Chirps from Center Ice

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

Buckeye Blasts — Pens WIN 3-0 (WBS leads 1-0)

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With all this talk this week with Casey DeSmith leaving Game 1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins / New York Rangers series in Game 1, necessitating the services of Louis Domingue and the recall of the only other NHL contracted goalie left in the system Alex D’Orio, this leaves Wilkes-Barre with the AHL contracted Tommy Nappier essentially all alone by himself in the minor leagues.

Doubt crept in the minds of the Penguins faithful, both up top and at the farm. Rightfully so, but none of this got to or seemed to bother Tommy Nappier.

Nappier makes 23 saves and he and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins blank the Hershey Bears 3-0 Friday night. They lead the best of three series 1-0 with Game 2 and a chance to close out the series Sunday in Hershey.

The Penguins accomplished their game plan almost to a tee Friday. Hershey had just three shots after the first period and were down 2-0 after goals :31 apart by Will Reilly and Alex Nylander. They continued to bottle up an offensively struggling Hershey Bears team in the second period and the bears tried to pick up the physicality in the third but Nappier and the Penguins kept them quiet.

Here’s how they lined up:

Lineup Notes: Michael Chaput got hurt in the last game and is week to week. Taylor Fedun is skating at practice but is still week to week. Filip Lindberg is done for the year.

First Period: Pens withstand the games opening moments, an early Hershey power play and then Will Reilly scores to open his postseason account.

:31 later, Alex Nylander on a deflection of a P.O. Joseph shot.

And it was off to the races.

But the Penguins reigned in the emotions. There was 50 minutes left to play. No time to play fast and loose, not against Hershey.

They reigned it in. No more penalties in the period which was nice. They outshot Hershey 15-3.

Second Period: No scoring. Shots 9-9. Physicality picked up huge. POens had a power play but couldn’t get it to click. Jamie Devane and Kale Kessy fought to a draw.

Third Period: Hershey unloaded three offense but again, the Penguins and more importantly Nappier withstood the charge.

Pheonix Copley with larceny on Valtteri Puustinen, then again in a scrum. After getting beat twice in a :31 span in the first, he really settled in and locked on.

Jonathan Gruden would get tripped pursing a puck through the neutral zone with Hershey’s net empty, and Radim Zohrona would hit an empty net for a power play goal which made it 3-0 and finally iced it away.

Three Stars: 3) P.O. Joseph (two assists) 2) Will Reilly (goal) 1) Tommy Nappier (23 saves)

The Good: Nappier was dialed in and the Penguins defense made some of the saves easy for him. A chance to close out your biggest rival Sunday evening.

The Bad: Can’t think of anything. About as perfect as they drew it up.

Turning Point: Really hard to say that the second goal by Nylander all the way back at 9:05 of the first period is a turning point, but with Hershey’s arid offense of late, it really made it difficult for the Bears to get back into it.

Video Highlights: 

Game 2 is Sunday at 5:05 from Hershey. More after that game.

Let’s Go Pens!

Penguins / Bears Series Snap


Two rivals going after it in the First Round of the Calder Cup Playoffs is a tale as old as time, as the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears write another chapter in their story when the best of three series kicks off Friday night in Wilkes-Barre.

I don’t know if you pay attention to anything that the AHL puts out on social media, but they have been posting infographics, so instead of me typing out a schedule, here it is in visual form. Click the image to enlarge if you can’t see it all the way on whatever device you are taking in this blog from:

And the infographics, which have ALL the good stuff:

It will be Tommy Nappier in net for the Penguins, backed up by Samuel Harvey, who the Penguins signed from the Fort Wayne Komets this week after Casey DeSmith left Game 1 of in the series with the New York Rangers. Alex D’Orio went up Wednesday to back up Louis Domingue, who started Game 2.

Much quieter for the Hershey Bears, who get the services of Joe Snively on a conditioning loan for the first round only. It’s bending the rules, as Snively wasn’t on a the roster at he trade deadline for the Bears, it’s a loophole that Washington / Hershey exposed that anyone can. It’s smart business.

What the Penguins need to do to beat the Bears: Stay out of the penalty box, defend home ice, punish their forwards, don’t take risks defensively. The Penguins were a hot team on home ice down the stretch. Don’t let Hershey’s power play numbers fool you. There are going to be penalties, that’s a fact of life, so minimize the stupid stick fouls, keep cool post whistle and don’t beat yourself.

What the Bears need to do to beat the Penguins: Get to Nappier with a ton of shots. There is no viable backup, as Wilkes-Barre is thin without Louis Domingue. Just pump shots, wear down the Penguins defense, get the crowd out of it early and get your forwards rolling.

X-factor for Wilkes-Barre: Filip Hallander. A rising tide floats all boats. Get Hallander going and you get Poulin going. Get Poulin going and you get Valtterti Puustinen going. It trickles down from there.

X-factor for Hershey: Bears leading scorer Mike Vecchione. You are probably going to see a line of Vecchione, Garrett Pilon and Joe Snively at some point during this series, if not right out of the gate on Friday.

This all said, it may be a defensive struggle.

What are they saying: If they you mean I, I like the Penguins in three. It’s not going to be easy. Probably won’t finish in a sweep after a tumultuous week of transactions and it’s going to be edge of your seat action from bell to bell. Don’t expect a 6-4 result. Expect 2-1 or lower. That favors the Penguins. That means Nappier is dialed in and shots aren’t getting through. But, the longer this goes, especially when you are in an overtime situation, one shot ends your season.

Who is running the show? Game 1 crew is Cody Beach and Jeremy Tufts with Mitchell Hunt and Patrick Dapuzzo on the lines. In Game 2, Beau Halkidis and Jim Curtin get the assignment with Jud Ritter and Jon Rey on the lines.

More later after Game 1.

2022 Calder Cup Playoffs Preview

Time to herd cats, or in this case, predict the unpredictable. Time for the Calder Cup Playoff Preview, my look at each series from the first round play-in games to the Calder Cup Finals.

Now, I expect these to be very wrong, but give a strong case for each on why they could be very right.

Twenty-three teams qualified for the postseason. Eight did not. Let’s pour one out for the Iowa Wild, Grand Rapids Griffins, San Jose Barracuda, Tucson Roadrunners, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Hartford Wolf Pack, Cleveland Monsters and the Toronto Marlies. Better luck next year, guys. Enjoy the tranquility of the postseason and we will see you in October.

Your formats are as follows, the first round is a best of three. The division semis and finals are best of five. The Conference Finals and Calder Cup Finals are best of seven. Here’s a handy graphic from the folks at the AHL.com:

Alright, enough bloviating, let’s do this, starting in familiar territory.

Atlantic Division

First Round Byes: Charlotte and Springfield

First Round, best of three.

(3) Providence vs. (6) Bridgeport: Starting off with the first upset. The Bruins were hot and cold all season long. They are missing key pieces in a series which starts Monday. Chris Terry and either goaltender Jakub Skarek or Corey Schneider are the X factors for the Islanders, who advance in three.

(4) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton vs. (5) Hershey: Expect a war and two games that go into overtime. Hershey’s inconsistency at the end of the season bleeds over to the playoffs. Penguins steal the series in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Charlotte vs. (6) Bridgeport: Islanders luck runs out, but they take the Checkers the distance. Charlotte survives a real scare in five.

(2) Springfield vs. (4) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton: Another series which likely goes the distance, Springfield was good, but inconsistent through the regular season and should have won the division running away. The Penguins know how to beat the Thunderbirds and do so in five.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Charlotte vs. (4) Wilkes-Barre / Scranton: Charlotte’s guns, their success on the power play which wasn’t on full display the series earlier against Bridgeport, finally kick it into gear and they dispatch the Penguins in four.

Central Division

First Round Byes: Chicago, Manitoba, Milwaukee

First Round, best of three.

(4) Rockford vs. (5) Texas: Pesky Stars give the IceHogs all they can handle and advance in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Chicago vs. (5) Texas: Cinderella meets midnight and the Wolves, who were class of the Central for much of the season, dismiss their first victim in four.

(2) Manitoba vs. (3) Milwaukee: Moose played second fiddle to the Wolves for the entire season it seems, but are the only team in this division to advance in a sweep. Moose in three.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Chicago vs. (2) Manitoba: Here it is, a chance for the Moose to take down the Wolves and yet, as we have seen time and time again this season, Chicago always finds a way. Wolves in five.

Pacific Division

First Round Bye: Stockton

First Round, best of three.

(2) Ontario vs. (7) San Diego: San Diego finished with a sub-.500 record and is gifted a playoff spot because they were the best of the dregs in the Pacific. Ontario kept pace with Stockton for pretty much the entire season. No Cinderella’s in this forum here when you have a guy in your lineup in T.J. Tynan who scored close to 100 points this season. Ontario in two.

(3) Colorado vs. (6) Henderson: One of a handful of series which will all be played at one venue, this being the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado which is a raucous place to play to start with. Eagles were nearly 10 games over .500 at home while the Silver Knights were sub-.500 on the road. You know how this goes, Eagles in three.

(4) Bakersfield vs. (5) Abbotsford: Probably the most dead even matchup in the entire first round. Condors lost just 9 games in regulation at home all season. Another series being played all at one place. Give the edge to the real home team, Condors in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Stockton vs. (4) Bakersfield: You can make a case for an upset here for the Condors with the way that the Heat sputtered down the final few weeks of the season but that’s a risk I don’t take. The Condors win a game, if that, Heat in four.

(2) Ontario vs. (3) Colorado: Not the matchup the Reign wanted in the second round because the Eagles had the Reign’s number in the regular season. Eagles in five.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Stockton vs. (3) Colorado: The edge in a series like this where the team that is supposed to be here (Stockton) meets the team they weren’t expecting (Colorado) which beat the team they were expecting (Ontario) usually works out well for the team with the expectations coming into the series. Heat in five.

North Division

First Round Byes: Utica, Syracuse, Laval

First Round, best of three.

(4) Belleville vs. (5) Rochester: The expectations for the Americans is such that they shouldn’t have needed the final day of the regular season to qualify. However, people are going to learn quick to not bet against Belleville Head Coach Troy Mann. Senators in three.

Division Semi-Finals, best of five.

(1) Utica vs. (4) Belleville: Another one of those matchup problems for a team that ran the North wire-to-wire. Comets survive a real scare, probably come back from being on the brink down 2-1 in the series, but advance in five games.

(2) Syracuse vs. (3) Laval: I toss out matchups in a lot, but sometimes teams go on runs. I see it here with the Crunch, evidenced by the 8-2 stretch they used to close out the regular season. Syracuse in four.

Division Finals, best of five.

(1) Utica vs. (2) Syracuse: Ah yes, two teams and fan bases who hate each other. Utica owned the Crunch in the regular season, but the Crunch take the Comets to the limit in probably the most entertaining series of the entire playoffs, but Utica survives. Comets in five.

Eastern Conference Finals, best of seven.

(1) Utica vs. (1) Charlotte: Comets will have home ice since they won the Conference running away. Intriguing matchup here. Utica went 3-0-1 against the Checkers this year. But, the Checkers are fairly fresh and rested whereas the Comets have scars from the exposition that the Senators displayed in the semis and the war from Syracuse in the division finals. Charlotte in six.

Western Conference Finals, best of seven.

(1) Chicago vs. (1) Stockton: The only scare Chicago faces is already behind them in the series with the Moose. Stockton makes a couple games close, but go out quickly and Chicago advances in six.

Calder Cup Finals, best of seven.

(1) Chicago vs. (1) Charlotte: After two years of season and postseason cancellations due to COVID, am I really forecasting a Calder Cup Finals rematch from the last time there was a Calder Cup Final? I guess I am, only this time, it’s the Wolves who are the victors. Sometimes the best team in the regular season stays that way and remain the best team in the postseason. Wolves in five.

That’s how I see it playing out this year. All chalk, a couple scares, a few sweeps, not many upsets. The action gets going Monday. If you have a team in it, enjoy the ride.

Regular Season Finale — Pens LOSE 3-0

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I had this to say after the second period of this 3-0 Penguins loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the regular season finale Saturday night.

A dud of a game, but when you are resting regulars and cemented into a seed and already know your opponent, who oh by the way didn’t play this weekend and are resting at home, you get these types of results.

They got scored on :28 into the first period when Linus Sandin scored after a blitzkrieg by the Phantoms to start. They settled in after that but couldn’t find a goal.

In the second, it was good for a bit, but workhorse goalie Felix Sandstom held them out and then Cal O’Reilly scored a power play goal that really made it seem like the game was out of reach then Isaac Ratcliffe split Colin Swoyer and Niclas Almari and scored right down Main Street to make it 3-0.

Not a lot of help for Alex D’Orio, who started for the Penguins in goal. Joel Blomqvist was released from his ATO and went back to Finland. He has to complete mandatory military service and probably will be back next year at this time. So it’s a tandem of Tommy Nappier from The Ohio State University and Alex D’Orio.

Nothing of significance happened in the third period. For posterity, here is how they lined up:

Note: Drew O’Connor was recalled by Pittsburgh about two hours before the game started.

Three Stars: 3) Isaac Ratcliffe (goal, assist) 2) Cal O’Reilly (goal, assist) 1) Felix Sandstrom (26 saves)

The Good: Relatively unscathed in these two meaningless games. Bring on Hershey.

The Bad: Niclas Almari still hasn’t changed. But that’s nitpicking a warm body in a meaningless hockey game for the Penguins.

Turning Point: The O’Reilly power play goal put it away for the Phantoms.

I’ll have a Calder Cup Playoff Preview this week, likely before the first round of playoff games which will be sometime during the week, out for you. I will pick each game, each round, and an eventual champion. I’ll probably be very wrong, but read it anyway.

Let’s Go Pens!

Playing Out the String — Pens LOSE 4-1

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These are house money games. Meaningless when you are cemented into the four seed and you already know your fate, the idea with the final two games of the regular season is simple, don’t get hurt.

It’s deeper than that sure, but going 5/5 on the power play while losing your top two players to injury in a 7-1 blowout doesn’t do you any favors.

The Pens better hope they don;’t run into Syracuse again this season. I have the feeling that the Crunch are going to be a tough out in this Calder Cup Playoffs and good luck to the rest of the teams in the North Division that have to run up on this side. It very well may be Syracuse that comes out of the North in the Conference Finals.

Maybe, Utica led that division wire to wire, but that’s for next weeks Playoff Preview.

Pens lose 4-1. No one got hurt, so it’s a loss in the books but a win anyway.

Tommy Nappier opposed Max Lagace.

Lines were…

Lineup Notes: Color me shocked that they went with Nappier in goal, but perhaps he wanted to stay sharp against live fire vs. sitting at home this weekend. Clayton Phillips and Ty Glover made their pro debuts, Niclas Almari’s first game since December 14.

First Period: Droned on in bits, but Remi Elie found some space and opened the scoring past halfway to put the Crunch up 1-0.

Pens had the only crack on a power play which had some good looks but lacked finish. Where have I seen this before?

Second Period: Radim Zohorna finally cracks the Lagace code and scores to tie the game at one.

But Syracuse answers right back on a 2-on-1 to go up 2-1.

That was Symon Ryfors taking a feed from Remi Elie.

Gabriel Dumont scores his 30th goal of the season with a pretty play.

Third Period: Pens had a crack at an early power play but couldn’t come up with anything. Syracuse had two cracks and had the same luck. Alex Green hit an empty netter with Tommy Nappier pulled.

Three Stars: 3) Max Lagace (20 saves) 2) Symon Ryfors (goal) 1) Remi Elie (goal, assist)

The Good: No one got hurt.

The Bad: Would like to see them beat Syracuse, but that’s discounting a Crunch team which still had the two seed in the North to play for.

Turning Point: The Dumont goal late in the second put an already out of reach game it seemed for the Penguins, that much further from their grasp.

They finish out the regular season in Allentown Saturday. The Penguins will kick off the Calder Cup Playoffs Friday at home against Hershey.

Weekend Preview – Play Your Kids

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins secured the number four seed in the Atlantic Division Sunday evening when their first round opponent in the Calder Cup Playoff, the Hershey Bears, were defeated by the Syracuse Crunch.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team which hovered at sixth place in the division for the majority of the season. The Penguins used home ice to their advantage and benefitted from other teams (Hartford for one, Hershey the other) stumbling to make their luck and finish fourth. With COVID related delays in mid-to-late December, the Penguins are one of a handful of teams finishing out the regular season this weekend.

Fourth place is a major accomplishment for a team bereft of a true finisher and a lineup which seemed to never set in night after night. Under the old format, the Penguins are still a playoff team, which you can feel good about.

The Setup

One in Syracuse and one in Lehigh Valley. Last week the Penguins went 1-2, but in that one game, a win in Providence, they methodically took down a Providence Bruins team 4-1 and with the win and help from out of town, secured a playoff spot. They lost in Springfield on Saturday and in Hartford on Sunday but again, with help from out of town, backed into the four seed and are locked in there.

So they are going to play out the string here and these next two games are in essence, meaningless from the standings perspective. Sure, you want to win them, but it’s vitally important to rest the key guys and make sure that no important player get hurt.

That’s why I think you see a lineup on both nights full of rookies and ATO guys.

Friday’s opponent Syracuse has locked up a playoff spot but are still jockeying with all the other teams not named Utica who have qualified for a playoff spot for positioning. They can finish either second or third.

Saturday’s opponent is Lehigh Valley, who will most likely finish last in the Atlantic and have nothing left to play for. Expect a lineup full of kids for the Phantoms as well.

Records

The Penguins are locked into the fourth seed in the Atlantic with a 35-31-4-4 record.

Syracuse is 40-25-7-2, and presently second in the North division.

Lehigh Valley is 28-32-10-5 and in last in the Atlantic Division.

Who is up, down, out?

Goaltender Louis Domingue is backing up Casey DeSmith in Pittsburgh. No one is up from Wheeling as the Nailers are in the Kelly Cup Playoffs other than goaltender Alex D’Orio. The injured players are D Taylor Fedun and G Filip Lindberg.

Who’s in Goal?

Tommy Nappier is your Game 1 starter against Hershey next weekend. You won’t see him this weekend. I would be shocked if he even travels with the team this week. Joel Blomqvist will get a game and Alex D’Orio will get the other. My guess is Blomqvist goes Friday and D’Orio goes Saturday.

For the opposition, it depends on what Syracuse is up to seeding wise and if they get locked in by Friday or not. If not, Max Lagace, who owns the Pens this year, will likely get the nod. For Lehigh Valley, you will probably see an ATO guy.

What can we learn about the Penguins this week?

Not much. There isn’t much to play for outside of whomever that gets the opportunity to play makes a positive first impression if it is his first professional game this weekend. A preview of 2022-23 coming attractions maybe? That’s all. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt. They want to be competitive.

Hey, whatever happened to the AHL Power Rankings?

I put too much time and effort into them and too few people cared to read them. I could put 45 minutes into the entire project of listing each team from 1-31, writing a blurb about each club, editing and formatting to only have 30 or fewer people check out the work. It’s been that way for a while, back when I used to list who each team played and who they play the following week with records. Way too much time put into something that people read less and less. It’s not worth it. Maybe I bring them back next year with a top ten, and if they are receptive enough start expanding them. After I stopped writing about them, no one asked, so I take that as no one noticed and no one cared.

Who is running the show?

Carter Sandlak and Mike Sullivan have the assignment on Friday in Syracuse with Tory Carissimo and Peter Feola on the lines then on Saturday Katie Guay, who you may remember refereed the first game of the season against these same Phantoms back in October, has the duties with Beau Halkidis joined by Jud Ritter and Bill Lyons on the lines.

Looking Ahead…

Blog wise, I will probably do a playoff preview of the league’s action followed by a breakdown of Pens / Bears the following day with a prediction although that may change. I may just put together an entire preview with a Calder Cup prediction.

Give us a bold prediction…

Whoever I pick to win the Calder Cup probably won’t win it.

Home Sweet Home – Pens Clinch Fourth Place

Syracuse beat Hershey in the later game this Sunday afternoon 5-3 and this result gives the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton fourth place in the Atlantic Division and home ice over the aforementioned Bears.

There should be a schedule put out later tonight and I’ll run an edit with that schedule. The series is a best of three, so getting home ice advantage in said series is likely crucial in what is sure to be a razor thin, edge of your seat series.

EDIT: Schedule here.

Game on.