Chirps from Center Ice

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

Category Archives: WBS

Better Bird — Pens LOSE 3-1

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Joel Blomqvist started the game in goal for the Penguins, making his debut in goal for Wilkes-Barre and deserved a better fate.

Blomqvist is the future in goal for this team and his team ran into special teams trouble against a team really good at that aspect of the game and Wilkes-Barre loses 3-1. Blomqvist deserved a better fate, in my opinion.

Blomqvist opposed Joel Hofer.

Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Joel Blomqvist made his AHL debut in goal for the Pens. No other lineup changes for the Penguins so the #PlayYourKids isn’t on just yet, with fourth place still on the line.

First Period: Radim Zohorna scored two power play goals last night in Providence, and scored another Saturday in Springfield.

Springfield responded fairly quickly, with a goal by Tommy Cross.

Springfield didn’t score on their first power play, James Neal got close when a puck squirted on him in the crease and the Penguins rookie made the save.

But then, on a double minor, the Thunderbirds scored on the back end of it. James Neal didn’t miss this time.

He scored with four seconds left.

Second Period: Uneventful but for the fight between Will Bitten and Cam Lee. Pens navigated out of another Springfield power play.

Third Period: Pens had pedal to the metal attitude to start the period and that continued throughout, but Hofer was a wall in net for the Thunderbirds. Time slowly became the enemy of the Penguins and with Blomqvist pulled, the Penguins couldn’t find the equalizer.

The Good: Good showing for Blomqvist in goal. Really no complaints with the kids play. The Pens played a decent game but we’re bit on the penalty kill.

The Bad: Sentimental games are nice, but as the Penguins are a playoff team, they are going to ruin in to teams better than them on special teams like the Thunderbirds. They have to figure out how to win games like this.

Turning Point: They we’re four seconds way from getting out of the first 1-1, but NHL sniper James Neal snipes Blomqvist for the goal that stands up as the game winner.

Three Stars: 3) James Neal (goal) 2) Will Bitten (goal, assist) 1) Joel Hofer, 32 saves.

Around the Division: Link to those boxes here. 6:05 start in Springfield tonight, Pens were done an hour early.

Standings: Pens magic number for the four seed and home ice in the first round is four. They should make it, with three games left.

Wheeling Update: Nailers in Game 2 with Fort Wayne, up 1-0 in the series. Box here.

Video Highlights: You should know where to find these.

Back at it in Hartford at 3 Sunday.

Let’s Go Pens!

Playoff Bound at the Surgery Center — Pens WIN 4-1

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If you read the below and only this, I won’t be mad.

Thanks to Hartford losing AND Lehigh Valley losing in overtime, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are playoff bound.

Oh, the Penguins needed to handle their business themselves in order to even have the out of town scoreboard matter and they did. They did it with about the most methodical takedown if I ever saw one of one of the top teams in the Atlantic Division.

Penguins win 4-1 Friday night in Providence, a place they have not lost in regulation in this season and have fortified what looks like a 4th place finish in the division.

Lineup Notes: Reinke for Swoyer on defense, Drew O’Connor for Anthony Angello.

First Period: All Penguins to start. Providence took a penalty and in short order, Radim Zohorna made them pay.

But then the Penguins took a penalty and the roles were reversed. Justin Brazeau scored to tie the game at one.

Shots were 12-7 at the end of one. The Penguins came into the game needing a win and help from out of town to clinch a playoff spot, so to this point they were holding up their end of the bargain by controlling what they could control.

Second Period: All Penguins in this period as well, Matt Bartkowski scored off a nice setup and the Penguins were up 2-1.

The Penguins were getting power plays and kept making the Bruins pay. Radim Zohorna scored again on a power play to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead.

Juuso Riikola took a hard hit along the board and left the game.

That was the power play the Zohorna scored on.

FIlip Hallander scored at the buzzer of another Bruins power play but time had already expired.

Third Period: The surgical dissection continued and the Penguins optioned to press. Then Kyle Olson salted the game away with a goal that made it 4-1 and that quelled any Bruins attempt at a serious comeback.

Three Stars: 3) Justin Brazeau (goal) 2) Drew O’Connor (two assists) 1) Radim Zohorna (two goals)

The Good: What a way to take down the top (coming into tonight) team in the Atlantic tonight with a surgical takedown. That will be a good sign if these teams meet again down the road this season.

The Bad: Can’t think of anything here because the Penguins pressured all game and got what they came for.

Turning Point: The second Zohorna goal, which came about after the hit into the board by Riikola, one of the Penguins best defenseman, put the game in serious favor for the away team.

Around the Division: Got help from Hershey beating Lehigh Valley 4-3 in overtime (thank Brett Leason when you see him next, he scored the OT game winner) and Charlotte beating Hartford 2-1. None of the other scores mattered.

Standings: Wilkes-Barre, Hershey, and Bridgeport secured playoff spots. The Penguins are still in fourth, .542 to .527 over Hershey.

Wheeling Update: Nailers are in Game 1 with Fort Wayne. Box here.

Video Highlights: I am RVing this weekend so I am not sure I will work my way back around to this.

Now to see what type of lineup they dress the final five games of the season with the x next to their name. Guess we don’t have to wait to find out long, back at it Saturday in Springfield.

Let’s Go Pens!

Weekend Preview – Three Away

So the magic number to clinch a playoff spot is three. The Penguins also have three away games this weekend. The Penguins can actually clinch a playoff spot on Friday this way. Here’s how:

Did you get all that? Because I sure didn’t. Win, and have Lehigh Valley, Hartford and/or Bridgeport lose in regulation or get a point and have Hartford lose in regulation and Lehigh Valley lose in regulation.

I think. I have read it five times and think I get it.

Anyway, the fact remains that in order to clinch Friday, or at any point this weekend, the Penguins face off against two already qualified playoff teams as well as a team fighting for its playoff life. It’s not going to be easy nor should it be.

The Setups

So the idea is that the Penguins and Hershey Bears are on a collision course for a playoff date in the first round. Barring an epic collapse from both teams, it’s going to be Pens / Bears Round 1 in a best of three series to see who plays one of the two top teams in the Atlantic (who get a Round 1 bye) in the next round. So with all that said, let’s only focus on the Pens and Bears this weekend.

Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

Record: 34-29-4-4, .535 percentage points, five games left. 4th place Atlantic Division

Wilkes-Barre closed out its home record this season with a 16-3-2-1 record in their last 22 games. A remarkable feat and the single thing that has the Penguins on the brink of a playoff spot and possibly home ice in the first round. They shutout Hershey on Tuesday, beat Bridgeport last Saturday in a thriller and beat Hershey in overtime last Friday, all at home. They turned around the two game losing streak and have won the last three. They have two games in hand on the Bears they will burn off next week.

They have Providence this Friday, Springfield Saturday then Hartford on Sunday.

The Bruins: Are still up and down. They looked invincible last week, beating Lehigh Valley and shutting out Hershey, then narrowly squeaked past the Phantoms this past Tuesday in overtime. They play the Penguins tough and it’s a tough matchup. If there is one team I don’t want to play in the playoffs, especially in a best of five, it’s Providence or Charlotte. The Bruins are mercurial, sure, but they always find the right combination against the Penguins.

The Thunderbirds: Springfield has looked strong all season, but the Penguins make the Thunderbirds look down right pedestrian. What I said about the matchup with Providence above, applies in reverse to Springfield. I’d welcome a playoff matchup against Springfield in any format. The Penguins can beat this team.

The Wolf Pack: Are a mess. 1-8-1-0 in their last ten. They led the division a few weeks back and are now on the brink of missing playoffs. Hopefully the Pens wrap up a playoff berth and can rest some regulars and play some ATO guys Sunday when these two teams meet.

Hershey Bears

Record: 33-30-6-4, .521 percentage points, three games left, 5th place Atlantic Division.

Hershey hasn’t scored in the past two games. You know, when I watched them Tuesday it was painfully evident that they are a lot like the Penguins in that, despite them being the Bears, they lack a finisher. I don’t like their chances against the Penguins in the first round playoff series (if it comes to that) they have three games left, all this weekend, and here they are.

Home and home against the Phantoms: Lehigh Valley isn’t dead yet. They need a miracle and will get juiced up for the final two games against Hershey.

Syracuse: Haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet. Probably won’t this weekend. The top three in the North get first round byes. Syracuse wants to protect their third place or improve their positioning coming into the weekend so don’t expect the Crunch to be pushovers here, but expect Hershey to empty the tank at home in their final game of the regular season on Sunday.

Records

Because I didn’t mention it above for the three opponents the Pens play this weekend, here they are.

  • Providence: 36-20-4-6, .621 percentage points, 1st place Atlantic Division
  • Springfield: 39-23-6-3, .613 percentage points, 3rd place Atlantic Division
  • Hartford: 30-31-6-2, .493 percentage points, 7th place Atlantic Division

Who’s Up, Down, Out?

Louis Domingue is up for the injured Tristan Jarry. Alex D’Orio is up from Wheeling backing up Tommy Nappier. Drew O’Connor has an “ailment” which shouldn’t be long term and Mitch Reinke is non-COVID sick. Taylor Fedun is out long term with a lower body injury and Filip Lindberg is done for the year.

Who’s in Goal?

My supposition is that Tommy Nappier gets the playoff teams in Providence and Springfield and either Alex D’Orio or Joel Blomqvist, who backed up Nappier on Tuesday goes Sunday in Hartford. For the opposition, reigning AHL Player of the Week Brandon Bussi may likely go for Providence on Friday, then Joel Hofer for Springfield on Saturday and either Keith Kinkaid or Adam Huska, depending on how things shake out for the Wolf Pack this weekend.

What can we learn about the Penguins this week?

How quickly they wrap up the playoff berth and what they do after. Do they push to protect the four seed (they can’t go higher, the teams ahead of them minimum points percentage if they all lost out is still higher than the Pens max) or do they dress the kids and let the chips fall where they may.

Two schools of thought here. They are good at home, nearly unbeatable. They would have home ice as the four seed in the first round best of three. Wrap up playoff berth with a win Friday and help out of town and protect the four seed at all costs. The second thought is if they know they can beat Hershey, why kill yourself after you wrap up a berth? Rest the guys that have to get you through the next two months in what’s going to be a brutal postseason.

Interesting times, for sure.

Who is running the show?

Jim Curtain and Mike Sullivan have the officiating duties on Friday with Dan Kelly and Stephen Drain on the lines.

On Saturday, it’s Michael Zyla and Beau Halkidis with Kevin Briganti and Brent Colby on the lines.

Sunday sees Kevin drive down to Hartford to meet who I think is his brother Nick Briganti on the lines with Jim Curtain and Jeremy Tufts handling officiating duties.

Looking Ahead…

The Penguins close out the regular season with a date in Syracuse on Friday and a trip down to Allentown on Saturday.

Give us a bold prediction…

The Penguins wrap up a playoff spot…this Saturday.

Buckeye Blast – Pens WIN 3-0

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They finally got one for their goaltender.

24 saves for The Ohio State University’s Tommy Nappier, his first professional shutout, in a professional takedown of the Hershey Bears in what will likely bee a first round playoff preview, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins take down the Hershey Bears 3-0 on Tuesday evening.

Work night. Let’s not dilly dally.

Here’s the box. 

Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Drew O’Connor and Mitch Reinke were out. O’Connor with an “ailment” and Reinke sick, non-COVID.

First Period: No scoring, but great pace. Nice outlet pass from Juuso Riikola found Valtteri Puustinen for a breakaway, then Colin Swoyer set up a few plays, stopping Brett Leason on a partial breakaway then setting up Felix Robert for a Grade A chance which was stopped.

With how wide open as it was, there were chances. Mike Sgarbossa broke in but hit a post and then Alex Nylander had a chance as well but was stopped.

Second Period: They remained close, trading early power plays. Michael Chaput had a chance on a breakaway about halfway through but couldn’t finish.

Jordy Bellerive was called for a questionable elbowing call, I thought it could have been a high stick, and the Pens were on a penalty kill.

Kasper Bjorkqvist chased a puck into the corner unimpeded and found Michael Chaput streaking to the net. He led him to the net with a pass that Chaput pool cues past Fucale and in for a 1-0 Penguins lead.

Well executed and a perfect finish.

Third Period: Nice setup by Cam Lee and Alex Nylander slams home one in front and the Penguins double their lead.

Pens navigated a penalty kill quite well. Hershey started to press.

Out of a time out, Head Coach Scott Allen pulls Fucale for an extra man. Pens win the face off to P.O. Joseph in the corner and Joseph flips it about 198 feet away into the empty net which made it 3-0.

Three Stars: 3) Alex Nylander (goal) 2) Michael Chaput 1) Tommy Nappier (24 saves)

The Good: Amazing second half turn around by JD Forrest’s team. This team was crap at the outset of the season, decimated by COVID around Christmas and has been a hard team to play against down the stretch. Fourth place is theirs for the taking now.

The Bad: Can’t fill this out truthfully. They executed perfectly in all areas.

Turning Point: The shorthanded goal was a huge momentum lift for the Pens and it stood up as the game winner.

Around the Division: At this point, none of what goes on with the division matters to these two teams. Here’s the link if you want to see the out of town scores. I’d run through these but it’s late, on a worknight home game.

Standings: Again, these two teams being so close to one another, what matters is who finishes ahead of who for home ice. Pens are even with Hershey now on points with two games in hand. Both teams have 76 points. Pens are fourth and I think control their own destiny for this, with the games in hand on Hershey. I don’t know, again it’s late.

Wheeling Update: Nailers regular season wrapped up last weekend. They open with Fort Wayne in the playoffs this weekend.

Video Highlights: 

Weekend Preview this Thursday for the three road games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Let’s Go Pens!

Weekend Half Preview

Seven AHL games on a Tuesday seems strange, but then I realized it’s likely all December COVID make ups, like the game being played tonight between the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and the Hershey Bears.

No full weekend preview, as that will come later in the week for the three road games the Penguins play this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Penguins, winners of two straight host the Hershey Bears who are 0-2-1 in their last three games. That one OT loss came at the hands of the Penguins, who battled back to tie and then beat Hershey in overtime on Friday. Wilkes-Barre won a too close for comfort game 6-5 over the Bridgeport Islanders on Saturday.

Hershey hosted the Providence Bruins on Easter Sunday and let a team full of still wet behind the ears rookies beat them 1-0. Michael Callahan, playing in his 11th game in the AHL, scored in the third period and Brandon Bussi, playing in his second game, records 26 saves for his first professional shutout in goal.

I think that says more about Boston / Providence’s scouting and depth, than it does anything else. I have always been amazed by teams who bring in players I have never heard of, playing in their first professional game or games, that come in and are an immediate factor for the opposing team.

With the loss Sunday, the Bears dipped to fifth in the Atlantic, while the Penguins took fourth. Hershey has four games left and has a 33-29-6-4 record. The Penguins have six games left and a 33-29-4-4 record. Simply put, these two teams play the same amount of games. Hershey has 76 points, the Penguins have 74. Wilkes-Barre has two games in hand on the Bears and this is the last regular season head to head matchup.

I think this is a First Round or Play-In, whatever you want to call it, preview. Neither team I think can get to third, and neither team is going to fall to sixth I don’t think. So the reality is that these teams are on a collision course to meet in the postseason, and what matters is who has the home ice advantage. If you want to look past qualifying for playoffs and focus on settling for the four seed, I won’t blame you.

I’d rather the Penguins finish fourth, because in a traditional playoff format, the top four teams in the division make it, instead of this nonsense of “expanded” playoffs.

Michael Zyla and Casey Terreri have the assignment Tuesday. The linesmen are John Rey and Tyler Loftus.

Bears close out their regular season with a home and home with Lehigh Valley and a Sunday home game against Hershey. The Penguins are on the road in Providence Friday, Springfield Saturday and Hartford Sunday. The two games in hand the Penguins have on the Bears won’t be used until the following week when they are in Syracuse next Friday and Allentown next Saturday. More on all this later this week with the official Weekend Preview.

More after the game tonight.

By the Skin of Their Teeth — Pens WIN 6-5

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So I was thinking about this win the drive home.

The Pens have played the Bridgeport Islanders twice in a two week span and also played the Syracuse Crunch in that same two week span. They beat the Islanders with 9 goals two weeks ago and  6 goals tonight. 15 goals total. They don’t score a single goal in two games in two games against Syracuse. Go figure.

Pens win 6-5 and, as the headline says, by the skin of their teeth. They had a 6-3 lead then hold on to win 6-5.

Magic number to clinch is 7. I think. Math was never my strong suit.

Tommy Nappier is going to be the guy around these parts. Tristan Jarry is week to week.

Nappier opposed Corey Schneider

They lined up like this:

Bridgeport didn’t post lines.

Lineup Notes: Jordy Bellerive and Jamie Devane out, Anthony Angello and Felix Robert in up front. Will Reilly for Colin Swoyer on defense.

First Period: Bridgeport scores on their first two shots of the game. Simon Holmstrom and Michael Dal Colle score.

Hot start by the Islanders, but the Pens have been in these waters before.

Felix Robert should be a lineup regular. After a move like this, he has to be.

What a pass, what a shot, what a play.

Later, Filip Hallander deflected a shot off of Schneider and it was tied.

No GIF of this one.

Second Period: Valtteri Puustinen on a snipe and the Pens lead 3-2.

Mitch Reinke gets a baffling goal. Corey Schneider makes a glove save, the puck pops out of his glove, goes up in the air and then goes behind him and in the net for a 4-2 Penguins lead.

Just a terrible, awful blunder by Schneider. I would have pulled him if I were Brent Thompson, especially after that gaffe. Islanders in a battle for their playoff life, and you let in a boffo goal like that.

Penguins penalty kill used to be reliable, and Louis Domingue may have a hand in that, but Chris Terry, who is developing into a Penguins killer, scores far dot to make it a one goal game again.

Michael Chaput scores a power play goal, Sam Poulin tries The Michigan, Drew O’Connor scores and the Pens give up another power play goal and it’s 6-4 heading into the third. Here’s all what I just mentioned…

Third Period: A note about the officiating. Justin Kea didn’t have a very good game in my estimation, officiating the scoreboard vs. the action on the ice. A minor infractor would be a penalty on the Penguins, while a blatant foul by the Islanders goes uncalled.

Paul LaDue brings the Islanders to within one.

Puff out your cheeks moments for the Penguins, but they hold on as even with an empty net, the Islanders would not find the equalizer.

Three Stars: Valtteri Puustinen (goal, assist) 2) Drew O’Connor (goal, assist) 1) Juuso Riikola (four assists)

The Good: Too much fun and gun for me but it was nice to see the offense come to life.

The Bad: Domingue is going to be gone a while guys, hafta figure out the penalty kill. You aren’t scoring six goals every night.

Turning Point: The O’Connor goal was one at the time made it a bit of a laugher, but was just enough to get the Pens across the line first.

Around the Division: None of the other games mattered. It’s late. Hershey was off.

Standings: Hershey with 76 points in fourth; Pens in fifth with 74 and a game in hand. Pens have enough of a cushion I think on sixth place Bridgeport who only have two games left.

Wheeling Update: The Nailers lose 5-0 to Fort Wayne.

Video Highlights: Will probably go up when this does.

Happy Easter. Let’s Go Pens!

Puusty Power! — Pens WIN 3-2

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I think we have a playoff preview on our hands. Only thing that is going to need to be decided is who gets the four seed.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins take down the Hershey Bears 3-2 in overtime in comeback fashion. Their tenth goal scored with the goaltender pulled to tie it, then a Valtteri Puustinen power play goal to end it in overtime to win it. The Bears escape with a point, but Wilkes-Barre draws ever so closer to the Bears and the four seed with two games in hand.

Tommy Nappier from THEE Ohio State University opposed Zach Fucale. Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Anthony Angello was out and Jamie Devane was back in. Cam Lee replaced Will Reilly. Angello is still dealing with illness.

First Period: Flying start by the Penguins who go up 1-0 on a Kasper Bjorkqvist shot that bleeds through Fucale that gives the Pens a 1-0 lead.

But then Hershey responds in kind on an Ethan Frank power play goal that looks eerily similar to the Hershey power play goals of yore.

Shades of Keith Aucoin setting up Alex Giroux from that very spot. That Frank kid was probably still in elementary school.

The power play goal by Hershey ended the Pens streak of 30 consecutive kills over eight games.

Second Period: No scoring, but the Penguins had a pair of back to back power play tries they were unsuccessful on.

Third Period: Next goal huge, obviously. Hershey scores it on a power play (again) on a  deflection in front by Mason Morelli.

The Penguins thought they scored a goal but referee Justin Kea washed it out immediately on account of a hand pass into the net. Replay confirmed his initial call on the ice. The fans in attendance weren’t happy, but the camera doesn’t lie.

Time dwindling, goal needed, delivered by Radim Zohorna off a deflection from a Juuso Riikola shot that ties the game at two with Nappier pulled with just over two minutes to play.

Overtime: Big save by Nappier :13 in. Brett Leason with a trip :24 in. Valtteri Puustinen a few minutes later on the power play:

Ballgame.

There Stars: 3) Kasper Bjorkqvist (goal) 2) Radim Zohorna (goal) Valtteri Puustinen (goal)

The Good: Nice way to come back there at the end with your backs at the wall. Playoff like intensity and the Pens prevail.

The Bad: Penalty kill was a weak spot when for so long it was a strong suit.

Turning Point: In a game full of them, the Puustinen game winner that ended it gets it here.

Around the Division: Only games that matter were Hartford losing in Toronto 4-1 and Bridgeport beating Lehigh Valley to vault into sixth in the division with a 2-1 overtime win in Allentown.

Standings4) Hershey .535 5) Penguins .522 6) Bridgeport .514 7) Hartford .500

I think you can stick a fork in the Wolf Pack.

Wheeling Update: Nailers clinched so its all about seeding for them. They lose to Fort Wayne 2-1 at home.

In the who plays who tomorrow, Hershey is off. This is one of the two games in hand the Pens play Saturday against the Islanders.

Video Highlights: If I see them and can work the edit in…you know the rest.

Let’s Go Pens!