With a playoff spot locked up and the fifth seed in the conference almost a sure thing, it would seem that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have little to play for as they wrap up the regular season with two games at home this weekend.
But that’s not really the case.
For one, head coach John Hynes said he wants his team to focus on their game, get things in order and work on those areas that still need improving. Some players will get needed rest while others will get onto the ice to get some game action and audition for a role in the postseason.
And then there’s the streak.
The Penguins have won seven straight games and haven’t lost in regulation in their last nine contests. Facing Worcester tonight at 7:05 p.m. at home, followed by Manchester on Saturday, the Penguins would like to go into the postseason on a winning note.
“We’re on a great run here and you don’t want to go into the playoffs losing games,” said winger Chris Collins. “No one wants to take a step backward.”
The way Zach Sill sees it, nothing has really changed heading into this weekend, no matter that a playoff spot is clinched.
Sill said the team is going to play as if they had everything to play for.
“We have the same mentality we had before we clinched,” he said. “No one’s going to be taking it easy.”
The Monarchs enter the weekend two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Saturday’s game at the Mohegan Sun Arena will be their second in a three-in-three to close out the season.
The Penguins have won all three meetings with Manchester, so they’d love to go a perfect 4-0 with a win to close out the regular season.
“When you’re winning you have confidence, and that’s the way we want to go into the playoffs,” Collins said. “We have to play the game the right way, don’t develop any bad habits and try to win both games.”
- G Brad Thiessen and C Zach Sill enter the postseason as the longest-tenured Penguins. Sill, who is in his fourth year, has played in 28 postseason games over the last three seasons and said the experience has been the key to his longevity.
“For me, playing in the playoffs has kept me around,” Sill said. “It’s gotten me a contract. The regular season is one thing, but if you can show up and raise your level in playoffs, then you prove yourself valuable to the organization.”
- With eight players on the roster signed to either an ATO or PTO, hanging around the team during a playoff run can be a valuable learning experience. Bill Guerin, who serves as Pittsburgh’s player development coach, said there’s a good reason for keeping the young players around even if they don’t see much game action.
“You want these guys to get as much as experience with the team as they can so they don’t come in shocked next year,” Guerin said. “They’re not playing against kids anymore. They’re playing against men. They’re playing against a guy that is 30 years old, has two kids and needs to feed his family. That’s different than playing junior or college hockey.”