• Elite Hockey Experience
 

The Beat Goes On

2020-12-24

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON - Last year was truly a high water mark year for the AHL Penguins. After missing the playoffs in the first five years of the EHE, they would finally qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs and go all the way to the Final, eventually falling to the Grand Rapids Griffins, but not before ousting the Hartford Wolf Pack, Charlotte Checkers, and Utica Comets, three teams who had better regular season records AND better rosters (ON PAPER)

There were some concerns that came up when looking at this year's roster, namely the loss of Colin Blackwell to waivers and Aaron Ness to the Ottawa Senators organization. Both of these players were major pieces of last year's Cup run, and it was going to be tough to replace them.

The jury is still out on whether the defensive group has recovered from losing Ness. While the group appears to be better defensively, so far only Dennis Gilbert, one of the many new faces on this team, has factored into the offense in multiple games. Many expected Rasmus Sandin to take a large step in the offensive department, yet he only has one assist to show for it. It should also be said that it is still very early in the season and reasonable expectations are that the defense will begin to factor into the offense more.

The forward group, despite losing key pieces like Blackwell and Chase De Leo, last year's trade deadline pickup, have appeared to remain at a high standard. Trade acquisition Matt Luff, a head scratcher for many at the time of arrival, has found instant chemistry with Trevor Moore (who recently became the WBS Penguins all time leading scorer) and Sam Lafferty (who spent all of training camp injured and didn't hit the ice until game one of the season). The trio has gotten off to a scorching hot start, combining for ten goals and thirteen assists through the first four games of the season. The WBS Penguins are also getting key contributions from last year's major players as well, such as Logan O'Connor, Kyle Rau, Christoffer Ehn, and Chris Mueller, who tested free agency but ultimately returned to WBS for a third season and the second as team captain. Expectations for players like Paul Thompson and Eric Robinson are high as well, and so far in Robinson's case those expectations haven't exactly been met, but as with Sandin on the blue line, we are four games into the regular season. There is still plenty of time to get on track for certain players. The team is also winning (3-1-0 to start) so the slow start from some players is less noticeable.

For the goaltending, many expected last year's AHL All Star Christopher Gibson (0-1-0) to man the nets once again, however it has been Hunter Miska (3-0-0) who has received a majority of the starts, and deservedly so, according to Head Coach Marco Sturm, who was quoted as saying he wants both goalies to get ample time to prove that they should be the starter. Sturm also hinted that Kirill Ustimenko would get some starts as well, though only in an injury situation or if there's a game on three consecutive days.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins appear to be right back where they left off last year. If the offense can remain as explosive as it has been, and if both goaltenders can prove themselves of being a #1 caliber goalie, safe to say the Penguins should be penciled in for a playoff spot and could even contend for the Calder Cup once again.