2014 Eastern Conference Finals Preview - Penguins vs. IceCaps

Friday, May 23, 2014
Eddie Pasquale haunted the Penguins in the 2012 Playoffs. This year, it's Michael Hutchinson between the pipes for the IceCaps. Photo credit: @dwancherry.
For the second time, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and St. John's IceCaps meet in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The last time these two teams met in the postseason was in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals in which the IceCaps jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and held on in Game Seven for a 3-2 win to advance.

The two teams met four times in the regular season, but much has changed since the last meeting between the two teams back in December.

You can follow the AHL Penguins playoff run right here at Highland Park Hockey - The Town & Country Gazette's source for daily coverage of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. I'll have live updates of every game on Twitter (@H_P_Hockey) along with post-game recaps shortly following the conclusion of each match. Don't wait for old news, read it here first!

Eastern Conference Finals Schedule

Game 1 – Saturday, May 24 – Penguins at St. John’s, 6:00 p.m. ET 
Game 2 – Sunday, May 25 – Penguins at St. John’s, 6:00 p.m. ET

Game 3 – Wednesday, May 28 – St. John’s at Penguins, 7:05 p.m. ET

Game 4 – Thursday, May 29 – St. John’s at Penguins, 7:05 p.m. ET
*Game 5 – Saturday, May 31 – St. John’s at Penguins, 7:05 p.m. ET
*Game 6 – Tuesday, June 3 – Penguins at St. John’s, 6:00 p.m. ET
*Game 7 – Wednesday, June 4 – Penguins at St. John’s, 6:00 p.m. ET 

Know Your Opponent

St. John's - 4th seed, Eastern Conference

Regular Season Stats

46-23-2-5, Second Place - Atlantic Division

Leading Scorers: Jason Jaffray (18G, 41A), Andrew Gordon  (23G, 34A), Jerome Samson  (27G-29A)

Goalies: Michael Hutchinson (17-5-1, 2.30 GAA, .923 SV%, 3 SO) and Tyler Beskorowany (7-2-2, 2.20 GAA, .932 SV%, 0 SO)

Playoff Stats

Andrew Gordon (6G-2A), Eric O'Dell (7G-0A), Will O'Neill (0G-7A), Zach Redmond (0G-7A), Jason Jaffray (2G-4A)

Michael Hutchinson (7-3, 1.77 GAA, .941 SV%, 1 SO)

A full breakdown of the Eastern Conference Finals, complete with a series prediction after the jump.


WBS - Peter Mannino (7-4, 2.51 GAA, .901 SV%, 0 SO)
STJ - Michael Hutchinson (7-3, 1.77 GAA, .941 SV%, 1 SO)

Peter Mannino has been very solid in net for the Penguins and has made several key saves in crucial moments in the first two rounds. Michael Hutchinson has been lights out for the IceCaps. You can argue that the Penguins faced the more offensively dynamic opponents - Binghamton and Providence - than the IceCaps, who defeated Albany and Norfolk to get to the third round, but even the biggest WBS homer couldn't give the edge to the Penguins in this one.

Edge: St. John's


Samuelsson/McNeill - Despres
Dumoulin - Mikkelson
Harrington - Samuelsson/Goers

Redmond - Chariot
Morrissey - O'Neill
Kitchon - Hill/Friedheim

For how much I've talked about the stingy Penguins defense, the IceCaps have been equally as tight - allowing 19 goals in their 10 playoff games this postseason. They boast several big defensemen in Zach Redmond, Ben Chariot and Jordan Hill and rookie Brendan Kitchon was of one of the best offensive blue liners in the AHL.

The Penguins will be without Reid McNeill for the two games in Newfoundland this weekend with an upper body injury that caused him to miss Games Seven. McNeill hasn't been ruled out for the entire series. Brian Dumoulin and Simon Despres have been leading the way for the Pens, while Philip Samuelsson has just returned after missing six weeks with a knee injury suffered in late March.

Edge: Penguins


The IceCaps feature several perennial AHL scorers in Andrew Gordon, Jerome Samson and Jason Jaffray. Jaffray, their captain, missed the IceCaps last game of the playoffs back in Game Six against Norfolk.

The Penguins are also down some key forwards as Andrew Ebbett hasn't skated since the end of their first round series with Binghamton. The Pens will also be without another center - Nick Drazenovic - who has been ruled out of the team's first two games this series with an undisclosed injury. Still, the Pens are in the capable hands of veterans Chuck Kobasew and Tom Kostopoulos with young talent in Brian Gibbons, Jayson Megna, Anton Zlobin and newcomer Conor Sheary.

Edge: Penguins

Special Teams


Power play: 18.5%
Penalty kill: 76.2%


Power play: 14.0%
Penalty kill: 84.8%

The Penguins were 4-0 in their previous series with the Providence Bruins when they tallied a power play goal (7-for-21) and 0-3 when they didn't score any man advantage goals (0-for-11). To say they live and die by their power play is an understatement.

The IceCaps penalty kill numbers are better than the Pens', but that same argument about opponents mentioned above in the goaltender breakdown can be used again here. Is the IceCaps PK really that good, or is it a result of facing less dynamic offenses through the first two rounds? Maybe it's a little bit of both.

Edge: Penguins, but just slightly. If the WBS power play sputters, so does their chances of winning.


The Penguins are coming off a seven game series that went the distance, while the IceCaps will have had 10 days off between games when the series starts Saturday night. As evidenced last round when the Penguins were waiting for Providenve to finish their first round series, sitting around and not playing seems to have an effect on the early games of the series (see: WBS' 4-0 loss in Game One vs. Providence). Whether or not the layoff for the IceCaps will affect their play remains to be seen this weekend.

There are injuries up front to key players from both teams, with IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray "day-to-day" and Penguins centers Andrew Ebbett and Nick Drazenovic ruled out for Games One and Two this weekend. The IceCaps depth will certainly be tested, as will the center depth of the Penguins for at least the first two games in Newfoundland.

Much like in the first two rounds, for the Penguins the key will be to stay in low-scoring, tight-checking games and avoid getting involved in a back-and-forth offensive slugfest. The IceCaps have several proven scorers at the AHL level that are very dangerous. Another tough test for the Penguins defense and with how Michael Hutchinson has been playing in net the Penguins offense will be challenged as well.

So who comes out on top? Either way, the winner of this series will be playing for their first championship. For the last 10 years in the AHL, the Eastern Conference's representative in the Calder Cup Finals has come out of the East Division. I think the Penguins will continue the trend and make it 11 straight.

Prediction: Penguins in six games.


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