PREVIEW: Big Weekend Could Be Telling of #WBSPens Path to Playoffs

Friday, April 4, 2014
The lower body injury to Philip Samuelsson ends his 2013-14 regular season.
With eight games remaining in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2013-14 regular season, every game becomes increasingly more important as the team inches closer to their 12th consecutive year in the American Hockey League's (AHL) postseason.

Heading into the weekend, the Penguins are in 5th place in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind East Division leading Binghamton Senators for 3rd in the conference. The Pens' magic number to earn a berth into the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs is 10 points.

The Penguins begin a three-game weekend tonight at home with a 7:05 p.m. ET face-off against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Pens remain home for a battle with 6th place Albany Devils Saturday night before traveling to Binghamton for an East Division showdown with the BSens on Sunday afternoon.

East Division Standings (Entering Friday's Games)

1. Binghamton (BNG) - 86 points, 9 games remaining
2. PENGUINS (WBS) - 84 points, 8 games remaining
3. Hershey (HER) - 78 points, 8 games remaining
4. Norfolk (NOR) - 77 points, 9 games remaining
5. Syracuse (SYR) - 65 points, 8 games remaining

Eastern Conference: *1. MCH-94, *2. SPR-92, *3. BNG-86, 4. STJ-87, 5. WBS-84, 6. ALB-82, 7. PRO-81, 8. HER-78, 9. NOR-77.

A look at this weekend's games and the latest update on the team heading into the final three weeks of the season, including Philip Samuelsson's possibly season-ending injury, Zach Sill eying a return to the WBS lineup, the veteran situation and more.

No Joke: Samuelsson's Loss A Big One, Big Test For Remaining WBS Defensemen

What I had mentioned on Twitter the night after Samuelsson left March 26th's home game vs. Providence came to fruition on April 1st when the update from WBS head coach John Hynes on Samuelsson's lower body injury was a 4 to 6 week timetable, ending his regular season though Hynes didn't necessarily rule #5 out of a potential playoff run. The early end of that 4-6 week projection is April 29th.

I had a bad feeling about his lower body injury when Hynes, a guy who is usually quick to brush off any inquiries about injury updates, said that there was no update on Philip Samuelsson after he left in the 2nd period of last Wednesday's game. You typically get a "day-to-day" prognosis from the WBS staff when they know its a minor thing.

Samuelsson's loss means the AHL Penguins will rely a little more on their new top four pairings of Brian Dumoulin with Reid McNeill and veteran Brendan Mikkelson with rookie Scott Harrington. The third pairing looks to be a three-way battle between Barry Goers and rookies Nick D'Agostino and Harrison Ruopp.

Zach Sill Eyes Regular Season Return

Sill hasn't played since being cut by the skate of Norfolk's Nolan Yonkman back on January 25th, but the gritty forward has been skating at practice and the team is optimistic Sill can return for a game or two in the regular season.

The 5th year pro earned his first NHL call this season and has split time between the Pittsburgh Penguins and AHL Pens in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, posting three goals and three assists in 16 AHL games with WBS this year.

Another thing Sill's return would bring, besides the obvious boost down the middle, on the PK and in the bottom-six group, is playoff experience. Sill has appeared in 43 AHL playoff games in his career.

WBS Penguins Veteran Situation

Samuelsson's injury likely means Brendan Mikkelson will be safe from the veteran scratch tag, albeit a game or two rest the last weekend of the season if everything is wrapped up.

What that leaves you with is scratching one of these forwards every night: Tom Kostopoulos, Andrew Ebbett, Chuck Kobasew, Spencer Machacek and Nick Drazenovic.
  • Kostopoulos is the captain, leader and heart-and-soul type player the Penguins want leading the way.
  • Ebbett is currently in the midst of an 11-game points scoring streak.
  • Kobasew scored seven goals in his first six games and has been the veteran scratch twice already. 
  • Machacek left Springfield to avoid the veteran rule and here he is with the Penguins and back into the same predicament.
  • Drazenovic is the team's 2nd leading scorer and has been a solid top-six guy all season long.
Not an ideal situation for the Penguins, and even tougher decisions for John Hynes and the WBS staff to make the rest of April. The injury to Machacek and the conditioning stint Bennett had were easier lineup decisions than what lies ahead.

Friday Night Preview (Normal Setup)

Tonight, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (WBS) host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (BST) at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza for a 7:05 p.m. ET face-off. Follow all of tonight's action on Twitter with in-game updates on @H_P_Hockey.

The Penguins (38-22-3-5) look to keep up the pace they've been playing at heading into the final stretch of games, while the decimated Sound Tigers (27-34-2-5) are looking to end a six-game losing skid which has seen the team score just five goals.

Check back shortly following the conclusion of the game for a recap of events right here on Highland Park Hockey: The Town & Country Gazette's source for daily AHL coverage!

By The Numbers

WBS: 38-22-3-5 = 84 points, Second Place East Division (5th - East)
Last Ten Games: 8-2-0-0

BST: 27-34-2-5 = 61 points, Fourth Place Northeast Division (13th - East)
Last Ten Games: 1-7-1-1

WBS Leading Scorers: Tom Kostopoulos (21G-23A), Nick Drazenovic (12G-26A), Andrew Ebbett (12G-25A)

BST Leading Scorers: Alan Quine (6G-19A), Scott Mayfield (3G-14A), Aaron Ness (6G-10A)

Expected Starting Goaltenders

WBS - Peter Mannino: 8-3-1, 1.58 GAA, .933 SV%, 2 SO
BST - Kevin Poulin: 1-9-1, 2.71 GAA, .903 SV%, 0 SO

Again, for all the latest WBS Penguins news, updates, stats, scores and more be sure you're following Highland Park Hockey on Twitter at @H_P_Hockey


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