|Someone has to step it up tonight for the WBS Penguins. Read to find out who it could be.|
Special Teams (Playoffs)
WBS Penguins: PP% - 6 for 32 (18.8%) Checkers: PP% - 4 for 33 (12.1%)
Both teams struggled on the power play early in their respective first round series, but both have found their stride with the man advantage. The WBS Penguins were held without power play goals in Game 1 and 2 (0 for 11) but finished the last four games with at least one power play goal in each (6 for 22). The Checkers went just 1 for 17 in the first three games but have rattled off three power play tallies in the second three games of the first round. Both teams have had recent success, but with Corey Potter and Steve Wagner producing offensively, it's only a matter of time before Andrew Hutchinson can get it going on the power play. Advantage: Penguins
Penguins: PK% - 25 for 29 (86.2%) Checkers: PK% - 26 for 27 (96.3%)
The Charlotte Checkers gave up only one power play goal in the first round against Hershey and that was in Game 1. The Checkers have since then killed off 25 straight penalties and its a big reason why they made it past the first round. The Penguins penalty kill was great in the first four games, going 18 of 19 on the PK, but allowed three power play goals in the previous two games. Jones, Ritola, Harju and Pouliot were dangerous for the Admirals but Dalpe, Boychuk, Sutter and Bowman present even more in the dangerous scorers area. Advantage: Checkers
The Penguins have plenty of talented forwards in a wide range of strengths. The lines are pretty well balanced in the top three lines and all three have the potential to be quick, hard working, physical and create offense. The Checkers have the depth up front to compete against any team in the league right now with regular season scoring leaders featured on the fourth line. Sure the Penguins don't have the likes of Tangradi, Johnson and Dustin Jeffrey but perhaps one of Charlotte's most dangerous scorers was held off the AHL playoff roster, that being Jerome Samson. The Penguins can out-work and out hit the Checkers but comparing all four lines of both teams, the Checkers appear more dangerous on paper. We'll have to see how they match up tonight. Advantage: Checkers
The Penguins have given up 11 goals in the first six games of the playoffs as compared to 17 allowed by the Checkers in their six game series with the Hershey Bears. Both teams have offensive defenseman that can score with Hutchinson for WBS and Rodney for Charlotte. Both led their respective teams in the regular season but have gotten off to slower starts than expected. Look for these two guys to have an impact on the series. Defensively, I'm not sold on the Checkers being able to shut down the Penguins from scoring goals. Compared to the Admirals who had six or seven quality defensemen in the lineup, the Checkers six weren't that impressive to me in the regular season. We'll find that out within the first two games. Advantage: Penguins
Brad Thiessen has been solid in net all season and there are many reasons why he was named a first team all-star and goalie of the year. Justin Pogge was easily rattled in Wilkes-Barre and he only lasted two games in Hershey. Mike Murphy has come in and done well and isn't a bad goalie, but he is coming off of injury that caused him to miss about a month. With an average blue line in front of him, Murphy is really going to have to be on his game. This one is easy. Advantage: Penguins
My insights and predictions after the jump.
What to Look For in Round 2
The Charlotte Checkers will not be an easy opponent much like how Norfolk was no walk in the park either. The Checkers have a deep forward core that scratches Jared Staal, the youngest of the Staal brothers (Eric in Carolina, Jordan in Pittsburgh, Marc in New York). They'll be tougher for the Penguins to match up against up front because of their scorers filtered throughout the lineup.
Defensively, the Checkers don't scare me. They came into the AHL playoffs giving up the most goals in the regular season of any team that made the post season. They allowed almost three goals a game on average in the first round and if the Penguins can get on the board early and play their solid defensive game and get the goaltending from Thiessen, this could be a shorter series than most expect.
I picked the Penguins in six games last round, like many others before the series started, although I don't think most had the Penguins losing the first two and winning four straight. I think the Checkers forward depth will surprise some in Wilkes-Barre in the first two games. With another 2-3-2 series format, the Checkers know if they steal one of the first two games on the road that they gain the home ice advantage. I see the two teams splitting the first two in Wilkes-Barre and again see the Penguins spoiling the Checkers party in North Carolina. They win two of three in Charlotte and finish off another opponent at home in another Game 6. This is how it was supposed to happen last round right?
My pick: The Penguins defense will be able to hold off the Checkers attack enough to win four games. Penguins in six games over the Checkers. Let's hope I'm right again.