Penguins Hoping To Continue Strong Play
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have no intentions of coasting into the all-star break. Not with the Atlantic Division playoff picture as tight as it is.
With the Penguins on a wave of momentum from two straight victories, including Wednesday morning’s game in Bridgeport, they are hoping to keep the streak going tonight in Binghamton and put themselves in a good position for the home stretch of the AHL season.
“For us, especially, it’s a must win,” Penguins forward Jarrett Burton said Friday at the Toyota SportsPlex. “We’re right in the hunt here, and these games are really important. You can’t start your break early.”
The Penguins sit sixth in the division through Thursday; they are within five points of four teams ahead of them in the standings.
Tonight’s game is a good opportunity for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to empty the tank, though, because the team has four scheduled days off to begin next week. It’s a much more favorable situation than the Penguins have had of late, as Wednesday’s win completed a stretch of four games — all with different start times — in six days.
The Penguins have also dominated the Devils since the franchise moved to Binghamton, winning all seven contests between the two squads.
“We’ve let too many slip away earlier in the season,” head coach Clark Donatelli said, “so we want to build off these (last) couple games. It’s an out-of-division game, but it’s a tough place up there. We’ve got to take care of business.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s two wins this week were anchored by strong defensive play, as they allowed only one and two goals against Lehigh Valley and Bridgeport, respectively.
It’s likely not a coincidence that blueliners Chris Summers and Zach Trotman were back for both games after missing extensive time with injuries. With their veteran presence, the Penguins seemed to avoid some of the big-play mistakes that have cost them throughout the last month.
“I think every one of our defenssemen are capable,’ Burton said. “But obviously having those veteran guys, they just know how to play the simple game. I think that definitely helps, and it just brings a calmness to our lineup.”
The Penguins announced Friday afternoon they mutually agreed to release defenseman Will O’Neill from the AHL contract he signed in the offseason.
“Will has been a loyal player to the organization and an upstanding member of the community during his time with the Penguins,” team GM Bill Guerin said in a statement. “We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.”
O’Neill had eight assists in 28 games with the Penguins this season, but hadn’t skated in a game since Dec. 26. He was listed as an injury scratch last weekend.
With Trotman and Summers both back, the 30-year-old was likely to be buried on the depth chart because of his status as a league veteran.
The Massachusetts native had appeared in 102 games total with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, recording 58 points (8G-50A).
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When: 7:05 tonight
Where: Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena
Season series: The Penguins won the only previous meeting, 5-2, on Dec. 31 in Binghamton.
About the Devils: Through Thursday, Binghamton sat seventh in the North Division at 19-23-4-0 and had lost four games in a row. The Devils have allowed the second-most goals of any team in the AHL at 158, but NHL regular Cory Schneider (conditioning stint) and New Jersey’s breakout rookie Mackenzie Blackwood are both with the team. Forward John Quenneville has 10 goals in only 23 AHL games, and Michael McLeod leads the team with 26 points. Binghamton boasts the league’s worst power play at 13.6 percent and is also well below league average on the penalty kill (78.2 percent).