March Grades: Defensemen & Goalies

Thursday, March 31, 2011
John Curry has started the last four games in net for the WBS Penguins.

The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins went 9-4-0-1 in March and largely because of how well the defense and goalies played. Each goalie got a shutout this month and as a team allowed just 29 goals in 14 games, just over two per game.

The penalty kill wasn't overly impressive this month. The Pens killed off penalties at just an 81.5% rate in March but the team dug deep when they needed to, most notably when they killed off a full two minute 5-on-3 power play against the Admirals last night.

Everyone knows the old saying "defense wins championships" and the Penguins are hoping that statement rings true for them this season. The team defense this year has been incredible. They have allowed 27 less goals than any team in their conference and boast arguably the best goalie tandem in the league with John Curry and Brad Thiessen manning the net night in and night out.

Now for my defenseman/goalie of the month award. It was a tough call between Andrew Hutchinson and Brad Thiessen. But the winner is Brad Thiessen and let me tell you why.

Brad Thiessen - Grade: A
Season Stats: 32-7-0-1, 1.88 GAA. 0.924 SV%, 7 SO

March Stats: 6-1-0-1, 1.81 GAA, 0.927 SV%, 1 SO

Thiessen appeared in eight games in March for the WBS Penguins and despite not playing in the last four games due to an NHL call up, he still won twice as many games as John Curry this month. His stats show just how consistent he has been all season. A definite candidate for the AHL's MVP award that will be announced on April 8th according to this article released by the AHL on the league's website.

Grades for the other goalie and the defensemen after the jump.

John Curry - Grade: B+
Season Stats: 21-13-0-0, 2.44 GAA,0.905 SV%, 2 SO
March Stats: 3-3-0-0, 2.17 GAA, 0.912 SV%, 1 SO

Despite his record in March, John Curry improved his numbers this month and added another shutout to his career in Wilkes-Barre. He picked up his 100th careeer AHL win Sunday over the Hershey Bears and still could challenge Brad Thiessen for the starting job come playoff time. Very capable starting goalie and WBS Penguins fans should be happy that they have two quality goalies to play any night of the week.
Corey Potter - Grade: B-
Season Stats: 70 games played, 4G, 27A, +22, 46 PIM
March Stats: 13 games played, 2G, 2A, -4, 4 PIM

Potter doubled his goal total for the season in March and stayed out of the penalty box this month, but his -4 for the month is questionable because it was the worst +/- on the entire team in March. He had a turnover that turned into a goal in last night's game and has had a few other defensive miscues. Potter needs to regain his confidence with the puck in his one zone and forget about a shaky March on the blue line.

Brain Strait - Grade: A-
Season Stats: 69 games played, 2G, 7A, +22, 47 PIM
March Stats: 14 games played, 0G, 1A, +6, 6 PIM

Brian Strait only recorded one point this month but that's more than okay for me. Strait has been a defensive shut down guy all year and paired with another good shut down guy in all-star defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Strait's +6 for the month of March led all blue liners. A surprising stat for this month is that despite Strait's lack of offensive production he registered more shots than all but two defenseman this month. Another solid month for Strait and it will be up to him and Bortuzzo to shut down the offensive stars on the teams come playoff time.

Andrew Hutchinson - Grade: A
Season Stats: 49 games played, 6G, 26A, +1, 27 PIM
March Stats: 14 games played, 2G, 9A, +5, 9 PIM

Hutchinson got off to a slow start after returning from his knee injury and I'm still not sure if he's at 100% right now but he silenced his critics with an 11 point performance this month. Eight of his 11 points came on the power play this month which, after getting off to a 6 for 52 start, finished the month going 7 for 22 in their last three games. Much of the success or lack there of on the man advantage has to do with Hutchinson's play and he did great this month. He's getting into fine form which is just what you need heading into the playoffs.

Robert Bortuzzo - Grade: A-
Season Stats:73 games played, 4G, 20A, +24, 105 PIM
March Stats: 14 games played, 0G, 1A, +3, 15 PIM

Just like with Strait, Bortuzzo's lack of offensive scoring shouldn't alarm anyone. Bortuzzo is a big physical defenseman who has shown he's not afraid to drop the gloves to stick up for a teammate.  I think he's very comparable to Brooks Orpik of the NHL Penguins and even has shown the ability to score goals with his big shot. Training camp is going to be interesting next season with seven defenseman signed in the NHL and Bortuzzo, Strait and Simon Despres waiting for their shot.

Steve Wagner - Grade B-
Season Stats: 69 games played, 5G, 23A, +16, 43 PIM
March Stats: 10 games played, 0G, 2A, even, 8 PIM

Steve Wagner missed the last four games with an apparent shoulder injury after colliding with Senators goalie Robin Lehner last Friday night.  Before he was injured though, Wagner wasn't playing his best hockey. He hasn't seen much time on the power play lately, which has shown in his drop of offensive production this month. Wagner also seems to take penalties at the wrong times during games, especially this month and in his last game against the Senators. Wagner should be ready to return to game action this weekend and hopefully he finishes the season strong.

Jason DeSantis - Grade: B
Season Stats: 16 games played, 0G, 1A, +2, 8 PIM
March Stats: 10 games played, 0G, 0A, -1, 4 PIM

I have seen DeSantis play both at home and on the road this month and I think that towards the end of the month he really started to gain confidence and composure of playing at this level night in and night out. His +/- in the ECHL was ghastly but he's played conservatively with Hutchinson as his defensive partner and I'm sure he showed DeSantis a thing or two about hockey at this level.  I think he's got potential to grow into a steady AHL defenseman and someone you might see as a regular next year.

Carl Sneep, Joey Mormina, Alex Grant, Joe Rogalski and Victor Ekbom - Incomplete
Carl Sneep hasn't played since taking a big hit in Hershey on 3/6. He's missed the last 12 games with a left hand injury. He is practicing with the team and should be ready to return to the lineup soon.

Joey Mormina has missed the last 11 games with an upper body injury and there hasn't been much of an update on Mormina's condition. He's not practicing or traveling with the team. All I have heard regarding his status is that the team expects him to be back at 100% for the playoffs.

Alex Grant played in four games this month and made his return to hockey recently after taking a vicious hit in the rookie tournament back before the season started. Grant looked good in limited time in the AHL and was sent back to Wheeling (ECHL) to work on his game and get more playing time.

Rogalski and Ekbom have been on the roster less than a week and haven't seen any game action. I saw Rogalski practice with the team last week. I don't expect either guy to see much of any action the rest of the way, with the reason for their being here is to practice with the team and get more acclimated to AHL hockey and be ready to go next season. Although if the Pens wrap up the AHL's best record this weekend you might see these guys get a look in game action the remaining regular season games.


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