Division Champion Wolves in three games. A four seed should not make it look as easy as the IceHogs did against the Wolves.

How they matchup: 2-1-1-0 if you are a Moose fan, 2-2 if you are an IceHogs fan. This one should be fun.

How Rockford wins: IceHogs used swagger and a fearless approach against a Wolves team that looked dangerous. Rockford exploited Chicago’s weaknesses in a big way and made it look easy. They need the same against a Moose team that was on top of the Central for about 90% of the season.

How Manitoba wins: Moose took out the defending Calder Cup Champion Griffins in five games. They outlasted the Griffins and made it count when they needed it to in the decisive game. Outlasting Rockford here is something that a Moose team that spent more time at the top is something that Manitoba will need to do to advance.

Prediction: Series screams seven games. There may be others here that go the distance, but this series in particular talks, walks and looks like a seven game series. Manitoba in seven.

That’s how I see this round shaking out. Good luck to you if you have a team still in it.

Disappointed, But Not Surprised — Pens LOSE 7-3

       vs.       

7                                          3

Sucks that the season had to end this way, a season full of promise and a season which is Tom Kostopoulos’ final.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins bow out of the playoffs in a three game sweep to the Charlotte Checkers by final score of 7-3 and the season is over.

Charlotte is an extremely complete team. They may not be favorites in the next round against either Lehigh Valley or Providence and definitely won’t be a favorite in the Conference Finals if they happen to make it that far but do not underestimate this team going forward.

I actually had two versions of ledes written tonight, one if the Penguins were to extend the series to Game 4 and one if they bowed out and were swept. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that I have to get up for work in the morning so let’s get right to it.

Here were the lines….

Garrett Wilson – Gage Quinney – Daniel Sprong
Christian Thomas – J-S Dea – Tom Kostopoulos
Joseph Cramarossa – Jarrett Burton – Josh Jooris
Adam Johnson – Teddy Blueger – Anthony Angello

Chris Summers – Ethan Prow
Andrey Pedan – Lukas Bengtsson
Niclas Almari – Zach Trotman

Tristan Jarry – Michael Leighton

For the Checkers:

Lineup Notes: Kevin Czuczman and Jarred Tinordi were out injured, Almari and Prow slotted in for them. Up front, Christian Thomas for Ryan Haggerty and some jumbling of the lines from Game 2.

First Period: Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a goal from Anthony Angello, his first as a professional, when Teddy Blueger put a shot on, hot nailed by a hit and Angello was there for the rebound.

Wilkes-Barre doubled the lead with a goal by Christian Thomas. Zach Trotman put the shot on and Thomas tipped it in. Checkers were under relentless pressure.

Here they are in GIF format:

Checkers quick strike offense was on full display. Lucas Wallmark put a shot on from the point after relentless Charlotte pressure. After the faceoff, ex-Penguin Greg McKegg stole a puck, weaved through bodies and scored unassisted :21 later to tie the score.

Here were the Checkers goals:

Wilkes-Barre has a strong start and a weak finish. Charlotte with a weak start and a strong finish. Pretty simple.

Second Period: Extremely even period to start. I remember looking up at the clock after stoppages to see the score tied and the shots even. This series has been so dead even.

Aleksi Saarela put a shot on through bodies near the goal line that went off of every piece of Jarrett Burton’s equipment and went in. A crushing own goal conceded in a tie game with a season on the line.

Third Period: Penguins opened with a carryover power play. They failed to score. Later, Clark Bishop jammed home a puck that extended the Checkers lead to two. A puck dug off the back wall put on Bishops tape and slammed in.

A few moments later, Andrew Miller sniped mid slot over Jarry’s glove using a defenseman as a screen and it was 5-2.

Anthony Angello scores his second of the game as a puck leaked through Nedeljkovic to bring Wilkes-Barre to within two.

The Penguins had life, until they didn’t, as Tom Kostopoulos took a late penalty that put the Penguins back on the penalty kill.

Checkers hit two empty nets to turn it into a rout in tomorrow’s papers.

Three Stars: 3) Anthony Angello (two goals, +1) 2) Valentin Zykov (two assists, +1) and 1) Andrew Miller (goal, assist, +2)

 

So that’s it. another season of disappointment for the Penguins who make it to the playoffs for the sixteenth consecutive season and come up short of the ultimate prize at the end. You can look back on the season and be wrong if you thought that the cupboard was raided by Pittsburgh. Zach Aston-Reese is a bonafide NHL player, Dominik Simon put in too much time at the AHL level for too many seasons to just get shipped away again and the Penguins botched the Antti Niemi backup goalie situation from the start which necessitated the call-up of either Casey DeSmith or Tristan Jarry. But none of those reasons can be pinned on Wilkes-Barre going out in the first round again. Don’t listen to anybody that tries to sell you on that pile of trash.

The Penguins were strong in goal all season, playing with a rotation of DeSmith and Jarry, trading for one of the greatest goaltenders of all time in the AHL in Michael Leighton and finding a diamond in the rough with Anthony Peters. The defense was as stout as its ever been and as deep. The Penguins coughed up a lead in Game 1 in the third period and lost in overtime and couldn’t score a power play goal when they needed it the most in Game 2. These reasons, in a five game series where the margins for error are razor thin, put the Penguins behind the eight ball and Charlotte, being the complete team that they are, weren’t going to be the next Providence or Bridgeport in the history books they keep at 40 Coal Street.

Thanks for playing along this year and reading. I think I have carved out a niche as a blog that people read and respect and for that I say thanks. I still believe that the Penguins will have their day.

Enjoy your summer.

Atlantic Division Semifinal Game 3: Charlotte Checkers (CHA leads 2-0)

vs.     

Atlantic Division Semifinal — Game 3

Who: Charlotte Checkers

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza

When: 7:05 p.m.

Series: Charlotte leads 2-0 (Best of Five)

Last Game: Saturday night in Charlotte, the Penguins and Checkers were 1-1 late in the third period when Josiah Didier scored to give the Checkers the lead. Charlotte scored two empty net goals and took Game 2 4-1. Joseph Cramarossa scored in the games opening minute to give the Penguins at the time, a 1-0 lead.

What to watch for: It is going to have to be a micromanaged game for those that dress tonight for the Penguins. One more loss and the season is over for Wilkes-Barre. The Checkers won seven straight coming in and the first two games in the series for a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Penguins absolutely must capitalize on opportunities given. One power play goal may not do it tonight. But, as history has indicated, if there is any team that can come back from a deficit, it is these Penguins.

Referee(s): Reid Anderson / Jeremy Tufts

Linesmen: Ryan Knapp / J.P. Waleski

When is Game 4?: The Penguins have to win tonight for that to become a reality. If they do, it’s Saturday at 7:05 in Wilkes-Barre.