The Pittsburgh Penguins regular season came to a close this weekend, and they are set to face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening up the series at home this Wednesday and Saturday. The Wheeling Nailers regular season came to a close this weekend, and they are set to face off against the South Carolina Stingrays, opening up the series on the road this Friday and Saturday. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are still finishing up their regular season, with the last two games on Friday and Saturday set to determine their final seeding and who their opponent will be.
AHL WBS Baby Pens
The Baby Pens are now 42-24-3-5, sitting at #1 in the East Division and the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Depending on how the final games turn out they can finish anywhere between #3 and #7. They have a 1 point lead on the East Division title over the Binghamton Senators, who still have a game in hand, but they also face them this weekend, so the winner of that match up will likely cement themselves as the Division champion. Should they fall behind Binghamton, the Baby Pens are 3 points behind the St. John's IceCaps who have the #4 seed, and they hold a 3 point lead over both the Albany Devils and the Providence Bruins.
Tomas Vokoun played his first games of the season this weekend during his conditioning assignment and went 1-1-0 with a 2.41 GAA and a .891 Sv%. I wouldn't go ahead and pencil him in as the playoff starter, it was nice to see him getting to play again, but his performance didn't fill me with optimism for his chances of playing in the NHL this year.
He had a shaky start on Friday, allowing 2 Goals on 12 shots during the 1st period, but he got better as he worked the rust off and held out to take them to OT and win by stopping all 4 attempts in the shootout. Sunday was just the opposite, he started out strong, stopping the handful of attempts that made it through during the first two periods, but then they blew the lead by giving up 3 Goals in the 3rd period to lose the game.
Between the 1st period Friday and the 3rd period Sunday, Vokoun got beat on 5 of 25 shots, 3 of which were PP goals so he certainly isn't completely at fault there. However, in the 4 periods plus OT and SO in between he was perfect, stopping 25 shots that came his way. So there is a lot of rust, and he most certainly doesn't appear to be ready to play this year, but it is nice to see that the underlying skill is still there.
With the call-ups the the NHL to fill in for injured/resting players, and the playoffs locked up, the Baby Pens had the opportunity to use some of their ATO players and likely will continue to do so this weekend. Josh Archibald has now played in 6 games, although just one this weekend on Saturday, and he has been held scoreless in his last 4 appearances, still just 1 lone goal in the AHL. Matia Marcantuoni made his debut last night, and while he didn't get any points the comments suggested they really liked his hustle and were impressed with what he could do both with and without the puck. Bryan Rust likewise got 1 game in, playing on Friday. Conor Sheary had his lone game the previous weekend. Scott Wilson has dressed and taken warmups, but has yet to play, but chances are he will get a game this final weekend.
Vokoun went back up to Pittsburgh this morning after his rehab stay this weekend, and as such WBS recalled Eric Hartzell from the Nailers. Jeff Deslauriers is currently injured.
The top 2 defensemen Philip Samuelsson and Brian Dumoulin are also injured, while Simon Despres remains in Pittsburgh and might not get set back down at all.
Cody Sylvester was recalled from Wheeling while he recovers post-op from an appendectomy. But in positive news, the long awaited return of Zach Sill as he took the ice on Sunday. Harry Zolnierczyk and Chuck Kobasew were recalled to help the Pens by filling in while NHL regulars got some much needed time off, but there is no word as to whether or not they or Jayson Megna or even less likely Brian Gibbons will return to WBS for the playoffs.
They handed out Team Awards this weekend. Nick Drazenovic won the vote for the Media Award, Scott Harrington was named Rookie of the Year, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond won the Community Service Award, Samuelsson was named Most Valuable D, Reid McNeill was the Most Improved Player, Brendan Mikkelson won the Spirit and Dedication Award, Bobby Farnham won the Fan Favorite vote, and Tom Kostopoulos was named the Team MVP.
ECHL Wheeling Nailers
The Nailers finished the season 39-27-1-5 to fall in at #6 in the Eastern Conference. Their PP improved a good deal, jumping up to #10 at 16.3%, scorig 40 Goals on 245 attempts, and with just 7 Shorthanded Goals Against they were tied for the 8th best in that regard. The PK was a little more disappointing at #13 with a 84.5%, allowing 45 Goals on 291 attempts, but their 13 Shorthanded Goals For was tied for 3rd best. With 216 Goals For they finished #8 in the East and #11 in the ECHL, while their 196 Goals Against was #3 in the East and #6 in the ECHL.
The Nailers faced the South Carolina Stingrays just one time this season, a 3-0 shutout loss with a depleted roster including a veteran camp invitee with an inexperienced college freshman emergency backup. Interestingly, none of those goals came at 5-on-5, one was a Power Play, another was Shorthanded, and the final was an Empty Net. South Carolina is just #11 in the East for Goals For, and #16 in the ECHL, but they have the best Goals Against in the East and are #2 in the ECHL. They had the #5 PP at 17.4% and allowed just 4 Shorthanded Goals Against, 3rd lowest in the league. They also had the #10 PK at 84.6% and their 12 Shorthanded Goals For was 6th in the ECHL. So it is really hard to say what to expect from that series, although it would appear that special teams could certainly work against the Nailers.
The starting goaltender Mike Condon is Montreal Canadiens property, he went 23-12-0-4 with a 2.18 GAA, a .931 Sv%, and 6 shutouts in 39 games played. He finished #4 in Wins, #6 in GAA, #1 in Sv%, and #2 in shutouts throughout the entire ECHL. With Hartzell back in WBS, their backup is Vancouver Canucks prospect Keiran Millan who has a 2-2-0 record with a 1.75 GAA, .929 Sv%, and 1 shutout in 5 games played.
The top scoring D is Mike Ratchuk, whose 15 Goals leads all ECHL D and his 44 Points is good for #2 D in the league. The next best D is Dustin Stevenson who is #19 D in the East with 26 Points. Ratchuk's 6 PP Goals is good for #17 in the East while his 11 PP Assists are #15 in the East. Matt Grassi had 2 Shorthanded Assists for #15 in the ECHL and #9 in the East.
Up front the leading scorer is Sahir Gill whose 54 Points is good for #15 in the East and #5 amongst rookies, while just behind is Zack Torquato with 52 Points for #18 in the East. The next two highest scorers have been recalled to WBS, Carter Rowney with 44 Points is the #13 rookie while Cody Sylvester with 42 Points is the #16 rookie. Then we have Max MacKay whose 42 Points ties him with Sylvester, but with more games played he is actually the #19 rookie.
Sylvester also leads the team with 24 Goals, which is #16 in the ECHL, #12 in the East, and #3 amongst rookies. Gill leads the team with 41 Assists, which is #9 in the ECHL #4 in the East, and #3 amongst rookies. Torquato is right behind him at 38, which is #14 in the ECHL and #7 in the East. Torquato's 13 PP Assists are #13 in the ECHL and #6 in the East, while Gill's 12 PP Assists is #10 in the East. Sylvester's 4 SH Goals are #3 in the ECHL and #2 in the East, while Denver Manderson also had 4 in fewer games for #2 in the ECHL and #1 in the East. Gill's 4 SH Assists was the best in the entire ECHL, followed by Torquato whose 2 SH Assists were #20 in the ECHL and #13 in the East.