In the always weekend-heavy schedule of the minor leagues, the Wilkes-Barre Penguins played on Friday and Saturday of this past week for a second week of action. And like the first week, the WB/S Pens split the weekend with a win and a loss.
On Friday, they got the loss out of the way in Hartford. Here was the lineup. Sam Poulin missed the whole weekend with what is believed to be a minor injury. Andreas Johnsson is also missing, he has yet to make his season-debut in the AHL this year, dealing with what is believed to be a personal matter at the moment. The recently-waived Jansen Harkins hadn’t joined up with the team by Friday night, so there was no crunch of having too many veterans for one game.
How we’re lining up tonight in the Insurance Capital of the World pic.twitter.com/t1hfJVirur— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 20, 2023
The less said the better about this game. Wilkes fell 5-0, a final score inflated by two empty net goals.
Looking to rebound, the Penguins were ready on Saturday to finally have their home-opener after playing on the road to this point. Corey Andonovski was injured on Friday night and unavailable. Alex Nylander made way in the lineup due to the max. number of vets so that Harkins could get his first game with Wilkes, being used back at center as he typically has been in the minors.
The game went a lot better. Vinnie Hinostroza scored on a breakaway. Rem Pitlick added a goal and picked up an assist. Harkins iced the game with an empty net goal. Given the quality (and paychecks) of those names, all that investment from the organization is paying off to have all those top-AHL level players step up and fuel the team to a win.
Sam Houde, a player pushed to the side due to all the depth and only getting the opportunity to play his first AHL game of the season made the most of it with a two-assist night.
Even better, goalie and top NHL prospect Joel Blomqvist made 31 saves to earn his first career AHL win.
Happy First AHL Win, Bloomer pic.twitter.com/Cs1WjKAcR4— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 22, 2023
Here are the highlights of the game:
Interesting week ahead, the Penguins host their in-state rival Hershey Bears on Wednesday before getting to stay at home for a Saturday night rematch of the team that whooped them last week against Hartford.
A few news and notes for general NHL thoughts about where players currently are. Fortunes can change quickly in the minors, so what is here today doesn’t necessarily have to hold as the truth moving ahead tomorrow.
Radim Zohorna - Zohorna got the call that every player in Wilkes dreams of hearing this week to be brought up to the show.
Joel Blomqvist - the 21-year old goalie has been quality in two appearances this year. After a strong preseason, he’s continued to impress and keep the needle pointing up for what looks like a bright future.
Rem Pitlick - probably Wilkes’ best on Saturday. His relatively high cap hit ($1.1 million) means it will be difficult for the salary cap-strapped Pittsburgh team to make Pitlick fit into the NHL roster. But if he continues to showcase himself like he has been, it might force their hands to make enough complimentary moves to find a way to afford a player who has produced a decent amount of NHL points lately and showing AHL success.
Vinnie Hinostroza - with three points (1G+2A) in the first four games, Hinostroza is tied with Pitlick (identical 1-2-3 stat-line) for the top of the team. If an injury creates a need for an NHL forward in the near future, it wouldn’t be very difficult to imagine that it would be Hinostroza up next to Pittsburgh based on performance, form and salary that he’s carrying.
Mark Friedman - trended all the way out of the organization after a trade last week to Vancouver.
Sam Poulin - solely due to injury, Poulin needs to get healthy and get his season and career back on track. Still very early for his season, at least, but hopefully can return to full health ASAP.
Alex Nylander - could be a continued victim of veteran limits. Kyle Dubas talked him up, but Nylander hasn’t had a very smooth AHL season (zero points in two games, out of the lineup two games, has a plus/minus of -3 in two contests). At the moment isn’t showing to be anywhere near NHL quality.
Valtteri Puustinen - pointless in his first four games, team-worst -6 in the four games. For a player that has produced 42 points two seasons ago and then 59 points last year and in a critical contract year, doesn’t look like he’s getting to the NHL anytime soon.