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Minor Distractions - Playoff Optimism

With emotions running high in the Pittsburgh series, let's take a moment to calm down and look at some positive playoff success.

Kevin C. Cox

Over in the 2014 NHL Playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins are busy giving their fan base panic attacks as they perform their usual Cardiac Penguins routine. However, elsewhere in the organization things are looking up. That should instill us with confidence imagining what the Pens have available depth wise for future seasons.

ECHL Wheeling Nailers

In the ECHL, the Wheeling Nailers are off to an incredible start as they are currently up 3 games to none over the South Carolina Stingrays. The Nailers are the top defensive team in the playoffs, allowing just 2 Goals Against in 3 games so far. They currently have the #7 PP at 15.4% of 13 opportunities and the #2 PK at a perfect 100% on 11 attempts.

The biggest impact continues to be Montreal Canadiens goaltender prospect Mike Condon who leads the league with a 0.63 GAA, .980Sv%, and 2 shutouts. And did I mention he is a rookie? It remains to be seen how he will handle the adjustment to playing against tougher opposition in the NHL, but since he is not ours I'm happy just to get to see him helping out at the ECHL level.

While defensively the team has been dominant, they haven't been the most offensively capable, however what scoring they have seen is spread pretty evenly throughout the lineup. From a Pens perspective we have Christiaan Minella, tied for the team lead at 2 Goals as well as leading with 17 shots, and Denver Manderson who has 1 Goal and 1 Assist while leading the team with a +3 and being tied for 2nd in shots at 13. Both Minella and Manderson are on AHL contracts with the WBS Baby Pens. Pens prospect Tom Kuhnhackl is just a step further behind with 1 Goal and a +2 as well as 13 shots. Cody Sylvester remains sidelined recovering from surgery.

Then we have 2 D on AHL deals with the WBS Baby Pens who have 1 Assist each. Peter Merth also has 7 shots, tied for the lead amongst D, whilst Dustin Stevenson has a +2, tied for the lead amongst D.

The Nailers have another game at home Friday evening as they look to sweep the series.

AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

The Baby Pens open up the playoffs this weekend as they head on the road to face their rival Binghamton Senators. We got some updates this week from Jonathan Bombulie with a look at lines, injury updates, and other roster concerns. We also saw them start to trim the roster going into the playoffs, as this morning Matia Marcantuoni, Jean-Sebastien Dea, and Clark Seymour were released from their ATOs. Marcantuoni and Dea are still under contract with the NHL Pens and they will be back in the summer, although Seymour remains unsigned and it is uncertain what fate his future holds.

It appears as if the plan going into Game 1 is to keep riding the hot hand with Peter Mannino in net, while Matthew Murray will be serving as his backup. Quite the impressive leap for both goaltenders. Mannino went from injury to Wheeling, called up to fill in for an injury and then suspended after refusing to report to the ECHL, then back in action after a long break and earned a call back to the AHL where he became our best goalie. Murray played an amazing season as one of the top OHL goalies and then played well enough in the final WBS game to inspire confidence in his ability going forward. On the other end of the spectrum we has Jeff Deslauriers, who is currently injured, but whose recent performance hadn't really warranted much opportunity to reclaim his place in the lineup. Then we have Eric Hartzell, who hit a wall developmentally and has really struggled the past few months. Depending on how confident they feel with Murray, we could see Hartzell heading back to Wheeling, although with the way Condon is playing its not as if he would get any more opportunities down there.

On D the pairs appears to be Simon Despres with Reid McNeill, Scott Harrington with Brendan Mikkelson, and Brian Dumoulin with Barry Goers. Philip Samuelsson remains injured and has been ruled out for Round 1 at least. That leaves Nick D`Agostino and Harrison Ruopp as healthy scratches. It is a shame that Dumoulin can't seem to get a steady partner, and that he always finds himself on the 3rd pair mentoring the young inexperienced player of the day. However, even though he is 3rd pair on paper he still gets some hefty minutes, which again means inconsistency in his partner. However, Harrington and Mikkelson have been together most of the season, it is encouraging to see McNeill's climb up the depth chart as this year's Most Improved Player, and Goers earning a spot in the lineup after being signed from Wheeling.

Up front we have a potent offensive Top 6 featuring Andrew Ebbett with Anton Zlobin and Chuck Kobasew on one line, while Nick Drazenovic with Harry Zolnierczyk and Tom Kostopoulos makes up the other line. In recent weeks the Ebbett-Kobasew combination has been exceptionally effective, and we also see the return of the Tom, Nick, and Harry line that was so successful earlier this season. Spencer Machacek is set to be the veteran scratch for Game 1 and will swap into the Top 6 to replace another veteran from time to time. The Bottom 6 is much more defensively inclined, featuring Zach Sill with Dominik Uher and Adam Payerl, as well as Mike Carman with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and Bobby Farnham. Carter Rowney is assumed to be a healthy scratch and expected to slot in to fill in on the Bottom 6 from time to time. That 3rd line is interesting, perhaps it is something we could be seeing in Pittsburgh in the near future. The last line has been pretty much the most consistent combo this year, although I am still somewhat surprised to see PL3 dressing for the playoffs.

We also still have our college ATOs and while it is possible they could get a game here or there, for the moment they appear to just be getting experience practicing with the team. Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson are both on NHL deals and will be starting their pro careers in WBS and/or Wheeling next year, while Conor Sheary is signed onto an AHL contract with WBS for next season. Josh Archibald, however, still remains unsigned, although one has to assume he will be with the team next year, but I just don't have a reasonable explanation as to why they have not done so already. Overall though it is looking like WBS will have quite a solid lineup for next year, and Pittsburgh will have some solid forward depth coming along.