There’s an underlying source of motivation for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins when they take on the Binghamton Senators tonight at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Sure, the obvious factor is the Penguins are fighting for their playoff lives and need two points every time they step on the ice, no matter who the opponent is.
And even though the Penguins are unlikely to make up the 13-point difference that separates them and the Senators for second place in the East Division, there is something else on the line tonight.
The Penguins are 2-6 against their division rival this season, including a 1-3 record at home. Head coach John Hynes said that while his team needs points down the stretch, it also needs to right the ship against Binghamton.
“Binghamton has been a challenge for us this year,” Hynes said. “They’ve really had our number. The fact that we need to get wins is important, but also the fact that a division rival has handled us so easily is something you have to try to rectify.”
Reversing their fortunes against the Senators and gaining much-needed points down the stretch will only happen if the Penguins establish themselves early and take advantage of the home crowd boost.
In their last eight games the Penguins are 2-6 at home — a fact that captain Joey Mormina said can’t be tolerated this late in the season.
“We can do a better job of setting the tone at home in the first five minutes. That’s something we struggled with all year,” Mormina said. “A lot of the new faces, the young guys need to realize the advantage of playing here at Wilkes-Barre and how to get to it early. That’s usually all it takes for them.”
Last Saturday, the Penguins inability to get to it early is what led to a 4-1 loss against Norfolk before a home crowd of 8,172.
Sure, all game are critical at this point, but Hynes said the home contests with a packed house can’t be squandered.
“You have to be able to get those and take advantage of game like Saturday night with a great crowd. You want to be able to win those games,” Hynes said. “You have 8,000 people there cheering you on, you have to make something out of that.”
And that starts with Binghamton — a team that is very familiar with what it’s like to play on the Penguins home ice.
“At this point of the year we created an identity at home that it’s not going to be an easy place to play,” center Warren Peters said. “Bingo been here enough. They should know what kind of a game it’s going to be. That’s the benefit of being at home.”
• Pittsburgh sent down 21-year-old defenseman Simon Despres to Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday. The 2009 first-round pick had two goals and five assists for seven points and a plus-10 rating in 24 NHL games this season. The move was made after Pittsburgh traded for Douglas Murray on Monday and activated Kris Letang from injured reserve Tuesday.
• The Senators will be missing some key contributors for tonight’s game. Goaltenders Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner are both up with Ottawa. Lehner is 5-1-1 against the Penguins this year with a goals against average of 1.72 and a .951 save percentage. Bishop won his only start against the Penguins, 3-1 on Dec. 14.
• The Penguins received a boost when Pittsburgh returned Trevor Smith on Tuesday. In eight games against Binghamton this season, Smith leads the Penguins with four goals and seven points. No other player on the roster has scored more than one goal against Binghamton.