Minor Distractions - January Week 2

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Another rough week for injuries in the NHL saw the AHL roster being cannibalized in order to find replacements, but the team continues to progress towards a relatively healthy lineup and the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the ECHL Wheeling Nailers both get some unexpected relief.

The Pittsburgh Penguins do not play again until Monday and decided to take the next two days off from practice in order for guys to rest their bumps and bruises. This was the perfect opportunity for them to send some much needed support back down to the WIlkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in time for their weekend road trip.

WBS Baby Pens

The Baby Pens saw the return of center Nick Drazenovic and rugged 4th line wing Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, in addition to the unexpected return of defenseman  Simon Despres. Despres' situation has now been discussed rather fervently, with some suggestion to indicate that the coaching staff may be unhappy with his progress and looking for a trade. However, the timing of the move is more suggestive of the fact that the blue line is nearly back at full health and that there was simply no place in the lineup for a 9th D. Of course what becomes of Despres in the short term is also uncertain.

One school of though suggests that, being there is no guarantee Despres will remain with the team for the remainder of the season, they should maintain the current chemistry established with the shutdown pair of Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson and the 2nd D pair of Brendan Mikkelson and Scott Harrington. That would leave Despres a spot on the 3rd pair to help the young and inexperienced D such as Reid McNeill, Nick D`Agostino, and Harrison Ruopp. That is what happened to Dumoulin at the start of the season, since he had missed out on Camp and the opener due to injury they had already had an established Top 4 and he got slotted into the 3rd pair for a while. It is a lot harder to wrest a spot from a tenured player than it is to win a battle for an open spot, and it might be best to look at the long term and establish chemistry with the Top 4 that they know will still be here for the long run.

Of course the other school of thought suggests they slot him into the Top 4 and bump somebody else down the lineup. They had done this just prior to the NHL call-ups when they shook up the roster and moved Dumoulin back to his rightful place on the Top 4. In doing so they kept the shutdown pair of Despres-Samuelsson that they had used at the start of the season and brought back together the Dumoulin-Harrington combo they had used in Pittsburgh during the summer. That left Mikkelson down on the 3rd pair serving as a mentor for the young and inexperienced D that rotated in and out of the lineup. This would make sense if they expect to keep him in WBS the rest of the year, but if a trade is brewing it would be best to maintain what chemistry they already have.

We took a pretty in depth look at the AHL production in our post last week, and the Baby Pens only played 2 more games this weekend, so we don't need to go into as much detail this week. They won both their games over the weekend and now have a 22-11-1-3 record. They remain #2 in the East Division, but are now just 1 Point behind the leader while playing in 1 less game. They are #4 in the Eastern Conference and #6 in the entire AHL.

Jeff Deslauriers got the nod in both games, he has now started the past 3 games, 6 of the past 7 games, and 8 of the past 10 games, so he has clearly re-established himself as the starter. He managed to stop 47 of 51 for a .922 Sv% over the weekend.

As a team they managed to outscore their opponents 9-4 over the weekend, with Dumoulin, Anton Zlobin, and Tom Kostopoulos scoring 2 goals each while Harry Zolnierczyk, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Dominik Uher each had 1. Dumoulin tacked on another 2 Assists to lead the team with 4 Points. Kostopoulos added an Assist and tied with Harrington's 3 Assists to finish the weekend with 3 Points. Zolnierczyk added an Assist to his total as well, tying Zlobin at 2 Points for the weekend, as did Mikkelson, Samuelsson, and Drazenovic who had 2 Assists each. Joining Kuhnhackl and Uher at 1 Point were Zack Torquato and Mike Carman who had 1 Assist each.

The Baby Pens have a 3-game road trip coming up this weekend in which they face Providence on Friday at 7:05pm, travel to Portland on Saturday at 7:00pm, and then return to Providence again on Sunday at 3:05pm. After that they are off for a week and then return for another 3-game road trip next weekend.

Wheeling Nailers

The Nailers are currently 15-14-1-5 after a really rough stretch that has seen them lose 5 in a row, 8 of the past 9 games, and 12 of the past 13 games. They have fallen to #2 in the Atlantic Division, #10 in the Eastern Conference, and #15 in the entire ECHL. Its a really unfortunate turn of events for a team that had started the season off so strong, but with the organization getting healthy from the top down they should see some reinforcements soon and get back on track for the rest of the season.

The big news for the Nailers is that Peter Mannino, who had previously been suspended from the Pens for refusing to report to the ECHL when they sent him down and was reportedly contemplating retirement, has finally decided that he will in fact join the team. This gives the Nailers a solid one-two punch in net with Mannino and Montreal Canadiens G prospect Michael Condon. Condon has gone 10-7-0-4 so far this season with a 2.66 GAA and .915 Sv%. However, since returning from a month in the AHL this week he has lost 3 straight with a combined 4.93 GAA and .852 Sv%. Mannino's return couldn't have come at a better time.

They also saw the return of D Matt Grassi from the Hamilton Bulldogs, as well as the return of Barry Goers from WBS, although that transaction came at the expense of losing D`Agostino back to the AHL. This gives the team 9 healthy D and 11 healthy forwards on their active roster. Presumably as the forwards start to get healthy in Pittsburgh and we see call-ups return to WBS we will in turn see some of the guys returning to bolster the Wheeling lineup.

The top scoring D remains Mike Ratchuk with 7 Goals and 20 Points in 34 games. Afterward there is a steep dropoff in offensive skill as we have Paul Cianfrini with 1 Goal and 7 Points in 29 games, Dustin Stevenson with 6 Assists in 21 games, Goers with 1 Goal and 5 Points in 10 games, Grassi with 1 Goal and 5 Points in 24 games, Myles Harvey with 2 Goals and 4 Points in 18 games, Jake Arashenko with 4 Assists in 32 games, and Drew Schiestel with 1 Goal in 3 games. Peter Merth did not get any Points during his 2 games.

Other former D include Ruopp and D`Agostino who have since been called back to WBS, Gentry Zollars who was released from his contract and Ryley Miller who was suspended last week, and Ryan Blair who retired earlier this season.

Up front the active leading scorer is Sahir Gill with 8 Goals and 27 Points in 30 games. After him we have Max MacKay with 6 Goals and 16 Points in 23 games, Chaz Johnson with 5 Goals and 16 Points in 35 games, Jack Maclellan with 8 Goals and 11 Points in 19 games, and Jacob Lagace with 2 Goals and 5 Points in 9 games. Then we have Cody Sylvester with 5 Goals and 6 Points in 16 games, Tyler Fernandez with 5 Goals and 6 Points in 20 games, Colin Mulvey with 3 Goals and 5 Points in 15 games, and Shane Bakker with 1 Assist in 14 games. Alexandre Carrier remains scoreless after 5 games while Patrick McGrath has not scored in 22 games.

Formerly in the lineup were #1 scorer Torquato, #3 scorer Carter Rowney, Zlobin, and Denver Manderson who are currently playing in WBS, as well as Ben Duffy and Stephen MacAulay who got called up by Hamilton. Scott Zurevinski, Christiaan Minella, and Justin Smith are injured while Ryan Flanigan was traded away.

The Nailers have back to back games this weekend away at Greenville on Friday and Saturday at 7pm. The next play again on Monday and then have a 3-game weekend next week.

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