The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins begin their road trip in Western Canada tonight when they face the Abbotsford Heat at 10 p.m. EST.
Season Series: 2-0 Penguins
12/15 - 2-1 OT, Penguins
12/17 - 5-2, Penguins
After the jump, a look at both teams and what to expect in tonight's game.
Know Your Opponent: Abbotsford Heat
31-25-4-5, 5th place
Previous ten games: 5-3-2
The Abbotsford Heat are the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames.
The team got a big boost when Ales Kotalik cleared waivers and was sent to the Heat during the NHL's trading deadline. Kotalik, who has over 500 career NHL games with Buffalo, Edmonton, New York Rangers and the Flames, has been tearing up the AHL ranks. In 16 games Kotalik has 18 points (4G-14A) including the game winning goal in the Heat's most recent game.
Other than Kotalik, the Heat's offense has been sputtering. They currently have scored the least goals in the AHL's Western Conference, with their leading scorer having registered 18 goals. Former Penguin Ryan Stone is on Abbotsford's roster with eight goals and nine assists in 37 games.
The Heat are 3-1-1 in their last five games and need to continue to pick up points to stay alive in a rather tight playoff race in the Western Conference. In fifth place, they trail a guaranteed playoff spot by four points and are only five points back from division leading Manitoba, who the Penguins will play after two games against the Heat.
Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins
45-18-0-0, 1st place
Previous ten games: 6-4-0-0
The Pens are coming off a tough loss on Tuesday to the Connecticut Whale. They left for Western Canada for two games with the Heat and then two more games out west with the Manitoba Moose.
Brett Sterling has cooled off since returning from the NHL and is scoreless in his last three games with a -2 rating. Sterling needs to get back on track as the team's current leading scorer along with his linemates Tim Wallace and Joe Vitale. The Pens' newly formed line of Ryan Craig, Keven Veilleux and Geoff Walker have been the best forward line lately with three goals and four assists in the last 3 games between them.
After taking a big hit in last Sunday's game against Hershey, Carl Sneep was seen with his left arm wrapped up and was not in the lineup for Tuesday's game. Sneep didn't make the trip to Western Canada and was replaced by ECHL call up Jason DeSantis. DeSantis didn't look out of place during his last AHL visit but was a healthy scratch for Wheeling and had a team worst -20 before being recalled.
The Pens will need to settle in and play a full 60 minute game every night from here on out in order to be competitive. They will need to rely on strong defense, goaltending and pure effort if they want to bring back any points from their mid-March road trip.