I borrowed (slightly altered) the title from Terry Pratchett. If you got the reference, kudos to you. But I figured it was a good time to break down the current state of the lower leagues as they battle through their post-seasons.
As you may well be aware, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are currently enmeshed in an uphill battle in Round 2 of the AHL playoffs. In Round 1, we manged to beat the Binghamton Senators in a 3-game sweep. The rest of the Eastern Conference was a hard fought battle, and we didn't find out who our 2nd Round opponent would be until 2 days before the next series began, though it gave our guys a week long break.
The 2nd Round against the Providence Bruins started out really bad with 2 away games, losing Game 1 8-5 and losing Game 2 4-2, with Jeff Zatkoff giving up 12 goals in just 4 periods of hockey. Remember, this is the same Zatkoff that finished the season with the league's best GAA and won the Best Goaltending Duo award. Brad Thiessen took over in the 2nd period of Game 2 and held them scoreless for the remainder, but the team was unable to bounce back and Zatkoff notched another L.
Game 3 rolled around, back home in WBS, and they chose to go with Thiessen. He played well enough, but the game went back and forth all night, with the score tied 1-1 after 60. Unfortunately, a tricky goal mere seconds into OT and the Pens lost 2-1, trailing the series 3 games to none. At this point, winning the round became nearly impossible, but they were not willing to call it quits yet.
But the final two home games, the Pens bounced back, and they bounced back hard. Game 4 last night the Pens walked away winning 3-1, and then kicked it up a notch and won Game 5 tonight 4-0. They head back to Providence to finish the series with Game 6 on Monday and hopefully Game 7 on Wednesday. The odds are certainly against them, very few teams have ever accomplished a comeback when trailing the series 3 games to none: 1942 Maple Leafs over Red Wings, 1975 Islanders over Penguins, and 2010 Flyers over Bruins in the NHL and 2004 Red Sox over Yankees in the MLB.
So far Thiessen is the star of the series, only allowing 3 Goals in 11 periods of play and stopping 97 of 100 Shots, giving him a 0.82 GAA and a .970 Save % so far, with 2 Wins (1 Shutout) and 1 Over Time Loss. Add in his Game 3 victory in the 1st round of the playoffs, and Thiessen currently leads all AHL playoff goalies with a 1.08 GAA and a .959 Save %. If anybody can manage a miraculous comeback to take the series, it is him.
Unfortunately, he can be a bit streaky. When he is on his game, he is one of the best goalies in the AHL (as shown 2 seasons ago when he made the All-Star team and walked away with awards as both the AHL's Top Goaltender and the AHL's Best Goaltending Duo). But when he is off his game, he struggles, as he did last year. Even during the regular season, he was on fire in January, winning Goaltender of the Month, but at other points in the season struggled and finished with fairly average stats. Even last year in the NHL he was up and down, with two great performances followed by a sub-par performance and then an awful one (3 W, 1 L), finishing strong by allowing no goals in his final showing relieving Fleury to finish a 3rd period. So lets hope his hot streak can hold out for the next 2 games, and the Pens can do what few teams have ever been able to accomplish and move on to the 3rd Round.
Of the skaters, currently Chad Kolarik leads the team with 4 Goals, while Brian Gibbons, Riley Holzapfel, Paul Thompson, and Warren Peters (Alternate Captain) have 3 Goals each. Next is Chris Collins with 2 Goals in 7 Games and then Trevor Smith (Alternate Captain) with 2 Goals in 8 Games. Finally is Brian Dumoulin (the lone D goal scorer), Jayson Megna, Zach Sill, and Adam Payerl.
Kolarik, Gibbons, Holzapfel, and Smith lead the team with 7 Points, followed by Thompson and Joey Mormina (#1 D and team Captain) with 6 Points. Dumoulin comes next with 5 Points, followed by Megna with 4 Points. Collins is next with 3 Points in 7 Games, while Peters and Sill have 3 Points in 8 Games. Then Payerl, Derek Nesbitt, and Philip Samuelsson with 2 Points. Finally Peter Merth and Cody Wild with 1 Point in 2 games and Dylan Reese (Alternate Captain currently out with injury) with 1 Point in 4 Games.
Holzapfel and Dumoulin lead the team with a +4 Rating (conveniently being #1 F and #1 D), followed by Reese with a +3. Merth, Peters, and Sill have a +2 and Kolarik has a +1. Wild, Smith, Payerl, and Samuelsson then come in with an even 0. Then Christiaan Minella, Dominik Uher, and Megna have a -1 and Collins, Mormina, and Nesbitt have a -2, and Gibbons and Thompson have a -3. Finally Bobby Farnham with a -4, Reid McNeill with a -5, and Alex Grant with a -6.
Special Team, Holzapfel, Kolarik, Gibbons, and Thompson each have 2 Power Play Goals, while Collins, Dumoulin, and Smith each have 1 Power Play Goal. Finally, Peters and Sill each have 1 Shorthanded Goal.
Outside of the AHL, we see the Canadian Hockey League is now in the midst of their Memorial Cup Finals.
The London Knights, with Penguins prospects Olli Maatta (Alternate Captain) and Scott Harrington (Captain and 1st team All-Star), and Tie Domi's son and one of the top prospects in the coming 2013 Draft Max Domi, represent the OHL. The picked up the J. Ross Robertson Cup for winning the OHL Championship, the Hamilton Spectator Trophy for best regular season record, the Wayne Gretzky Trophy for winning the Western Conference, and the Holody Trophy for winning the Midwest Division. Individually, Domi finished the season #8 in Goals (39) and Points (87) and #11 in +/- Rating (+33) in the OHL. In the playoffs, Domi was #5 in Goals (11), #2 in Points (32), and #9 in +/- Rating (+12) and Maatta was the #3 D in Points (14).
The Portland Winterhawks, with Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot and #1 Draft Prospect Seth Jones (1st Team All-Star), represent the WHL. They won the Ed Chynoweth Cup for winning the WHL Championship, the Scotty Munroe Memorial Trophy for best regular season record, as well as winning the Western Conference. Jones won the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year. Jones finished the regular season as #4 D (#1 Rookie D) in Points (56) and #7 in +/- Rating (+46) while Pouliot was #13 D in Points (45). During the playoffs, Pouliot was #8 (#1 D) in Points (20) and #19 in +/- Rating (+9) while Jones was #17 (#3 D, #2 Rookie, and #1 Rookie D) in Points (15) and #4 (#1 Rookie) in +/- Rating (+15).
The Halifax Mooseheads, with #2 and #3 Draft Prospects Nathan MacKinnon (2nd Team All-Star) and Jonathan Drouin (1st Team All-Star) and #1 Goalie prospect Zach Fucale (1st team All-Star), represent the QMJHL. They walked away with the President's Cup for winning the QMJHL Championship, the Jean Rougeau Trophy for the best regular season record, the Luc Robitaille Trophy for most regular season goals, the Robert Lebel Trophy for fewest Goals Against in the regular season, as well as winning the TELUS Maritimes Division. Drouin also won the Michel Briere Memorial Trophy for league MVP, the Guy Lafleur for playoff MVP, the Mike Bossy Trophy for Best Prospect, and the Paul Dumont Trophy for Personality of the Year. Drouin finished the season #7 in Goals (41), #2 in Points (105), and #2 in +/- Rating (+48) while MacKinnon was #8 in +/- Rating (+40). Fucale finished the regular season #2 in GAA (2.35) and #3 in Save % (.909). During the playoffs, Drouin was #4 in Goals (12), #1 in Points (35), and #2 in +/- Rating (+22) while MacKinnon was #5 in Goals (11), #2 in Points (33), and #4 in +/- Rating (+17). Fucale was the #1 GAA (2.02) and #3 Save % (.918).
The final team is the host, the Saskatoon Blades, with Brandon Sutter's cousin Luke Sutter (Alternate Captain and Winnipeg Jets prospect). So far we are 2 games into the Memorial Cup, with the London Knights defeating the Saskatoon Blades 3-2 and the Halifax Mooseheads beating the Portland Winterhawks 7-4. The Round Robin continues with 4 more games (each team plays the other 3 one time each) ending on Wednesday evening, with the playoff round going into Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So far MacKinnon leads the way with 3 Goals, 4 Points, and a +4 Rating and Pouliot is #2 (#1 D) with 3 Points. Drouin and Jones have 1 Goal each while Harrington has 1 Assist. Fucale is the #2 Goalie with a 4.00 GAA and a .902 Save %.