Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: The AHL

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.

2017 Calder Cup Preview

In keeping with what I did last year, I am rolling one preview into this blog piece, and that is giving you a snapshot of each team in the playoffs, how they match up, a key player to watch for both teams and offer a prediction. The prediction for Penguins / Providence series will be broken down into it’s own blog piece tomorrow at noon.

So here goes nothing, starting in the Western Conference….

Western Conference

     San Jose Barracuda (P1) vs. Stockton Heat (P4)     

How the Barracuda got here: Really were the class of the Western Conference all season, piloted by Head Coach Roy Sommer. They outpaced defending Conference Champion Ontario and San Diego, who is a very strong side.

How the Heat got here: Someone had to finish fourth in a division which is really three headed. Bakersfield’s 4-6 run at the end of the season was met with the Heat’s 11 game unbeaten in regulation streak. Stockton made it close, but they edged the Condors.

How they match up: Season was pretty split between the two. 12 games, 7-5 if you are a Barracuda fan, 5-5-2 if you are a Heat fan.

Key player for the Barracuda: Troy Grosenick, on a team that plays on 68 games, won 30 of them. That is impressive.

Key player for the Heat: Linden Vey was second on the Heat with 55 points, one off Mark Jankowski. Vey comes with playoff experience needed during these times.

Prediction: San Jose in five. This is the one matchup that the Barracuda didn’t want. Stockton steals one or both in overtime, but are ultimately beaten by the better, more consistent team here in this conversation.

     San Diego Gulls (P2) vs. Ontario Reign (P3)     

How the Gulls got here: Played out of the two seed from right after New Years and held on solidly to the position.

How the Reign got here: Played out of the three seed from right after New Years and held on solidly to the position.

How they match up: Both teams went 6-4-1-1 against the other. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Key player for the Gulls: Corey Tropp’s 54 points in 62 games paces the Gulls.

Key player for the Reign: Jack Campbell is an all-star goaltender who has won 31 games in net for the Reign and their iron horse. No other net minder has appeared in more games (52)

Prediction: San Diego in four. Gulls come at you from all sides attack will be too much for Ontario to overcome in a short five game series.

     Chicago Wolves (C1) vs. Charlotte Checkers (C4)     

How the Wolves got here: Rewarded for being the Central’s most consistent team. Despite the deficit of two or three games in hand on Grand Rapids at the time, the Wolves remained at the top of the Central for pretty much the entire season.

How the Checkers got here: Outlasted the Cleveland Monters and Iowa Wild in the regular season’s final weeks. Checkers won out on regulation or overtime wins and beat out the Monsters, who they were in a tie with in points and points percentage.

How they match up: Wolves went 6-1-0-1 against the Checkers this season.

Key player for the Wolves: It’s two. Kenny Agostino won the scoring race (83 points) and Wade Megan had the most goals (33) this dynamic duo terrorized an overall strong Central Division on a night in and night out basis.

Key player for the Checkers: Charlotte’s Tom McCollum joined the team late and took the reigns and went 12-2-4 with a 2.17 GAA and a .917 SV%.

Prediction: This one ends with a sweep, Chicago in three.

 Grand Rapids Griffins (C2) vs. Milwke. Admirals (C3) 

How the Griffins got here: 4-5-0-1 in their final ten games, it’s what ultimately cost the Griffins a shot at the Central Division title.

How the Admirals got here: Equally as dire, Milwaukee went 4-5-1-0 in their last ten but were out of the championship picture about a month or so ago.

How they match up: Griffins went 7-5 against the Admirals, with one overtime victory. Call it pretty even.

Key player for the Griffins: Martin Frk finished fourth on the team in scoring overall but led the team in goals with 27.

Key player for the Admirals: Adam Payerl was a castaway with Wilkes-Barre a few seasons ago, but was consistent piece with the Milwaukee Admirals all season, appearing in every game. He doesn’t lead in any category, but he always seemed to find the scoresheet at the right time whenever I caught a glimpse at what was going on out West with the Admirals.

Predication: Probably the most evenly matched series in the Western Conference, Admirals in five.

Eastern Conference

     Syracuse Crunch (N1) vs. St. John’s IceCaps (N4)     

How the Crunch got here: Despite being pillaged on an almost daily basis by call-ups to parent Tampa Bay, the Syracuse Crunch stayed the course throughout the entire 2016-17 season and led the division for huge chunks of it. They rightfully took home the division championship on the last day of the season.

How the St. John’s IceCaps got here: With this being the last season of professional hockey in Newfoundland, the IceCaps played inspired hockey down the stretch and got in as the four seed, beating out the Utica Comets.

How they match up: 4-1-2-1 went the Crunch against the IceCaps this season.

Key player for the Crunch: Cory Conacher and Matt Taormina paced Syracuse with 60 points each.

Key player for the IceCaps: Offense ran through Chris Terry all season, Terry put up 68 points.

Prediction: Scare for Syracuse, but they outlast the IceCaps in five games.

     Toronto Marlies (N2) vs Albany Devils (N3)     

How the Marlies got here: Played reinvigorated hockey in the final third of the season after most left them for dead and wrote them off.

How the Devils got here: Were never able to overcome Syracuse for the top spot in the division and lost personnel at the end of the season to recall to New Jersey and fell to the three seed.

How they match up: Devils went 5-3 against the Marlies this season with an overtime and shootout win sprinkled in.

Key player for the Marlies: Garret Sparks played 31 games in goal for Toronto and went 21-9 with a 2.16 GAA and a .922 SV%.

Key player for the Devils: Brian Gibbons and Carter Camper each came from successful teams in the past and are consistent Devils players.

Prediction: Like Grand Rapids and Milwaukee out west this is probably the most every matched series in the Eastern Conference. Devils advance in five if the Maple Leafs remain alive in the NHL playoffs.

  W-B / Scr. Penguins (A1) vs. Providence Bruins (A4)  

How the Penguins got here: But for a few bumps along the way, the Penguins remained the best overall team in the AHL all season long.

How the Bruins got here: Were a two seed as early as a few weeks ago, but a 0-3-1-0 run to close out the season dropped the Bruins to a four seed in an ever competitive Atlantic Division which saw the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a team which would have ran away with the North Division Championship this season, miss playoffs.

How they match up: Penguins beat the Bruins four times in the regular season, including once in overtime.

Key player for the Penguins: Tom Kostopoulos. At age 38, time isn’t slowing the grizzled captain down. His 54 points leads the team.

Key player for the Bruins: There was a time when Zane McIntyre just didn’t lose when he went in between the pipes for the P-Bruins.

Prediction: Check back tomorrow for a full series preview of this one.

     Leh. Val. Phantoms (A2) vs. Hershey Bears (A3)     

How the Phantoms got here: Never really a challenger for the Penguins top spot, the Phantoms played consistently as a two seed all season in the AHL’s best division.

How the Bears got here: Left for dead on a number of occasions, the Bears used the final two weeks of the season to propel out of the five seed where they were all the way to a three seed.

How they match up: Phantoms got the better of the Bears, 7-4-1-0 in the 12 game season series, but a lot of those games played when the Bears were a struggling five seed.

Key player for the Phantoms: Alex Lyon is the man in goal now that Anthony Stolarz went down with season ending knee surgery.

Key player for the Bears: Pheonix Copley was a trade deadline acquisition who went 11-5 for Hershey when the Bears biggest deficiency was the man between the pipes.

Predication: This is a tough one to predict on the basis of the hot and cold play that Hershey exhibited all season long. Going out on a limb here and saying Lehigh Valley in five.

If you see it any other way, let me know in the comments.

AHL Power Rankings: Week 27

It’s the final version of the 2016-17 Chirps from Center Ice AHL Power Rankings. Another year of doing this thing. It seems to be really popular and something that you guys seem to like so let’s keep it going for next year, shall we?

How I do the final Power Rankings edition is that the team that won the regular season is number one, followed by runner up in the opposite conference, then all the division champions in the top four then the other 12 playoff teams. All 16 teams that qualified are in the top 16 then the rank and file all the way to 30.

I won’t keep you here. Click through the jump if you didn’t link in direct…

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AHL Power Rankings: Week 26

The final week of the AHL regular season is upon us and things are still in doubt for a handful of teams. There are teams that have clinched divisions and conferences in Wilkes-Barre and San Jose, and teams that are pushing to make the playoffs in the top five this week in Charlotte and Cleveland. There are teams that are elevating up and down in Hershey and Bridgeport and teams that had promising runs this season and have come or will come up short in Des Moines and Utica.

It’s down to the Penguins or Barracuda for the Kilpatrick Trophy in the one race we here in Wilkes-Barre will be watching this final week of the regular season. These two teams are one and two in this weeks AHL Power Rankings.

To see the rest of the teams that fill out this weeks edition, click through the jump if you didn’t link in direct.

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AHL Power Rankings: Week 25

Week 25 and the playoff picture in the AHL is starting to come together.

The first Eastern Conference team has punched a playoff ticket in Wilkes-Barre.

There is a game being played of hot potato for the fourth sport in many divisions.

San Jose remains your number one team this week as it appears it will be down to the Barracuda and the Penguins to decide who wins the regular season championship.

Penguins jump up to second this week, their biggest rivals in Hershey take a nosedive out of the top 20.

Click through the jump to see where your team ended up this week if you didn’t link in direct.

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Wilkes-Barre XV — Penguins Punch Ticket to 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs

Fifteen straight years.

Like death and taxes, you can nearly guarantee that the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will be in the Calder Cup Playoffs when players start filtering to Coal Street in late September.

After today’s shootout loss to the Utica Comets, all eyes turned to Hershey, Pennsylvania where the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Bears were playing a 5:05 start. The Phantoms beat the Bears 4-2 on a Chris Conner hat trick and this cemented the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins playoff status.

Fifteen straight years. Longest streak in professional hockey. The parent team in Pittsburgh has been there 11 straight years. They teach similar styles to that what they expect in Pittsburgh.

The one thing which has eluded us in Wilkes-Barre which Pittsburgh has three of and the team that put us in the playoffs just now has eleven of at the AHL level is the Calder Cup.

Fourteen years and they have come away empty handed. With this team, one that has run the table seemingly since they dropped the puck in October, I get the sense that this year may be different.

We will see.

Step one is playoffs. Step two is the Atlantic Division Championship, the Macgregor Kilpatrick trophy is step three then step four is fifteen more wins in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Get ready.

Thursday Notes 3/30

Figured I would drop a quick blog post here in light of what’s gone on this week around Coal Street and the rest of the Atlantic Division. Here goes…

Last night the Bridgeport Sound Tigers defeated the Springfield Thunderbirds 3-2. So that means that Wilkes-Barre cannot clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs Friday. The magic number remains at five. Pens get this Springfield team Friday in Springfield while Bridgeport visits Allentown. As with last Sunday when these two teams met, provided the Penguins win against the Thunderbirds Friday, you just want whichever team to win in regulation.

Word out of Coal Street Wednesday afternoon was that Stuart Percy is done for the year after having surgery on his upper body injury and that Garrett Wilson is expected back this weekend. Both Seth and Tom reported it, here’s Tom’s tweet capsulizing both. Percy’s biggest MO from the start was that he could never stay healthy. Wilson getting back will be a huge help.

Troy Josephs missed practice Wednesday as he went back to school to finish up a few classes. My guess is that with Wilson back in the picture, Josephs projects as that 13th forward who could be scratched.

Daniel Sprong’s Charlottetown Islanders swept Drakkar Wednesday. They are onto the second round. First ever sweep for Charlottetown.

Pittsburgh signed D Jeff Taylor for next year. In the interim, he has signed his ATO and has already joined Wilkes-Barre for practice. He’s one of the top offensive defensemen in college hockey and put up 33 points in 38 games played this season. I also think he kind of looks like Major League Baseball player Ryan Braun too.

You are all caught up, I think. Gameday setup for Friday’s game at Springfield hist the blog Friday afternoon at 3.