The Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a rough start in the 2014 NHL Playoffs this weekend, while their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins went out with a whimper as the end of the regular season saw them drop down the standings. However, the ECHL affiliate Wheeling Nailers are on a roll and looked thoroughly dominant this weekend.
AHL WBS Baby Pens
The Baby Pens finished the season with a 42-26-3-5 record, dropping to #2 in the East Division and #6 in the Eastern Conference heading into the 1st round of the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs. They finished the year with the #28 PP at 13.7% and the #12 PK at 83.1%. They were middle of the pack as one of 6 teams tied for the 11th most shorthanded goals against at 8, while the 14 shorthanded goals they scored themselves was the 2nd most in the league. They were #19 overall in Goals For, but finished the year with the #1 Goals Against. Overall the theme is that they have had exceptional defense and goaltending, but that the offensive output is somewhat lacking. Of course the constant stream of call-ups has a lot to do with their slightly lackluster scoring ability.
With the league's lowest GAA, the Baby Pens won the Harry "Hap" Holmes Memorial Award for the 2nd year in a row, and the 3rd time in the past 4 seasons. The award is given to the goaltenders on the team who have played at least 25 games, so officially Jeff Deslauriers and Eric Hartzell won the award. Despite the fact that Peter Mannino was a huge part of the reason why they won the award, he only played in 18 games so does not technically win it.
Due to losing the East Division title and then falling to the #6 seed, the Baby Pens wind up having to face their rival Binghamton Senators in the 1st round. The series kicks off this weekend with back to back games Friday and Saturday evening in Binghamton before heading back home and playing Game 3 next Wednesday. The AHL does things differently than we are used to in the NHL, as their 1st round is a best of 5 series.
With a playoff berth locked up, they used the final weekend as an opportunity to get playing time for lesser used players, particularly after losing the Division title to Bingo on Friday. Chris Conner spent the weekend playing on a 2-game conditioning stint before being returned to the NHL this morning. They also saw the return of Simon Despres, who had been called up to the NHL, and Brian Dumoulin, who had missed a couple games due to injury.
On Saturday, having lost out on their Division title, they decided to dress an ATO heavy lineup. Matthew Murray made his professional debut, stopping 23 of 25 for a .920 Sv%. Jean-Sebastien Dea and Scott Wilson also made their pro debut, while Josh Archibald played his 7th game and both Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust got their 2nd. They were shut out, but the young players looked solid nonetheless, giving us a good feeling about the team's offensive depth for next season.
ECHL Wheeling Nailers
Down in The Wheel everything is looking up. They won both games against the South Carolina Stingrays and are looking to make it a quick series as they come back home for the next 3 games. They play Wednesday and Friday night at home, plus Saturday at home if needed. Thus far they have gone 2 for 10 on the PP and 8 for 8 PK.
Montreal Canadiens prospect G Mike Condon continues to be the key to their success, recording a shutout in Game 1 and then holding on to win game 2 in OT. He currently leads all playoff goaltenders with a 0.92 GAA and a .967 Sv%.
They are seeing quality offensive contributions throughout their lineup, with 4 of 9 forwards netting 2 Points and all but 1 having at least 1 Point. Chaz Johnson has 2 Goals and a +2. Denver Manderson has 1 PP Goal, 1 PP Assist, and a +2. Sahir Gill and Max MacKay each have 1 Assist, 1 PP Assist, and a -1. Tom Kuhnhackl has 1 Goal and a +2. Christiaan Minella has 1 Goal and a -1. Shane Bakker and Tyler Fernandez each have 1 Assist and a +1. And then Patrick McGrath has no Points, but he is out there for his physical presence, not his offensive ability.
On D Mike Ratchuk has 1 Goal and 1 PP Assist. Jake Arashenko and Paul Cianfrini each have 1 Assist and a +1. Peter Merth has 1 Assist. And lastly Matt Grassi, Myles Harvey, and Dustin Stevenson each have no Points but are a +1.
The Penguins only have 2 players left playing in the Juniors this year, both in the WHL playoffs. Tristan Jarry and the Edmonton Oil are currently up 2 games to none over the Medicine Hat Tigers. Jarry is leading the league with a 1.82 GAA and is at #3 with a .934 Sv% thus far in the playoffs. Derrick Pouliot and the Portland Winterhawks have split their series 1-1 with the Kelonwa Rockets. Pouliot currently leads all WHL D with 20 Points in 11 games, and is even #3 D with 4 Goals. Amongst all skaters he is #2 in Assists and #8 in Points, or #3 in Points per Game, so still quite the dominant season from him. Both teams play again Tuesday and Wednesday, with Edmonton heading on the road and Portland looking to capitalize on their home ice.
Over in Europe, Oskar Sundqvist and Skelleftea AIK are currently up 3 games to none in the SHL Finals over Farjestad BK. Sundqvist has 4 Goals, 2 Assists, and a +5 . He moved up the depth chart, becoming the 8th best scorer on the team, and improved his faceoff ability, going 25 of 45 for a 55.6%, although he still mostly plays wing. Alexander Pechurski and the Metallurg Magnitogorsk are currently in the KHL Finals, tied 1-1 with Lev Praha. Pechurski only played 14 minutes of one game, during which time he allowed 2 Goals on 5 shots.