The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are well aware that they’ll be going up against the AHL’s hottest goaltender when they face Cal Heeter and the Adirondack Phantoms tonight.
Heeter, who was named the AHL’s Player of the Week on Jan. 6, has won his last four starts, posting two shutouts and allowing a total of two goals in the process.
But the Penguins aren’t viewing tonight’s game as a matchup against a hot goaltender, but rather a contest against a hot team.
“We know we’re not just facing a goaltender, we’re facing an excellent team,” Penguins coach John Hynes said after Thursday’s practice at the Mohegan Sun Arena. “They’re a formidable team in general and they’re really moving up in the standings.”
The Penguins have faced the Phantoms twice this year, winning the first contest on Oct. 6 by a score of 6-3 and dropping the second 3-1 on Nov. 27. While Heeter has been hot lately against other teams, the Penguins have gotten to him this season. He was pulled after two periods on Oct. 6 after the Penguins scored five goals.
But that matters little now against an Adirondack team that is 7-3 in its last 10 games and have allowed a league-low 76 goals on the season.
Winger Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond said the Phantoms’ recent success is partly attributable to Heeter, but more a result of their overall team play.
“The whole team is playing better. They had a tough start, but they have a lot of good, young guys and I know they work hard,” he said. “There’s a reason they’re winning games. They’re not just lucky.”
Gibbons an all-star
Forward Brian Gibbons, who is currently with Pittsburgh, has been named to the 2014 AHL All-Star team on Thursday. Gibbons is the only representative of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on the roster. Former Penguin Ben Street, now with Abbotsford, also made the team.
In 23 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Gibbons has nine goals and 27 points and, despite being recalled on Dec. 17, he still leads the AHL Penguins in assists (18) and points.
Gibbons is part of a 20-man AHL roster that will face off against Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in the two-day event, which includes a Skills Competition on Tuesday, Feb. 11 and the All-Star Game on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, N.L.
• When it comes to facing Heeter, Hynes offered a synopsis on the Penguins’ game plan: “You understand you’re playing a team with a good goalie, so it’s your ability to get traffic in front of the net and make him work for saves — those are the things you want to have.”
- Tonight’s game will be the fourth of 14 contests for the Penguins in January - a month which also features a trio of three-in-threes. Hynes said there’s no reason to rest his players during the grind as there are two weeks that feature four days without games. Leblond agreed, adding the team trains all year for such grueling stretches in the schedule.
“Our schedule is tough in January, but you just have to be a pro, get your rest and when it’s game time go all out,” he said. “The three-in-threes are tough, but it’s also the fun part of being a hockey player. You want to play every night.”
• One bright spot in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Syracuse was the performance of goaltender Eric Hartzell, who came on in relief of Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers in the second period and stopped all five shots he faced. The previous game against Syracuse, Hartzell was pulled after allowing two goals on the first three shots.
“Sometimes for a goalie it’s nice when you don’t have as much success against a team but you get to face them again and redeem yourself,” Hynes said. “Eric came in and showed he was ready to play. It was good to see.”
• The start time for the Penguins’ road game vs. the Albany Devils on Saturday, March 1 has been changed to 5 p.m. The contest, set to take place at Historic Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, was originally scheduled for 7 p.m. Broadcast details will be announced at a later date.