The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL), top minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, begin second round action tonight against the St. John's IceCaps. Here's the schedule for those interested in listening/watching:
Eastern Conference Semifinals - Series "J" (best-of-7)
2-St. John's IceCaps vs. 4-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 - Tue., May 1 - W-B/Scranton at St. John's, 6:00 ET
Game 2 - Wed., May 2 - W-B/Scranton at St. John's, 6:00 ET
Game 3 - Sat., May 5 - St. John's at W-B/Scranton, 7:05 ET
Game 4 - Sun., May 6 - St. John's at W-B/Scranton, 4:05 ET
*Game 5 - Tue., May 8 - St. John's at W-B/Scranton, 7:05 ET
*Game 6 - Fri., May 11 - W-B/Scranton at St. John's, 6:00 ET
*Game 7 - Sat., May 12 - W-B/Scranton at St. John's, 6:00 ET
UPDATE: You can watch tonight's game for free here. Game starts at 6 p.m. EST so if it says there's no video yet, you might be a little early. Let me know if it works! I'll have live tweets @H_P_Hockey
After the jump, a quick glance at the series breakdown I posted yesterday at Highland Park Hockey.On paper these two teams are pretty even in basically every statistical category. Looking more closely at each position with my thoughts and a prediction.
Pretty much even here. Brad Thiessen and Eddie Paquale both started all of their teams playoff games in Round One. Thiessen allowed 11 goals in five games. Pasquale surrendered 10 in four. Thiessen definitely has the edge in AHL playoff experience as this is Pasquale's first taste of playoff hockey at this level. Pasquale has a better save percentage but has faced many more shots than Thiessen.
ADVANTAGE: Pens. But only slightly. Thiessen's been in this position before. His experience can't go unnoticed.
Former WBS Penguin Jason DeSantis is on the blue line for the IceCaps this season and has played quite well as you saw above as one of the leading scorers of the team. Paul Potsma is also dangerous offensively for the IceCaps as well. The Pens counter with Alexandre Picard, Simon Despres and Alex Grant as the offensive minded blue liners.
Derek Meech missed most of the regular season but has proved to be a leader as well as a solid two-way defenseman for the IceCaps. Two knee injuries prevented him from playing, but is tied for the team lead in goals (3) and points (5) through the first round.
Defensively the IceCaps have Arturs Kulda, who was a part of Chicago's 2008 Calder Cup Champion run (they beat the WBS Penguins) and Brett Festerling, who brings five seasons of AHL experience to the rink. The Penguins shutdown guys have been Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo and Joey Mormina.
ADVANTAGE: I'll go with St. John's but it's pretty dead even. St. John's has better offensive defensemen in Meech/Potsma but the IceCaps defense allowed Syracuse to average 37 shots a game in the first round. Bortuzzo, Strait and Mormina have blocked a ton of shots as the Pens allowed an average of about 20 per game.
Both teams had a group effort offensively as the IceCaps leading scorer Spencer Machacek finished the regular season with 50 points. Their leading goal scorer Jason King, potted 22 in the regular season. For the Penguins, Ben Street led with 57 points. He and Bryan Lerg tied for the team lead in goals with 27 apiece.
The IceCaps forward core took a big hit when it lost captain Jason Jaffray for the rest of the season due to a neck injury. Adversely, the Penguins front 12 improved when power forward Eric Tangradi was re-assigned after Pittsburgh was eliminated in the NHL Playoffs. The IceCaps did get a boost at the end of the season from atrade deadline acquisition as Brock Trotter has been on the score sheet often in the first round. I have to admit I haven't watched a ton of IceCaps hockey this year but they don't seem to have those big name, star forwards like a Bourque or Potulny that the Pens saw in the first round.
ADVANTAGE: Penguins. Only one of the 13 regular forwards for WBS hasn't netted at least ten goals this season and that's Cal O'Reilly who has three in the last five games. The Penguins just have better matchups as they have the two 27 goal scorers Lerg and Street on different lines as well as Tangradi and O'Reilly on a separate third line. Too much depth for the IceCaps to defend.
Other Thoughts (OT):
These two teams are pretty evenly matched and are very similar in style and on paper. The IceCaps have the home ice advantage and have sold out every playoff game this season. The Penguins will need to win at least one game at the Mile One Centre in St. John's if they want to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the winner of the Norfolk/Connecticut series.
In the regular season meetings between these two teams, the road team actually won all four games. The Penguins won a pair in St. John's in back-to-back nights in January. Both goalies picked up a win. In Wilkes-Barre, the IceCaps beat the Penguins twice by scores of 5-2 and 2-0. Pasquale won both of those games, while Scott Munroe was tagged with the loss in both home meetings during the regular season.
If the Penguins are going to win, they will need the Brad Thiessen from Game Five and a solid defensive effort every shift. Offensively the Penguins will need to capitalize on their opportunities and ware down the IceCaps defense with an attacking fore check and relentless attack from all three of the scoring lines.
There are no bad teams in the playoffs in the second round. There are no easy outs. Both teams believe they can make a deep run into June. The IceCaps haven't played since Friday and never had their backs against the wall in Round One, beating what most called the dark horse team in the Syracuse Crunch. The Penguins just played a winner take all Game Five on Saturday, beating the 11-time champion Hershey Bears and their high flying offensive forwards.
Was the layover for the IceCaps significant enough that they might not be fully invested into Game One or show some signs of not playing playoff hockey? Have the Penguins, coming off a bug Game Five win in front of their home fans, peaked emotionally or have less in the tank for tomorrow night's game than a rested IceCaps squad?
If the Penguins can come back from St John's after Game Two with the home ice advantage, I like their chances. I just don't see the IceCaps shutting down all four forward lines.
Prediction: Penguins in six. Here's to hoping my predictions continue to prove true. I had the Pens in five last round.