Monday's Catch Up & Links 12/22

Monday, December 22, 2014
Cross Cleveland off the list! I made my first visit to the Quicken Loans Arena to take in some AHL Western Conference action last Thursday night.
Relax. Refresh. Recharge. That's what most of the guys in the American Hockey League (minus those gearing up for the World Junior Championships) are doing right now as the AHL is in the midst of a five-day hiatus for the holidays. The league resumes play on Friday, December 26th.

Last week was a busy one for most teams and writers included. Personally, I ended up with a four-games-in-four-nights stretch from Wednesday through Saturday that saw me on the road for almost 1,200 miles.

I crossed off the 19th AHL team/venue I have visited since I started writing about hockey back in 2011 when I visited the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio for a Thursday night game between the Lake Erie Monsters and Milwaukee Admirals - two AHL Western Conference teams I won't see covering the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the East this year.

The Q, as it's referred to by local fans, also hosts the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. An AHL game in an NBA arena is a great setup, if it's run anything like how the Lake Erie Monsters do business.

The Monsters definitely take advantage of the enormous scoreboard display screens, with split-screen in-game replays during the action that was really quite impressive and not something you see in the East. The screen is so big it literally spans from blue line to blue line for fans seated on the team bench and penalty box sides of the arena.

That's not to mention the goal horn at the arena, which of the 19 AHL venues I have visited ranks tops in the league in terms of just how loud and how impressive it is.There wasn't a large crowd on Thursday, but I can imagine Saturday's home crowd of 11,056 made for quite the atmosphere.

A weekly look-back at the Penguins and Phantoms, as well as the latest roster news/notes for both teams and links to some extra reading for those looking to get through their Monday afternoon.
Penguins Defense Remains Stingy Amidst Several Call Ups

It wouldn't be a Penguins hockey season if several of the big-league club's players got hurt and forced several AHL Pens players to be called up. All in all, though, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have played well defensively, giving up just 14 goals in their last 10 games while going 6-2-0-2 in that same span.

With a shutout win over Binghamton on Sunday and an overtime loss by Hershey, the Penguins extended their lead in the East Division to five points over the Bears entering the break.

The Penguins return from winter break with their first game on Friday back up in Binghamton for a rematch with the BSens. The Pens will then host Bridgeport on Saturday and Norfolk on Sunday afternoon to complete a three-game weekend next week.

BREAKING: The Pittsburgh Penguins have announced that goaltender Thomas Griess, along with forwards Brandon Sutter and Steve Downie, have been returned to Pittsburgh to be tested for the mumps. Penguins head coach Mike Johnston said that Jeff Zatkoff will be recalled and should arrive at game time. No others will be called up per Johnston, leaving 11 forwards and seven defensemen in the lineup tonight against Florida.

Jeff Zatkoff (35 saves - 35 shots) got the start in net tonight for the Penguins Saturday night in Binghamton, while Matt Murray - who played last night vs Albany - was the backup. It was Zatkoff's 2nd shutout of the season.

With Derrick Pouliot and Taylor Chorney called up to Pittsburgh, the WBS Pens signed Paul Cianfrini to a PTO from Wheeling and he made his WBS and AHL debut. Clark Seymour also slotted in, making his second career AHL appearance.

Cianfrini was released from his PTO after the game, leaving the AHL Pens with five healthy defensemen heading into the holiday break.

I have had some people asking me about why Harrison Ruopp hasn't been recalled in this recent stretch of call ups, and some are saying is he in the doghouse? I don't think is he is and I'll explain my reasoning.

For starters, Ruopp is just coming off a three-week absence from a upper body injury. The Penguins never made an official announcement of Ruopp's recall to the AHL back December 1st even though on the league's website he was listed as a call up, which leads me to believe it's possible he was just quickly in Wilkes-Barre for medical-related reasons (i.e. to establish a time-table for a return from his recent injury). Think back to last season when the Pens called up then-injured forward Cody Sylvester from Wheeling. Could be a similar situation.

Another thing I thought of while in Binghamton during Saturday night's game is how the blue line has gone from basically all lefties (Harrington, Dumoulin, Samuelsson, Chorney, McNeill) to more balanced with some right-handed shots (Barry Goers, Alex Boak and Clark Seymour). Is it possible that the Pens, for one game, just wanted balance on the back end with a third lefty (Paul Cianfrini) than add Ruopp (right-handed shot) who is just coming back from injury (returned 12/19)? I think so.


Adam Payerl - Carter Rowney - Tom Kostopoulos
Tom Kuhnhackl - Nick Drazenovic - Jayson Megna
Conor Sheary - J-S Dea - Josh Archibald
Pierre-Luc Leblond - Matia Marcantuoni - Dominik Uher

Reid McNeill - Barry Goers
Nick D'Agostino - Alex Boak
Paul Cianfrini - Clark Seymour

Jeff Zatkoff - Matt Murray

Scratches: F Anton Zlobin (out for season) and F Sahir Gill (healthy) 

Phantoms Tighten East Division Standings With Five Point Week

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (13-10-4-1) head into their five-day break for the holidays unbeaten in regulation in their last five games (3-0-2), and with all three of those wins coming against East Division opponents they’ve tightened things up the standings – just one point behind rival Hershey for second place with a game in hand on the Bears.

On Wednesday, the Phantoms made history in a 5-3 win over Binghamton  - scoring three goals 21 seconds apart in the opening 36 seconds of the game. More importantly, they got the two points and leapfrogged the BSens for third place in the division.

On Friday night against Hershey, it was Anthony Stolarz's turn once again - with Rob Zepp called up to the Philadelphia Flyers - to shine in net. Stolarz was going to play Friday regardless of whether Zepp was recalled, and in hindsight for good reason. Stolarz shut out the Bears with 32 saves to bring the Phantoms within one point of Hershey for second place in the division.

Unfortunately, the Phantoms fell in overtime up in Hartford on Saturday. Stolarz was again strong in net with 24 saves on 26 shots. Zack Stortini tallied the lone Phantoms goal, while linemates Nick Cousins and Taylor Leier registered assists. 

The one point earned in the standings kept them on pace with Hershey who also lost in overtime. With a game in hand on the Bears and just one point separating them in the standings, Friday night's match up at the Giant Center between the Bears and Phantoms seems appropriate for the first game back from the holiday break for both teams. The Phantoms end next week with a home game Saturday night against the Norfolk Admirals.


With Rob Zepp called up, Anthony Stolarz (24 saves - 26 shots) got the start in net. It was Stolarz's 5th win of the season and his second shutout on his rookie campaign.

Zepp's late call up forced the Phantoms to make a quick addition as the team signed current goalie coach at the University of Delaware in Matt Di Girolamo to back up Stolarz Friday night. The Phantoms later recalled goaltender Martin Ouellette from Reading to back up Stolarz Saturday night in Hartford.

One change on defense, as Jesper Pettersson returned to the lineup while Steven Delisle was held out with a minor injury. No changes up front, as Derek Mathers was the healthy scratch at forward.

Scratches: Steven Delisle (undisclosed), Shayne Gostisbehere (ACL surgery) and Derek Mathers (healthy)


Jason Akeson - Blair Jones - Andrew Gordon
Taylor Leier - Nick Cousins - Zack Stortini
Petr Straka - Darroll Powe - Brett Hextall
Jay Rosehill - Kevin Goumas - Austin Fyten

Brandon Manning - Mark Alt
Robert Hagg - Jesper Pettersson
Oliver Lauridsen - Brett Flemming

Anthony Stolarz - Martin Ouellette

Weekly Links

Colleague and good friend Ian Altenbaugh of Hockey' Future has a nice update on all of the prospects in the Pittsburgh Penguins system.

Pittsburgh Penguins beat-writer for the Tribune Review Josh Yohe has an interesting piece on Matt Niskanen and how Niskanen feels about the way the Penguins handled the firings of the coaching staff from last season. Niskanen and fellow ex-Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik make their first visit back to Consol Energy Center when Pittsburgh hosts the Washington Captials this upcoming Saturday night.

Our friends at Pens Initiative have another good post to share, as Brian Blystone had this to say on the season Marc-Andre Fleury is having.

Friend Eric Majeski of Pensburgh's weekly Penguins feature takes a look at Kris Letang as well as new head coach Mike Johnston's handling of all the AHL call ups and younger players in general.

Last week's Lehigh Valley Phantoms piece for The Home News talked about how exciting the home games at the PPL Center have been. To date, the Phantoms are 9-2-2-1 on home ice at the PPL Center in their inaugural season as an AHL franchise in downtown Allentown.

Stay tuned for this week's feature at The Home News about Phantoms goaltender Anthony Stolarz's confidence level, rookie defenseman Robert Hagg gearing up for his third World Junior Championships and defenseman Oliver Lauridsen's holiday visitor.

Here's some recent work of mine covering the AHL for Hockey's Future:


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