Wilkes-Barre/Scranton First Quarter Report

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finished the first quarter of their season on Saturday, when they skated away with a 4-3 victory over the Rochester Americans. With 20 games played on the Penguins’ 80 game schedule, let’s take a look at how they have fared so far.

Record: 16-4-0-0 (32 points, first in East Division and Eastern Conference)

Offense:

The Penguins have scored 63 goals this season.  Dustin Jeffrey is the team’s leading scorer with 23 points (8 G, 15 A). Tim Wallace sits in second with 15 points, while Brett Sterling and Andrew Hutchinson are tied for third with 13 points. Jeffrey is ninth in the AHL in assists and tied for fourth in points. His three shorthanded goals are tied for first in the league.

Defense:

Robert Bortuzzo and Joe Vitale lead the Penguins in plus/minus, as each has posted a +10 rating so far. They are also fourth in the AHL in this category. WBS has 17 players who have a positive plus/minus rating.

WBS has surrendered 47 goals this year, the lowest total of any team in the East Division and the Eastern Conference.

Some of the team’s defensemen have also contributed to the offense. Aside from Hutchinson’s 13 points, Bortuzzo has seven points, and Brian Strait has five points in addition to his impressive plus-9 rating.

Special Teams

The Penguins have the AHL’s 15th ranked power play, which is working at a 17.4 percent success rate. Away from Mohegan Sun Arena, they are ranked seventh with a 20.5 conversion rate on the man advantage.

The penalty kill is ranked 20th, as the Penguins have killed 81.7 percent of the penalties against them. Although they are ranked in the bottom half of the league, they have scored six shorthanded goals, the most in the AHL.

Goaltending

John Curry, who struggled during the 2009-2010 season, is coming back to form in 2010-2011. His record stands at 7-2 with a 2.43 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Curry recently recorded his first shutout of the season. He made 29 saves against the Albany Devils on November 24 as the Penguins pulled out a 3-0 win.

Brad Thiessen has a record of 9-2 with a 2.14 GAA and a .924 save percentage. His first shutout of the season was on November 13 when he recorded 38 saves to help the Penguins beat the Worcester Sharks.

Thiessen and Curry are both in the top 20 among AHL goaltenders in the GAA and wins categories. Thiessen is also ranked 12th in save percentage. In November, the duo was honored for their performances in the month October when they were named co-recipients of the AHL’s Goaltender of the Month Award.

Coaching:

John Hynes was named head coach after Todd Reirden was promoted to Pittsburgh in the 2010 offseason. Hynes was assistant coach last year and came to the Penguins after working with the USA Hockey Development program.

So far, the team seems to be responding to Hynes. Not only does the team’s record speak for itself, but he is always pushing the team to do better and holds them accountable for their mistakes. Many felt that Reirden was too content with the team’s problems and mistakes, but Hynes is the complete opposite.

The Penguins have not lost more than two games all season. Give credit to Hynes for being able to re-focus the team and turn them around for their next opponent.

Former Penguins defenseman Alain Nasreddine is in his first season behind the bench as assistant coach.  During his time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he served as a team captain and was one of the team’s biggest veteran influences. He is also familiar with the Penguins system and is already well liked in the organization.

Other Analysis

The Penguins do not seem to miss a beat, even with key players called up to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although Eric Tangradi was gone earlier in the season and Chris Conner has been up for a couple of weeks now, contributions are coming from everyone. The team does not rely on one player to score all the goals.

Overall

So far, things are looking more optimistic than they were last season. The Penguins went out and got better veterans, and Hynes is a better fit for the team’s head coach.

However, WBS needs to work on their special teams to be considered a true contender. A middle of the pack penalty kill and power play won’t cut it as the season goes forward. Even though the Penguins are in first place, they should still aim to improve in this category.

As the grind of the season wears on and the Penguins experience more call-ups and injuries, they will be put to the test again. I see them being able to respond to any adversity, though.

This year, they have the aid of veterans such as Sterling, Hutchinson and Ryan Craig, who were not part of last year’s team. All of these players have faced adversity, and two (Sterling and Hutchinson) know what it is like to deal with the wear and tear of a season and rise to the top, winning a Calder Cup championship.

First Quarter Grades (scale of 1-10, one being the worst and 10 being the best)

Offense: 9
Defense: 10
Special Teams: 5
Goaltending: 8
Coaching: 10

Total: 42 points

Overall Grade: A

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