The Pittsburgh Penguins may be in a holding pattern as they await the decision on a new General Manager, but down in the AHL the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins continue their push towards the Calder Cup. However, they fell into a hole after losing 3 straight against the St. John's IceCaps and are trying to stave off elimination as they currently trail the series 3 games to 2 and head back to Newfoundland for the final games. Game 6 is Tuesday at 6pm EST, and if they manage to get the W they finish up the series with Game 7 on Wednesday at 6pm EST.
The question then is what has gone wrong to put the Baby Pens on the brink of elimination?
One issue is that the injury bug is really starting to catch up to them. One of their top physical/shutdown D Reid McNeill has been out and unavailable for the entire series. One of their most important centers Nick Drazenovic has also been injured and has yet to play this series. And then we have solid Bottom 6 depth forward Dominik Uher who has been out since Game 2. Recently returned this past game is leading scorer Chuck Kobasew had been out since Game 1 of the series prior to coming back last night. And of course top line center Andrew Ebbett just came back last night after being out since late in the 1st round.
Of course those injuries do tie directly into their recent special team's struggles. As some of the team's top scorers, Kobasew, Ebbett, and Drazenovic are a big part of the Power Play, and both McNeill and Uher's loss is felt on the Penalty Kill. Even so, it doesn't really excuse the the complete breakdown on special teams this series.
Eastern Conference Finals
So far through 5 games against the St. John's IceCaps the Baby Pens have been outscored 9 to 13 while just barely leading shots 149 to 146. But those numbers fail to properly convey what has happened. For that we need to look at the special teams battle, and that hasn't been encouraging. So far the Baby Pens are 0 for 27 on the PP during this series. It is amazingly bad to average over 5 PP chances per game without being able to capitalize on it, especially considering the fact that 2 of their losses were 1 Goal games.
What is more, their usually stellar PK has gone just 22 for 28, a mere 78.6%. And all of those goals occurred during the past 3 games, in which they have gone 14 for 20 at 70.0% on the PK. You aren't going to be able to stay in the game, especially a close game like when they lost 2-1 in Game 4, when you are bleeding PP goals without scoring any of your own. They seriously need to figure out how to fix the special teams prior to Game 6 if they hope to complete the epic comeback.
So far through the playoffs the Baby Pens have started Peter Mannino in every single game. His overall numbers aren't the greatest, he is 9-7 with a 2.59 GAA and .902 Sv%. He is #8 in GAA and #14 in Sv% amongst playoff goaltenders so far this year, and by far the lowest of the remaining 4 teams. It is not all his fault, they have had some spectacular defensive breakdowns and a number of big PP goals, but unfortunately he hasn't been able to keep them in the game when they are breaking down at times.
His backup through all 16 games has been Matthew Murray, who got his first game action this past week when he stepped in as relief for the 3rd period of Game 3, during which he stopped all 8 shots he faced. Eric Hartzell has been the 3rd string goalie and has been scratched the entire playoffs, and Jeff Deslauriers has been injured and missed the entire playoffs.
Outside of Game 3 though, Mannino has not been the reason the Baby Pens are on the brink of elimination. In the other 4 games he has only allowed 2 Goals and had a Sv% above .930 in 3 of those, including the 2 losses. Take the Game 3 blowout out of the picture and we are looking at a 2.02 GAA and .930 Sv%. If he can continue playing at that level, and the rest of the team could kick their offense back in gear and fix their special teams issues they stand a very real chance of moving on to the Calder Cup.
The top D on the team, leading the team's D in Goals, Assists, Points, and Plus/Minus is Brian Dumoulin. At 3 Goals he is tied for #5 on the team and is tied for #2 amongst all D in the league. At 9 Assists he leads the entire team and is #2 amongst D and tied for #3 overall throughout the league. At 12 Points he is #2 on the team, while being #3 amongst D and tied for #9 overall throughout the league. And then at a +7 he is #2 on the team and tied for #8 overall throughout the league. 1 of his Goals and 3 of his Assists were scored on the PP, where he usually QBs the top unit. Unfortunately he has been on a bit of a cold streak, and has just 1 Point this series and over the past 7 games.
Behind him and slowly catching up in Simon Despres. He is tied for #4 D in the league with both 2 Goals and 7 Assists, and at 9 Points if tied for #5 amongst D, or tied for #9 overall in Assists. At a +6 he is tied for #12 overall in the league. 3 of his Assists were scored on the PP, and has recently been bumped to the top unit when they decided to switch to a 2 D configuration. And unlike Dumoulin he is actually on the upswing, as he had 5 Points in the past 6 games.
Somewhat less successful behind them is Brendan Mikkelson, who has 1 Goal, 5 Assists, and a -1. His lone Goal and 1 of his Assists were scored on the PP, where he has normally been playing as part of the 2nd unit. At 6 Points he is still tied for #11 amongst all D in the league, but he has been having a round series and is on a 5 game scoring drought and is a -4 against the IceCaps.
Next up is the currently injured shutdown D 1 Goal, 3 Assists, and a +2. The usually 3rd pair D Barry Goers is next in line with 2 Assists and a +1, with 1 of his Assists coming on the PP, but he goes through long dry spells and likely wouldn't be playing if everybody were healthy. Promising but inexperienced rookie Scott Harrington has just 1 Assist and an even 0, he has been having trouble of late and has since been dropped to the 3rd pair. Then we have another top flight shutdown D Philip Samuelsson who has just 1 Assist and is a -2, he hasn't quite gotten back on track after missing a good portion of the end of the season.
The rest of the depth D, Harrison Ruopp is the only one to play so far, and he had no Points and a -1 in his lone game last round. Nick D`Agostino has yet to play in the post-season, and both Peter Merth and Dustin Stevenson are members of the Black Aces practice squad, getting called up after the Wheeling Nailers season ended.
Leading the team in Goals, Points, and Plus/Minus and recently returned from injury is Kobasew. Coincidentally, they won both games that he played this series and lost the 3 that he missed out on. At 8 Goals he is tied for #2 in the league, and his 6 Assists are tied for #18 in the league, giving him 14 Points which is tied for #4 in the league, and finally his +9 is tied for #2 in the league. 2 of his Goals and 3 of his Assists were scored on the PP and 1 of his Assists was scored shorthanded, so his being injured could have a lot to do with the special team's struggles, as he is an integral part of their top unit.
The next most effective scorers are a pair of rookies. Conor Sheary has 6 Goals, 5 Assists, and a +5 while Anton Zlobin has 6 Goals, 4 Assists, and a +4. Amongst rookies they are tied for #3 in Goals while Sheary is tied for #2 in Points and Zlobin is tied for #5 in Points. Overall throughout the league they are tied for #6 in Goals with Sheary tied for #12 in Points and Zlobin tied for #15, and Sheary is amongst those tied for #17 in Plus/Minus. They each have 1 PP Goal while Zlobin also has 2 PP Assists. They both struggled a bit in trying to overcome the IceCaps with the more veteran forwards injured, but Sheary still has 3 Points in the past 5 games and Zlobin has 2 in 5.
The veteran Captain Tom Kostopoulos is next, he's got 4 Goals, 6 Assists, and an even 0. 2 of is Goals and 2 of his Assists were scored on the PP. He is tied for #18 in Goals, tied for #18 in Assists, and tied for #15 in Points. Harry Zolnierczyk is right up there with him at 3 Goals, 7 Assists, and a +1. He is tied for #9 in Assists and tied for #15 in Points.Another veteran in Spencer Machacek who has 1 Goal, 4 Assists, and a -2, however he is on a decent streak with Points in each of the past 2 games and 3 out of 5 this series.
The next in Points is top line center Ebbett who just recently returned to the lineup. He has just 2 Goals, 6 Assists, and a +5 but he managed that playing just 5 games, so on a per game basis he is above and beyond their most effective scorer. He is tied for #18 in Assists and tied for #17 in Plus/Minus. 2 of his Assists were scored on the PP and he scored the team's lone shorthanded Goal. So his return to the lineup is a huge deal, especially on special teams. The currently injured 2nd line center Drazenovic has 1 Goal, 3 Assists, and an even 0. His lone Goal and 2 of his Assists were scored on the PP, so once again we see a big reason why they have been having troubles at special teams.
Joining the team after Pittsburgh got eliminated is Brian Gibbons who has 1 Goal, 2 Assists, and a +2, but he hasn't had a Point in the past 3 games. Jayson Megna also has 1 Goal, 2 Assists, and is an even 0, but he is working on a 5 game drought as he has not managed to get on the board during this series. Then we have 4th line center Zach Sill who also has 1 Goal, 2 Assists, and an even 0, including the game winning goal last night. The three of them are extremely fast and more called upon to play a defensive role and are big parts of the PK, with Sill be especially skilled at faceoffs.
Mike Carman has been playing semi-regularly filling in for the injured centers playing a Bottom 6 role, but ends up scratched more often than not and has 1 Goal, 1 Assist, and a +5. At +5 he actually ends up being tied for #17 in the league. Joining him as a less skilled depth option is Adam Payerl who has 1 Goal, 1 Assist, and a +1, although when dressed he is on a 10 game scoring slump. Carter Rowney is another guy that occasionally fills in playing as a Bottom 6 center, and he has 2 Assists and a -4 while being held off the board in all 3 games he has played over the past 2 rounds.
Uher is usually a solid Bottom 6 option, but he is currently injured, however he only has 1 Goal and is a -1 while going trough an 8 game drought before getting hurt. Josh Archibald is primarily a member of the Black Aces, but he has played 2 games, scoring 1 PP goal in the 2nd round and a -1 in his lone game this series. Bobby Farnham is usually a 4th line fixture as an agitator, but he has no Points and an even 0 throughout the playoffs.
Bryan Rust is another member of the Black Aces who played just 1 game with no Points and an even 0. Then Tom Kuhnhackl recently came back up as a member of the Black Aces after Wheeling's season was over, playing 2 games with no Points and an even 0. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond is a 4th line enforcer and normally wouldn't be used in the playoffs, but with the injuries ended up playing 2 games, with no Points and an even 0. The remaining members of the Black Aces is Scott Wilson, who has not played in the post-season.