Minor Distractions - All Tied Up

Derek Leung

The fight is on as we continue our playoff push, bouncing back from what looked like a quick exit to make it a series to watch.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have turned things around and are now standing on solid ground in the 2014 NHL Playoffs as they look to close out the 2nd round this weekend. Their minor league affiliates are following suit as they have bounced back from adversity in order to push for a comeback. This organization is certainly entertaining to watch.

AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

The Baby Pens ended up taking Round 1 against the Binghamton Senators 3 games to 1. It was an incredibly hard fought series, with the first 3 games all ending in overtime. In fact, following in their parent club's footsteps they went up 3-1 in Game 2 only to fall apart at the end and lose 4-3 in OT. It was like deja vu, but they were able to bounce back and even won Game 4 in a dominant fashion.

They finished the series leading goals 14-9 and outshooting the BSens 120-106, while going 3 for 22 on the PP with 1 shorthanded goal against and going 8 for 12 on the PK with 1 shorthanded goal for. Special teams was a big weakness for the Pens in that series, as they are currently #11 with a 13.6 PP% and #16 with a 66.7 PK%. However they are still fairly solid overall as they are #4 at 3.50 GF per game and #6 at 2.25 GA per game.

The 2nd round begins Friday and Saturday evening at home against the Providence Bruins followed by the road swing next week with Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 4 on Friday. The series looks to be a rough one as both teams still remember their meeting last year when the Baby Pens battled back from a 3 game deficit to win the series in 7. The PBruins are looking for revenge while the Baby Pens are looking for a 2nd consecutive Conference Finals appearance.

WBS and Providence faced each other 4 times this season, with the Pens going 1-2-0-1 while getting outscored 10-12 and outshot 111-113. They also lost the special teams battle, going 0 for 13 on the PP in those 4 games and going 14 for 18 on the PK for a 77.8 PK%. Fortunately though the regular season results have no bearing on the playoff match up, and  we are looking at the Baby Pens to turn the tide and win the series. So far in the playoffs the PBruins are just slightly ahead of WBS at 3.60 GF per game while being worse defensively at 2.60 GA per game. Fortunately their special teams aren't much better than the Baby Pens' either, as they have a 17.4 PP% and 73.7 PK%.

The good news for WBS is that Anton Zlobin has resumed practicing with the team and is expected to rejoin the team this weekend, and their offense was bolstered by the return of Jayson Megna from the NHL. However, Andrew Ebbett is currently day-to-day and may not be available to start the series. If he is unavailable it will resolve the veteran issue and Spencer Machachek can find himself back in the lineup, but Ebbett has been pretty much the best player, so losing him would be huge. But unexpectedly positive news is that Philip Samuelsson has started skating again and they will evaluate him for a possible return to the lineup next week.

ECHL Wheeling Nailers

The Nailers got off to a rough start in Round 2 against the Greenville Road Warriors, getting blown away in Game 1 and then following the Pens' lead in Game 2 by going up 3-1 and allowing them to come back and end up losing it in OT. So at that point it looked like it was going to be a quick series, but they battled back on the road to tie it up by winning Game 3 in OT and Game 4 in regulation. They finish the road trip with Game 5 Friday evening before coming back to Wheeling for Game 6 on Monday.

So far through 4 games the Nailers are getting outscored 12-15 and outshot 159-162, but they have a decently impressive 4 for 15 PP at 26.7% and 11 for 14 PK at 78.6%. If they can keep doing what they have been doing they should be able to pull off the series, and the return of Cody Sylvester from injury is certainly a nice boost.

WHL Playoff Finals

That is another series that looked like it was going to be over rather quickly as the Portland Winterhawks took the first two games at home, but then when they traveled on the road the Edmonton Oil Kings battled back to win Game 3 and a shutout in Game 4 to tie the series. They are back in Portland for Game 5 on Friday evening before heading back to Edmonton for Game 6 on Sunday. I don't even know who I am rooting for at this point as we have a match up between Pens prospects Derrick Pouliot and Tristan Jarry.

So far Portland leads the overall Goals 10-8 but are getting outshot 121-137. The most astonishing thing is that Edmonton has been able to contain their high powered PP unit, which has gone just 1 for 16 so far this series for a 6.3 PP%. However, the Portland PK is holding strong at 16 for 18 at a 88.9 PK%. This could very well go to 7 games, with the winner going either way.

Pouliot so far in the series has 3 Assists and is a -1, which is quite uncharacteristic for him as he had been scoring well over a point per game prior to running into Jarry and the Oil Kings defense. Jarry through 4 games has given up 10 goals for a 2.55 GAA and stopped 121 of 131 shots for a .924 Sv%, which is actually just slightly below his previous performance before running up against the potent Portland offense. Whoever winds up winning should have a really good shot in the Memorial Cup.

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