Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

Draft Roundup – Sundqvist Dealt to St. Louis

The 2017 NHL Draft has come and gone and the immediate impact felt by the Penguins was a trade on Day 1 on Friday that saw Oskar Sundqvist get dealt to the St. Louis Blues for Ryan Reaves.

Set aside whether or not you think Reaves is a serviceable NHL player. I think, as was pointed out by many last night in the wake of this news, that the Penguins organization are sending a strong message to both the NHL and the rest of the league that they need to protect their stars. Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin take massive abuse shift after shift. You don’t need me to rehash for you the games missed by both superstars. Reaves was brought in as a protector and an enforcer, and with the emergence of Carter Rowney at center, made a player like Sundqvist expendable.

I did see some rejoicing from other teams in the AHL Atlantic Division, but as pointed out by Jason Chaimovitch, the Blues don’t have a full time AHL affiliate with Vegas coming into the NHL and scooping up the Chicago Wolves as their primary, so Sundqvist could, hypothetically, land on any AHL team if that is indeed the direction that the Blues take.

That was the big, immediate, news. There were players drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday…

Lauzon played for Rouyn-Noranda last season and was named QMJHL’s best defensive defenseman. The same accolade that Kris Letang won while playing for the QMJHL during his time there.

Phillips is an offensive defenseman who can skate and will head to the University of Minnesota this fall.

Pittsburgh went bang bang at 152 and 155 and selected Jan Drozg and Linus Ölund respectively. Of the two, Ölund is closer to NHL work at age 20. He played in the Swedish leage last year and had a decent season offensively.

And finally, with the last overall pick, Pittsburgh went with….

Another defender who put up 15 points in 35 games during his freshman season at RPI. Reilly was the OJHL’s top prospect in 2015 with the Nanaimo Clippers.

I preferred the recap / live blog that Penguins color man Nick Hart put together during the two day draft which you can check out here.

I will be back this week with the AHL Big Board.

New GM; Same Griffin in the Crown, Other Stuff

First off, congratulations to the Grand Rapids Griffins for winning the Calder Cup for the second time in five years against the Syracuse Crunch who, for the second time in five years, have been runner up to Griffins. Both teams, when you think about it, have flown under the radar for the past five seasons and really can be considered powerhouse AHL franchises.

Speaking of a powerhouse franchise, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second time in as many seasons, first team to go back to back since most of you were in diapers or had more hair. A large group of names who were molded on Coal Street helped Pittsburgh to its second Stanley Cup and fifth as a franchise. It’s easy to get caught up at the fact Wilkes-Barre doesn’t have a Calder Cup yet but the main purpose of an AHL franchise is to develop for the next level. Pittsburgh is good at it. Wilkes-Barre benefits from it in most ways and its day will come.

Maybe that day will come in the Bill Guerin Era. Guerin was announced as the new General Manager of the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and will be joined by Jason Karmanos as Assistant GM. Mark Recchi will serve as the Player Development director. So all names that are already familiar with the way things are run on Coal Street.

Tom had some quotes from the new AHL Penguins GM today…

Marc-Andre Fleury waived his no-trade clause and is penciled in as the new Las Vegas Golden Knights starting goaltender. That obviously will have a trickle down effect to Wilkes-Barre. Here’s what I think, Matt Murray is the #1 goaltender for Pittsburgh, who signs a veteran backup while Tristan Jarry gets the lion share of starts on Coal Street with a veteran AHL goaltender backing him up. Sean Maguire gets another year in the ECHL getting all the starts down there with a capable ECHL backup there. That’s the perfect scenario, in my opinion. Does it happen? Anyone’s guess. If not, there is a backup plan in place….

If you would like more information on how Vegas affects all of this, Derrick Graffius put this well thought out piece together which you should read.

I am going to start cobbling together the AHL Free Agent Big Board likely this weekend. I am crowdsourcing it again and have contributions from Hershey and San Antonio done already. If you would like a team, just let me know via some form of social media and we will work out the logistics. That is probably going to the be the next blog piece to come, provided there isn’t some form of big news worthy of a blog post. Look for it the last week of June.

Stay cool.

Second One Re-Signed — McGrath is Back

I really haven’t had much of anything to blog about since the last time I blogged in mid-May. To catch you up, here are eight things that have happened and below my takes on each….

1) Syracuse beat Providence in five games to advance to the Calder Cup Finals to face Grand Rapids, who did the same to San Jose in five games.

2) Grand Rapids leads Syracuse 2-0 in their best of seven as the series shifts to Syracuse for Game 3 Wednesday night.

3) You can stream the Calder Cup Finals for free on AHL Live by selecting the finals package and using the promo code “FINALS17”

4) Pittsburgh is tied 2-2 with Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals with the series shifting back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday.

5) Doug Davidson and Kyle Moore are headed to Las Vegas. Moore served as a trainer and Davidson as strength and conditioning coach here in Wilkes-Barre.

6) Jason Botterhill is the new General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres. He had previously worked for Pittsburgh as an assistant general manager and had a hand in building the roster here in Wilkes-Barre.

7) Seth Lakso is returning to New England to continue his education. Tyler Picotti is the new Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins beat writer for the The Citizens’ Voice.

8) Finally, Patrick McGrath is back, having re-signed with the Penguins in June 7.

Analysis

1) Providence went through the meat grinder known as the Atlantic Division to get to the conference finals and didn’t have an answer to what Syracuse, who was tops in their division all season, brought to the table. The result was not surprising in hindsight. Makes me wonder if Wilkes-Barre, Hershey or Leigh Valley would have suffered the same fate.

2) Grand Rapids has been elite all season and has only lost twice in the postseason. It isn’t surprising to see them leading the Crunch like this. I picked them in six over Syracuse, but it could easily end in a sweep, or five games. Crunch desperately need a win Wednesday night.

3) Second highest hockey league in the world and they are relegated to giving away their games on the internet instead of being able to line up a broadcast partner. With that said, I fully realize that putting games on TV is easier said than done. However, everyone in Springfield and around the league gets upset when their league is passed over by a national audience, but it’s kind of hard to be taken seriously as a league when viewing said league is next to impossible for the casual fan.

4) The home team has won every game so far, with Pittsburgh and Nashville defending home ice. It isn’t a series until the home team loses.

5) The AHL develops much more than just players and coaches.

6) If you are thinking that losing Botterhill is going to be a big problem, don’t. I am not insinuating guys like him are a dime a dozen, but whoever Pittsburgh names as a replacement will be highly qualified to carry on the mission Botterhill created. Also, expect the list of candidates to be long as Wilkes-Barre is seen as a premier destination in the hockey world.

7) Seth admirably filled Jonathan Bombulie’s shoes and from what I have seen so far from Tyler, I am confident he will do the same.

8) No brainer for both involved. McGrath wasn’t going to sign any place else and get buried and forgotten about and Wilkes-Barre gets to boast home grown talent for another season.

I am going to wait until the end of the Stanley Cup Finals to put out the Offseason Moves Chart. I am also going to get an early jump on the Offseason AHL Big Board. If you want to volunteer to help, please contact me.

Now, back to summer.

2017 Conference Final Previews

A couple people asked for it, so here it is. My stab at predicting the 2017 Eastern and Western Conference Finals which will include the San Jose Barracuda vs. the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Western Conference and the Providence Bruins against the Syracuse Crunch in the Eastern Conference. Here goes, starting in the Western Conference…

     San Jose (P1) vs. Grand Rapids (C2)     

How the Barracuda got here: They beat the pesky Stockton Heat in five games in Round 1 and dismantled a stronger San Diego Gulls side in just five games in Round 2. Barracuda have been a consistently great team now for months.

How the Griffins got here: Swept Milwaukee in Round 1 and dispatched the Central Division Champion Chicago Wolves in five games. The only team left which hasn’t been tested yet.

How they match up: The Barracuda own a regulation and shootout victory over the Griffins from the regular season.

Key player so far for San Jose: Ryan Carpenter leads the way for the Barracuda with 10 points in 13 games.

Key player so far for Grand Rapids: Jared Coreau is a quiet 7-1 in the postseason for Grand Rapids in net.

Prediction: San Jose in six. Griffins will put up a fight and may jump out to a 1-0 series lead or a 2-0 lead in a game, but Roy Sommer’s group overcomes and advances against a Grand Rapids group who finally get a challenge here in the Calder Cup Playoffs that they cannot overcome.

     Providence (A4) vs. Syracuse (N1)     

How the Bruins got here: Playing out of the four seed in the dangerous Atlantic Division, the Bruins went on the road four times in elimination games and won all four games, the first team in AHL history to accomplish such a feat. They beat Wilkes-Barre twice on the road to win Round 1 in five games and beat Hershey twice on the road in Round 2 to beat the Bears in seven games. Providence was a team which limped into the playoffs as a four seed but had a complete transformation as the best, most complete team in the Eastern Conference, and you could argue overall of the four teams left.

How the Crunch got here: They beat St. John’s in four games in Round 1 and used home ice advantage to dispose of Toronto in seven in Round 2 in a series which saw the home team win every game. The fact that Syracuse, who won the North Division, does not have home ice advantage over a four seed playing out of the Atlantic in Providence, is more of an outrage than it is anything else.

How they match up: Both split a win and a loss in two meetings during the regular season.

Key player so far for Providence: Remains Zane McIntyre. His timely saves in big moments for the Bruins against Hershey in Round 2 energized his side and got them rolling in the right direction.

Key player so far for Syracuse: Cory Conacher had seven points in the Toronto series. He missed out on a chance to bring home a Calder Cup for Syracuse a few seasons ago. He doesn’t want to miss this time.

Prediction: Providence in six. You have Syracuse, who have battled adversity all season long and has played the role of underdog and come away clean as a whistle in the end. But regardless of who came out of the Atlantic, advantage was going to lie with that team because they came out of a den of hornets in the regular season and played out of a pool of fire in the postseason. Syracuse steals a game in overtime, but Providence is a team firing on all cylinders at the right time and not rattled by a thing and make it to the Calder Cup Finals.

So that’s how I see it boiling off. If you are a fan of one of the four, good luck and enjoy the games.

Go West, Young Man! Go West!

I have yearned for the day that the Penguins would announce that they have mixed in a Western Conference opponent onto the schedule for the coming year and year after year I have been left disappointed.

Not this year.

The Penguins announced Thursday afternoon the schedule of opponents for the 2017-18 season. Along with the usual suspects in Hershey and Allentown you can also add the Rockford IceHogs, the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Milwaukee Admirals to the list of opponents that Wilkes-Barre will face-off with in 2017-18.

The Hershey Bears will follow suit with the Penguins in taking on Rockford, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. I didn’t see any other Eastern Conference teams mention any Western Conference flavor.

As to when, my guess is a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday date starting in Rockford, traveling to Grand Rapids then Milwaukee and flying out of Milwaukee Sunday afternoon for the Penguins. The full schedule will be announced in the summertime.

The American Hockey League also announced divisional reformatting again with the losses of St. John’s and Albany and the additions of Belleville and Laval. The Penguins divisional opponents shall be the following:

Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Charlotte Checkers
Hartford Wolf Pack
Hershey Bears
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Providence Bruins
Springfield Thunderbirds

Yes, Virginia, the Charlotte Checkers are back and are in the same division as the Penguins. The last time we saw the Checkers in Wilkes-Barre was six years ago when the Penguins collapsed in Game Six and lost to the Checkers. It will be good to see Charlotte come home to the East where they belong and in the Penguins division.

On Bellevelle and Laval, the Penguins will be heading there too as the Senators (Belleville) and Rocket (Laval) are the two teams that replaced essentially Albany and St. John’s. Along with those two teams, the Penguins will also face the Marlies, Binghamton Devils, Crunch, Americans and Comets to fill out their schedule.

Coal Street did not put out a matrix of how many times the Penguins will face off against the opponents on the schedule for next year but I did see that Charlotte will play the Penguins four times, Binghamton six times and Hershey twelve times. Wilkes-Barre will probably play the IceHogs, Griffins and Admirals twice, once at home and once on the road.

With the way that the divisions are uneven, you are probably looking at the crossover coming back for next season. The League didn’t specify details on playoff format for next year other than to say that an announcement will come in July.

One more thing before I go out the door, Jason Botterill was named as the General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres today. Botterill was one of the guys behind the scenes that built the roster on Coal Street. His departure will be missed, but I have the full faith that Jim Rutherford will name an individual who will step in his place and pick up where he left off.

2017 Division Final Previews

There are eight teams left in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. Sadly, the Penguins aren’t one of them. Of those that remain though, we are going to take a look at how they did and how they match up against their opponent.

Let’s start in the Western Conference first.

     San Jose (P1) vs. San Diego (P2)     
Pacific Division Finals

How the Barracuda got here: San Jose survived a scare in the Stockton Heat, beating the Heat in five games with a shorthanded goal and in overtime to boot.

How the Gulls got here: San Diego got past Ontario in five games but in the final game the Reign started their third string goaltender which went about as good as you’d expect, and San Diego advanced.

How they match up: Pretty evenly, actually with each team winning five over the other in the regular season.

Key player so far for San Jose: Ryan Carpenter, whose seven points in the postseason not only leads his San Jose side but the AHL Playoffs in whole. You know that the Gulls will be keying in on him this series.

Key player so far for San Diego: Jhonas Enroth’s 1.82 GAA and .945 SV% is impressive considering that the series with Ontario went the full five games.

Prediction: San Jose in seven. Perhaps the Heat exposed a flaw in the Barracuda that the Gulls can expose more and it’s San Diego that gets by, but I like the unfettered way that Roy Sommer’s group plays that has got them the Pacific Division and Western Conference Championships so far.

     Chicago (C1) vs. Grand Rapids (C2)     
Central Division Finals

Note: This series started Wednesday and I tweeted my prediction a few hours before to preserve it. See below.

How the Wolves got here: Needed five games to get past the resurgent Charlotte Checkers in a series that was over in a week.

How the Griffins got here: The only unblemished team left, they swept away the Milwaukee Admirals in three games last round.

How they match up: The one matchup the Wolves did not want was Grand Rapids, who went 8-2 against Chicago in the regualar season.

Key player so far for Chicago: He’s the league MVP for a reason. Kenny Agostino.

Key player so far for Grand Rapids: Jared Coreau is unbeaten in net for the Griffins so far.

Prediction:

     Syracuse (N1) vs. Toronto (N2)     
North Division Finals

How the Crunch got here: Went down in Game 1 against the St. John’s IceCaps and pulled it from the brink in Game 2 down a pair of goals. Syracuse scored twice to tie it then won in double overtime to force it back to Syracuse tied 1-1. The Crunch would win Game 3 then Game 4 in overtime to advance.

How the Marlies got here: Same story, different verse for Toronto. Shutout in Game 1 by Albany, won Game 2 big to tie the series coming back to Toronto and won in one overtime in Game 3 and three overtimes in Game 4.

How they match up: Throw everything away in the regular season away with these two because it’s an entirely different group of Crunch players. This may be the most evenly matched series out of all the division finals games.

Key player so far for Syracuse: Matt Taormina was named Defenseman of the Year this past season and so far has lived up to the award. Four points so far for him.

Key player so far for Toronto: Taormina will probably be staring across at fellow blueliner Justin Holl, whose six points and +5 rating cannot go without notice.

Prediction: Syracuse in six. Crunch fans waited a long time for all the pieces to come home from Tampa Bay and now that they are, it’s Syracuse’s spot in the finals we think is theirs to lose. Toronto keeps in interesting, but goes out in six games.

     Hershey (A3) vs. Providence (A4)     
Atlantic Division Finals

The only one and two seeds not to advance with all the other one and two seeds was Wilkes-Barre and Lehigh Valley, proving how tough the Atlantic Division really was.

How the Bears got here: Not by winning on home ice, that’s for sure. Hershey lost both games at Giant Center to Lehigh Valley in a series where the home team never won.

How the Bruins got here: They did not shock the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, not by a long shot. That series was dangerously even and the Bruins took out the regular season champion Penguins in five games.

How they match up: Bruins went 3-3 against the Bears, with a win in the shootout.

Key player so far for Hershey: Stanislav Galiev is a point a playoff game player for the Bears and not someone first on your list of players to shutdown, but at the end of the night he is one you wish you did.

Key player so far for Providence: Zane McIntyre straight up stole Game 5 from the Penguins, stopping fifty shots.

Prediction: Each team took out a higher seed expected to advance over the other. But Zane McIntryre is going to continue to be a difference maker for his team and will stymie the Bears offense. Going Providence in six.

If you still have a team going in this, good luck.

Penguins / P-Bruins Series Preview

These two, again?

It seems that in recent times, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and Providence Bruins have a collision course set for the middle of April and always meet up in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Who could forget the seven game classic against the Bruins a few years back when the Penguins were down 0-3 in the series and stormed back to win in seven? Who could forget last years sweep of the Bruins by the underrated Penguins who many, including myself, picked to lose the series against Providence?

This year is different. Instead of coasting into the playoffs as a three seed, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins come into the Calder Cup Playoffs as a favorite to win it all if not the clear favorite. The Penguins pretty much led the AHL from start to finish as the league’s overall top team.

But none of that matters now, as what you did in the regular season doesn’t matter in a short playoff series because all that matters is the team that you are battling for the right to advance to the Atlantic Division Finals where either the Lehigh Valley Phantoms or Hershey Bears await.

So let’s take a look at how these two match up…

Schedule

Atlantic Division Semifinals – Series “A” (best-of-5)
A1-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. A4-Providence Bruins
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 21 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 23 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 3:05
Game 3 – Thu., Apr. 27 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 4 – Fri., Apr. 28 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sun., Apr. 30 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 3:05
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Forwards

Last year Providence had four players that had 55 points or more. This year, they have Jordan Szwarz who paced the Bruins with 54 points. Rookies Jake DeBrusk (49) and Danton Heinen (44) join Wayne Simpson (49) at the top of the leaderboard for points scored for the Bruins. The Penguins were led by ageless captain Tom Kostopoulos who put up 54 points at age 38. Oskar Sundqvist, Dominik Simon and Kevin Porter clock in with 46 points each. With both teams at the top of the AHL in defense which I will get to in the next category, offense isn’t too heavily relied upon to win games because the defense is more than capable of stealing games against opponents with far inferior defensive units.

Advantage: Slight edge to the Penguins, only because they ranked higher than the Bruins in scoring at 3.25 goals / game than Providence, who comes in at 3.01.

Defensemen

Both teams finished at the top of the AHL in defense, with the Penguins coming in first at 2.24 goals per game and the Bruins coming in second at 2.47. Each team has an offensive defenseman in David Warsofsky for the Penguins with 47 points, second on the team and Alex Grant for the Bruins with 49 points, good for third on the Bruins in scoring.

So you essentially have two teams identical in the way that they play defensively with one offensive horse.

Even if you peel more of the onion skin off, you find Derrick Pouliot’s 23 points second to Warsofsky’s and the currently recalled Tommy Cross’ 35 and Matt Grzelcyk’s 32 points as the next on the list in the offensive category for the Bruins and Penguins defense.

Both teams scored 16 goals on the other in the six game regular season series. I took away the goal for the shootout win the Penguins had on the Bruins back on November 6.

Advantage: Push. If you hard pressed me to give you a team, it’s the Penguins, only because using the “what have you done for me now, lately” question, the Bruins finished the season so poorly.

Goaltenders

Casey DeSmith led the AHL in goals against with 2.01. His backup is the untested rookie in Sean Maguire. Seems like last year we had the same thing to say about the then at the time untested rookie in Casey DeSmith. Tristan Jarry is on NHL recall for the injured Matt Murray.

Guess who finished second behind DeSmith in goals against? Providence’s Zane McIntyre. Both goalies have near identical statistical accolades. Both won 21 games. DeSmith lost 5 games, McIntyre lost 6. DeSmith lost three in overtime to McIntyre’s two. McIntyre has a better save percentage at .930 to DeSmith’s .926. McIntyre actually led the AHL in that category.

Advantage: It is a push.

Intangibles

Coaching and special teams always go here. The Penguins are coached by Clark Donatelli, who should have won AHL Coach of the Year for piloting his team through the toughest division in the AHL and winning it easily. Kevin Dean did OK in his first year behind the bench for the Bruins but Providence was in second place right as the season started to dwindle and nosedived out of the runner up spot to nearly missing playoffs altogether to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The clear winner here is the Wilkes-Barre’s Head Coach.

Special teams is almost identical. Both teams lead the AHL in penalty killing with the Penguins killing penalties 86.9% of the time with the Bruins right there in second at 86.4%. Take it a step further and on the road, the team with the best PK is the Bruins at 88.7% followed by, yes you guessed right, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins at 86.5%. The Bruins power play was 11th best in the AHL with a 19.1% success rate and the Penguins came in at a respectable, middle of the road 15th, or 17.9%. Match these two teams up head to head and you have another push.

The biggest intangible is how the NHL parent does in the playoffs. If Pittsburgh gets knocked out, Jarry, Jake Guentzel, Carter Rowney, Tom Sestito, Josh Archibald and Cameron Gaunce all become eligible for AHL playoffs. The Bruins could get Tommy Cross, Matt Grzelcyk and Noel Acciari back if Boston goes out to Ottawa or at any time during this short five game series.

Will Zach Aston-Reese back back for the Penguins after getting slashed in the second to last game for the Penguins? His presence would tip the scales for the Penguins in the offensive category.

Social Media Coverage

For the Penguins…

Twitter: @WBSPenguins
Radio: @MikeOBrienWBS / @_NickHart
Beat: @CVSethLakso and @TomVenesky
Facebook: /WilkesBarreScrantonPenguins
Instagram: wbspenguins

For the Bruins…

Twitter: @AHLBruins
Radio: Providence fired both their broadcasters a week before the end of the regular season.
Beat: @MarkDivver
Facebook: /providencebruins
Instagram: ahlbruins

Prediction

Looking at both teams on a scale from across the room, that scale is dead even, but as you get closer to the scale you can clearly see that it tips on one side. That side belongs to the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins. Penguins in four. While yes, both these teams are dead even in nearly every single statistical category known to man, it’s the Penguins who have more ounces on that proverbial scale that tip it in their favor. Providence steals one game, but are again sent packing by the one single team who has had their number in postseasons past.

Gameday setup for Game 1 hits the blog Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.