Chirps from Center Ice

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

Preseason Game #1 – Penguins 2, Phantoms 1

I was going to do math today and find out how many days it had been since I was last at the Arena to take in a game. I want to say March 2020. I got busy at work today and never got around to it.

Moral of the story is I still don’t like weekday games. Maybe later in the month and the first part of November when I’m back working from home it will be a little better, but you can have everything about weekday home games.

The Penguins played host to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in a preseason home game Wednesday at the Arena. The Penguins beat the Phantoms 2-1.

Tommy Nappier opposed Kirill Ustimenko. Here were the lines:

I don’t think Lehigh Valley posted any. I didn’t look. It’s preseason. Also, their call letters are apparently ‘LHV’ now. Duly noted.

Not much happened in the first. The Penguins had two power plays. They didn’t score. Who needs preseason when your special teams are in midseason form.

One bit of action was when the Penguins Jake Flegal fought the Phantoms Quinn Schmiemann. With a name like Schmiemann, you’d think he’d be used to getting in fights. It did not go well for Schmiemann.

Jamie Devane, a regular you’ll be seeing a lot of this year, scored on a tip in front with 1:06 left to play off a nice setup from Patrick Watling.

Jan Drozg scored :21 into the third. Nice pressure to open and it was Sam Houde doing the dirty work to keep an uncontrolled puck controlled and over to Drozg for the goal.

So of course Lehigh Valley would respond on their very first power play of the season. Tommy Nappier was screened heavily.

Shaw Boomhower fought Brennan Saulnier. Two fights in one game? What is this, 1999?

No scoring in the third. Nappier played the whole game in goal for the Penguins. Pat Nagle took over for the Phantoms to start the period.

But for the logo being upside down, good to be back. The tickets on the phone thing worked fine, they have touchless hand sanitizer stations all over the place. About half the food vendors were open. I didn’t buy anything.

More Friday, sooner if I have to.

Sunday Ketchup

Well, things are picking up so may as well bust off a blog post summarizing what’s probably already been summarized elsewhere.

First, there were some questions regarding the arena mandates as far as COVID is involved. Will you need to show proof of vaccination in order to take in a game and all that like some other places in the League are requiring? No, or at least not yet.

Know before you go. Masks recommended, cashless concessions. I don’t really like under $5 transactions on my credit card, so $3 or whatever for a soda or a box of popcorn may be a few and far between idea for me every now and again. What they should do is offer gift cards or reloadable food cards you can use in the arena for those who go to more than just one game like me. Heaven help us if the transaction system ever goes down.

Pittsburgh training camp continues and there have been the usual cuts and what not. A notable name was Matt Bartkowski, a defensemen they invited to camp on a PTO. The Penguins released him Saturday and not long after Coal Street announced an AHL contract for him. Enough of an impression left between both sides that the veteran Bartowski signs an AHL deal with the affiliate. Wilkes-Barre looks stacked on defense.

Training camp opened Sunday morning on Coal Street. Full list of participants here. It’s a group of familiar names plus those released by Pittsburgh’s camp so far. A local name on there is Charlie Spetz, who played for Wilkes University. Coal Street featured him in a story Sunday afternoon. Spetz signed a contract with Roanoke of the Southern Professional Hockey League, which is a notch below the ECHL.

Do I expect Spetz to make the team? No. Wilkes-Barre is stacked at defense, a position Spetz plays. But, like Bartowski, it’s all about making a positive impression with the option that one day he gets a chance to play for the Penguins.

Later, it was announced that Head Coach J.D. Forrest and his assistant Kevin Porter agreed to a two year contract extension. Forrest took a team to .500 in a joke of an exhibition season against three tough opponents (sorry, Binghamton) and the team looks (at least on paper) to be better than last year, so reward the staff with a two year extension and see what 2021-22 brings.

I have the Penguins as a six seed. Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Providence are the class of the field. Hartford I have finishing last and some combination of either Springfield or Charlotte finishes seventh. But that’s today, on the first day of training camp as opposed to 40 or 50 games in, with call ups, trades and injuries and all that.

Anyway, you will get more thoughts on how the rest of the division sets up next week when I roll out my previews. Next up, a Wednesday and Friday preseason home game against the Phantoms Bears, respectively.

Have a good week and we’ll talk to you Wednesday.

Preseason Official 9/23

Well, as official as can be.

League announced Thursday their 2021 Preseason Schedule. Coal Street never followed through with an official release because the cat was out of the bag when the teams announced the regular season schedules back in July. If you have the Penguins app on your phone, you should see the two home dates. There is also a road date. They are:

  • Lehigh Valley @ Wilkes-Barre (Wednesday, October 6)
  • Hershey @ Wilkes-Barre (Friday, October 8)
  • Wilkes-Barre @ Lehigh Valley (Saturday, October 9)

Each start is at 7:05.

I have a few things in the cooker for you this upcoming season. I’ll have a preview of the season with looks at opponents probably the week of October 11 and I’m shaking up the way I do the pre-game setups. Gone are individual Gameday setups and here to play (at least in the short term) are weekend previews. I drafted a few mock ones up the other day and really liked how they flowed. They offer more substance I think too vs. the usual, “here is the opponent, the time it starts and the record.” You’ll probably have to wait for that as we get closer to the start of the season in about three weeks.

Anyway, so that’s what’s going on. Talk to you in a few weeks.

New Playoff Format Announced 8/5

Remember when playoffs used to mean something? A reward for having a winning season, playing the select few, the best of the best and a chance at the ultimate trophy, the Calder Cup?

Yeah, me too.

Thursday, the American Hockey League announced the new playoff format which will debut in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Here it is in a tweet:

No, you read that right, TWENTY THREE TEAMS will qualify for the playoffs next season. Not eight, not sixteen, TWENTY THREE teams, or 75% of the league.

To follow simply, if you finish in the bottom two of your division, you didn’t make it. Better luck next year.

The release tries to sell this ridiculous format by citing playoff experience and postseason development and yammers on about 150 more players getting said experience.

It’s watering down a product which has become so diluted it is hardly recognizable anymore.

You have 31 teams this season, 32 when Palm Springs comes in in 2022-23 all playing differing schedules and different amount of games this season (68, 72 and 76, everyone plays 72 in 2022-23) – none of this matters when three-fourths of your league qualifies for a postseason. It doesn’t.

It’s not about the regular season. Hell, it may not very be about the postseason. It’s everyone gets a chance to play (unless you are one of the eight teams that don’t make it), good luck trying to sell a season ticket package on that pitch. “Well, everyone made it in the postseason last year EXCEPT us, but trust me, you are going to want to spend your money on us this season!!!”

You know what it is? It’s a participation trophy league now for grinding out a 68-76 game schedule this year and being essentially at or near average or better. Finish slightly below .500? Here’s a playoff spot!

Say you are a team that is a 6 seed in the Atlantic and you play 76 games and you win the Calder Cup, but in doing so every playoff series went the maximum allowable games. (27) – that is 103 games in one season. That’s insane. Or say you are that same team that runs up against a Pacific Division #1 seed that didn’t need as many games to get there. They are rested by, say half the amount of games in playoffs plus the 68 they played in the regular season. That’s 82 games. 103 to 82. Not fair.

Sure, it will help the Penguins, who I project to be a five or six seed this upcoming year, but if they finish sub .500, get dusted in two games in a playoff series, can you really call them a playoff team?

I don’t know, and I am getting to the point where I may not care to know anymore.

Enjoy your August.

2021-22 AHL Schedule Released

Mark the rest of your calendars.

At 1 p.m. Friday, the AHL announced the playing schedule for all 31 teams. Yes, all 31 teams will indeed be playing the 2021-22 season. Not everyone will play the same amount of games (that’s not till next year) so everything is ranked by points percentage this season.

May as well keep with the tradition of the Q&A I always do with these silly things. Here we go:

League release here, Penguins release here.

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

The good news is that we play everyone in the Eastern Conference, including Laval, Belleville and Toronto who the Penguins haven’t played in a few years. The bad news is that the Penguins are back to only playing in Conference teams, so no Rockford, Grand Rapids or Milwaukee.

 

2) Longest road trip? Longest home stand?

Longest homestead is five straight in the middle of March. Four straight in January and February too. Longest road trip is no more than four in a row, once in November and then get this, once at the end of March all in one week.

3) How many three in threes?

These things are probably going away for good when everyone gets to 72 games next year, but the answer is six. They are scattered throughout the schedule.

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

You are a funny blog reader. There are five Sunday home games this season, nine Wednesday night games and one weird post Christmas Monday game with Hershey.

5) Show me more charts!

Penguins didn’t do any in their release for me to cut and paste so my tweets will have to do.

Interesting to note that the Saturday home games, all of them, start at 6:05. From the Coal Street release:

“We made a conscious effort to move our Saturday home games to an hour earlier in order to accommodate our many families who come to the games with young children,” said Penguins CEO Jeff Barrett. “Down the line, we hope to have the opportunity to host some post-game events for these nights, too. Fans should stay tuned on that front.”

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

Nope. The Penguins play no afternoon weekday games.

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

Laval was supposed to get it last year, but that all got cancelled and postponed to this year. The Rocket will host it February 6 and 7 in 2022.

8) Anything else I need to know?

Wear a mask and get vaccinated so we don’t have a repeat of last years debacle?

That’s pretty much it, though. Once you’ve seen one schedule release, you have seen them all. There is nothing special with these unless they start spicing things up and add more diverse opponent schedule. Cut four games with Hershey and Lehigh Valley off and hit a few Central Division teams and maybe a (gasp!) Pacific Division road trip. But it’s the same song and dance every season.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. I have a cigar to light now.

Home Opener Opponent Announced, Full Schedule Friday

Mark your calendars.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins announced Wednesday that their opponent for their home opener on October 16 will be the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Time of the game is going to be 6:05. I don’t know why the change, maybe a Penn State Football thing or something, who knows.

The AHL announced all other 30 AHL teams home openers here. The Penguins aren’t on any one else’s home opener release. The League opens October 15, the Penguins play October 16, meaning they could play at home on Sunday, October 17 or on the road that day. The Pens are one of a handful of teams still playing 76 games before the mandated 72 game schedule for all teams in 2022-23. Let’s hope not and they minimize the Sunday and weekday home games. A straight schedule of all Friday and Saturday games, I propose!

Full schedule Friday. More undoubtedly then.

2021-22 Divisional Alignment / Schedule Quirks Announced 6/7

First bit of worthwhile news in what seems like forever came out of Springfield today. Divisional alignments, schedule formats and options as well as a teaser with playoffs announced today.

Let’s get into the division first.

Pens are back in the Atlantic Division with the following teams:

Hershey
Lehigh Valley
Bridgeport
Hartford
Springfield
Providence
Charlotte

The League is bringing ALL of the teams that play in the AHL in 2022-23 to a 72 game schedule. The Pacific Division and their 68 game exception? Gone. But that is next year and not this coming year.

The AHL is giving teams the option to play either, 76, 72 or 68 games in 2021-22. The Pacific Division will play 68 games. The Penguins are among 10 teams which will remain on the 76 game format this season. Divisional foes Hershey, Lehigh Valley and Springfield are on the 76 game train. The other divisional foes (Bridgeport, Hartford, Providence and Charlotte) are electing to play 72 games.

This means three things.

  1. The Sunday games as well as the weekday games are staying for now.
  2. Teams will be ranked by points percentage.
  3. You are probably going to see more of your 76 game brethren than you are your 72 game brethren, which means get ready for 10+ with Hershey and Lehigh Valley as per usual.

Color me surprised that the AHL was able to convince a) the Pacific Division teams (which consist of nearly a third of the AHL at this point and will likely balloon to 10 teams when Palm Springs comes in next season) to play more games and b) the traditional heavyweight teams like Hershey, Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and others to accept less dates next season. I think that teams electing to play 76 games willingly this season were a hard no on accepting less games, but with a league make up of 10 teams (eventually with the addition of Palm Springs) and all the other teams electing to play 72, majority rules.

Hey, if it means less Sunday and Wednesday games, I am all for it.

The League also announced plans to expand the amount of teams which will qualify for playoffs next year, but details on that will be announced later, most likely when they announce a playing schedule later in the summer.

Woo, that’s a lot to cover on this hot day in June. Enjoy your summer.