Four games in five nights? No problem.
The WBS Penguins seem back to perfect form and are now winner's of five straight, including two wins in Charlotte on back-to-back nights against the Checkers and a day off before back-to-back home wins against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Providence Bruins.
We are nearing the midpoint of the season and after 38 games the WBS Pens couldn't have dreamed for a better start. Their thrilling overtime victory over the AHL Bruins on Saturday was their 30th win of the season, putting them at 30-8 so far this season.
The standings look great in the division right now as second place Charlotte is 11 points behind the Pens with two more games played and the third place Hershey Bears trail the Pens by 13 points.
The Pens also have the Eastern Conference lead over Manchester by eight points with three games in hand and the overall league lead over the Western Conference leading Peoria Rivermen, the St. Louis Blues affiliate, by seven points.
After the jump, a look at the changing roster, the two players named to the AHL All Star Game on Jan. 30-31st in Hershey and a look ahead to this weekend's road trip.
All of the recent success comes with an ever depleting roster. The Penguins played the entire week without the services of forward Keven Veilleux (knee). They also lost forward Jesse Boulerice (suspension) and defenseman Brian Strait (head) while in Charlotte. And on Monday morning at WBS Penguins practice, a phone call to Head Coach John Hynes signaled an NHL promotion for the very deserving Dustin Jeffrey.
Jeffrey has been absolutely tearing up the AHL this season. In 35 games, he has posted 15 goals and 23 assists, and has easily been the team's best player thus far. He leads the team in total scoring (38), assists (23), shorthanded goals (5) and game winning goals (5).
Jeffrey is one of two WBS Penguins recently named to the AHL All Star Game at the end of the month, along with goaltender Brad Thiessen, who will serve as the Eastern Conference's starting goaltender
Thiessen is another big reason why the WBS Penguins have been hot right out of the gate. He's 17-3 on the season with a 2.06 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts on his stat sheet. His 17 wins leads all AHL goaltenders as well as surpasses his own win total from all of last season (14).
Consistent effort in goal between both Thiessen and John Curry (13-5, 2.35 GAA, .910 SV%, one shutout) and good play defensively needs continued success as well. Noone has given up less goals against than the Penguins so far this season and they have allowed one goal or less 14 times this season.
Though not against the most quality teams according to the standings, the Pens three games in three different cities road trip will be grueling.
The trip begins with a bus ride to play the Providence Bruins in a rematch of last Saturday's 2-1 overtime win. Bruins goalie Nolan Schaefer stole the show stopping 50 shots before Jeffrey was able to seal the deal for the Pens in overtime.
On Saturday the Pens will play the Adirondack Phantoms, another last place team in their respective division. After a dreadful start and a coaching change, however, the Phantoms are much improved. They are unbeaten in their last six games (4-0-0-2) and trying to climb out of the basement in the divison.
Then on Sunday the Pens will end their weekend road trip with a 3:00 p.m. game in Connecticut against the Whale. The Whale are 20-14-2-5 on the season and tied for second place in the division opposite of the Pens in the Eastern Conference. Expect a physical game on Sunday as the Whale lead all teams in penalty minutes with 962 through 41 games.
That's over a 100 minutes more than division rival Norfolk (858) and at just over 23 minutes of penalties a game, both Jesse Boulerice and continued failure on the powerplay (an organiztion-wide problem) could cause trouble for the Pens in their third game 68 hours.
With Boulerice out for nine more games serving his ten game suspension, the Pens recalled the Wheeling Nailers leading scorer Ben Street. Street along with Geoff Walker have been playing the role of 12th/13th forward because of the many bodies being shuffled in and out of the lineup.
Whether or not Jeffrey will be sent down before the team heads off for the weekend poses an interesting concern for the Pens. If Veilleux, who hasn't played since suffering a questionable hit in a Jan. 1st game against Norfolk, can't play the team will have to either dress seven defenseman or call up another forward from Wheeling.
Dressing extra defensemen might be difficult for the Pens considering two of the eight that practiced Monday were in red "no contact" jerseys.
Both Brian Strait (head) and Andrew Hutchinson (knee) were able to practice. I expect Strait's chances to return this weekend are greater than Hutchinson's, who hasn't played since mid December. I will try to get an update on all three of the injured players and Jeffrey's possible return when I go to the team's practice on Thursday.