The NHL Pittsburgh Penguins season is rolling along, but their minor league affiliates are ready to come busting out of the gate as well. The AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins began their regular season on Saturday October 5th and are 3 games into the 76-game schedule. Their next game kicks off a 3-game weekend on Friday October 18th. The ECHL Wheeling Nailers just finished up their Pre-Season and begin their regular season this weekend with the home opener on Friday Octber 18th.
WBS Baby Pens
The Baby Pens had a less than stellar Pre-Season performance, relying on ECHL players and tryouts while waiting for their core to return from Training Camp in Pittsburgh. They managed to finish their 4 games 1-1-1-1, losing both road games while winning both home games. Both appearances against the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres) ended in OT, while both appearances against the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) ended in regulation.
Their regular season, however, is off to a much better start, with the Baby Pens going 3-0, just like Pittsburgh did. They currently sit at #1 in the East Division and tied for #3 in both the Eastern Conference and the AHL, with both the teams ahead of them only leading by 1 Point, having played 1 more game thus far. The Baby Pens have outscored their opponents 14-6, tied for the highest goal differential in the AHL. They have gone 5 for 22 on the PP, which at 22.7% puts them at #7 in the AHL, and have gone 14 for 16 on the PK, which at 87.5% puts them at #10 in the AHL.
Their lone goaltender thus far has been Jeff Deslauriers, making 66 saves on 72 shots against for a .917 Sv% and 2.01 GAA. With a 3 game weekend coming up he will likely be relieved by current backup goaltender Peter Mannino for one of the 3 games.
The scoring lead is currently shared by 3 forwards with 4 Points each. Chris Conner has 3 Goals, one of which was scored on the PP, and 1 Assist with a +1 Rating. Team Captain Tom Kostopoulos has 2 Goals, both scored on the PP, and 2 Assists with a +1 Rating. And Brian Gibbons has 1 Goal, scored shorthanded, and 3 Assists with a +3 Rating.
Another standout is Scott Harrington, who scored his first professional goal on his very first shot in his very first regular season game. This is even more impressive because last spring when he joined WBS after the London Knights finished up their Memorial Cup run he scored his first goal on his first shot in his first game. And Harrington isn't normally known for his offensive output, more often being used as a shutdown D. He is currently the 2nd highest scoring D, with his 1 goal, scored on the PP, and 1 Assist. His partner Brendan Mikkelson has the team lead with 3 Assists.
The current top D pair and shutdown unit is Phillip Samuelsson and Simon Despres, who currently lead the team with a +6 Rating, although just 1 lone assist so far for Despres. Working with Samuelsson is doing wonders for Despres, whereas last season he had a habit of overextending himself trying to make the flashy offensive play, and quickly found out that he wasn't quite the offensive dynamo at the NHL level, he is now focused on just playing responsible D in his own end of the ice, and it is great to see him improving again.
Brian Dumoulin, previously injured in Pittsburgh's Training Camp, missed the entire AHL Camp and the first game of the year, but has since been eased back in and played with Nick D`Agostino the past 2 games. Despite not putting up any points yet and merely netting a single shot on goal, Corey Pronman recently said "PIT's Dumoulin has been the most impressive player so far in this game" when he attended their match against the Syracuse Crunch last weekend.
Another impressive forward has been Jayson Megna, who currently leads the F's with a +4 Rating and has scored 1 shorthanded Goal and has 1 Assist thus far. He has found some excellent chemistry on a line with fellow speedsters Conner and Gibbons, and has been paired with Gibbons on the PK. It is a welcome change from his struggles last season, and its nice to see him picking up where he left off after a strong Camp.
The biggest disappointment thus far would be Paul Thompson, who played just 1 game before losing his spot in the lineup. Although almost equally disappointing is the man who replaced him, Adam Payerl. Payerl was the talk of the town back in July, but in Pittsburgh Training Camp he had a less than memorable appearance, and by the start of the season in WBS his line was split apart and when he did return for Game 2 it was merely to chip in as a grinding 4th liner.
Another disappointment is Reid McNeill who lost his roster spot to D`Agostino. McNeill played the 1st game partnered with D`Agostino, but when Dumoulin returned to the lineup there was only 1 spot left and McNeill lost the roster battle. And the blue line is going to get even more crowded when Peter Merth and Harrison Ruopp return to the lineup, as they are currently sidelined with injuries.
This weekend they are up against the Adirondack Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers) at home on Friday, and then a road trip to face the Worcester Sharks (San Jose Sharks) and Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings) on Saturday and Sunday.
The Nailers had a really rough Pre-Season, going 0-3-1, but they look to start strong at home against the Elmira Jackals on Friday and then hit the road to face the Cincinnati Cyclones (Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers) on Saturday.