It’s a fitting way to end a lengthy, grueling road trip: a chance to beat the best.
That’s what the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins face tonight when they travel to Syracuse to face the Crunch, who are currently the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Surely, with only 13 games left in the season, facing the top team in the East serves as a good measuring stick for the Penguins.
But they’re not necessarily looking at it that way.
“I think that time has come and gone,” said veteran center Warren Peters. “You start finding your own niche and the way you’re going to have to play in order to be successful no matter who we’re playing against. That’s the bigger focus right now. It’s finding that consistency of getting our game to a high level heading down the stretch and into a playoff run.”
The Penguins enter tonight’s game sixth overall on the conference, three points ahead of Hershey and Connecticut. The meeting against the Crunch will wrap up a seven-game road trip that began on March 8 and, so far, has been a successful one for the Penguins. In the last six games, they’ve won four and earned eight valuable points to solidify the sixth spot in the conference.
Against the Crunch this season, the Penguins are 3-4 and have dropped the last two contests. A win tonight would not only give the Penguins two more points heading into the final stretch of the season but also put them on a high note entering a stretch where four of the next five opponents are division rivals.
The way head coach John Hynes looks at it, at this stage of the game divisions mean little and the big picture is everything.
“I haven’t looked at the division standings in a long time,” he said after Tuesday’s practice at Coal Street. “Because of the conference setting, it doesn’t matter at this point. The most important thing is finding a way to get two points.”
The Penguins managed to get two points in four of the last six games thanks to different players stepping up each night. Chad Kolarik had an overtime winner against Portland, Riley Holzapfel and Trevor Smith tallied shootout goals in a win over Manchester, Brad Thiessen turned aside 34 shots to defeat Worcester and Brian Dumoulin and Joey Mormina tallied goals in a 3-2 win over the Pirates on Saturday.
“Having different guys stepping up at different times is what we need this time of year,” Hynes said. “We’re relying more on the team than certain individuals.”
• Everyone was accounted for in practice on Tuesday, with the exception of Phil Dupuis who has been out long term.
• With the legendary Jack Parker retiring from Boston University, Hynes, who is a BU alum having played under Parker, was asked if he would be interested in the job opening. “It’s something that obviously is out there right now. But we have a job to do here, we worked as a group all year long to get ourselves into the playoffs and go after a Calder Cup,” Hynes said. “As a coach you feel that loyalty to your team and the people you work with. My focus right now is making sure we have a real good stretch run and get ourselves in the playoffs.”
• Hynes said it’s possible players from the college ranks or juniors could arrive sometime this week to join the Penguins on amateur tryout contracts.