The next goal Tom Kostopoulos scores will be a big one.
Not only could it help the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins turn around a six-game losing streak, but Kostopoulos’ next tally will be his 20th of the season, marking the fifth 20-goal season of his 15-year career.
What will make the accomplishment even more remarkable is all but one of Kostopoulos’s 20-goal seasons will have come with the Penguins, and he last hit the mark eight years ago when he scored 25 with the Manchester Monarchs.
Kostopoulos, 35, will also become the only player in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history with four 20-goal seasons.
It’s an achievement that Kostopoulos admits he didn’t think about when he signed an AHL deal with the team in the offseason, nor over the last eight years that he spent in the NHL.
“I’m enjoying it now. I enjoy the pressure I put on myself to produce offensively,” he said.
Kostopoulos never scored more than nine goals in a season while in the NHL, where he played in 630 games and was used primarily as a defensive forward. He totaled 61 NHL goals, while he has 116 goals in 369 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, dating back to his first season in 1999.
This season, Kostopoulos leads the team with 19 goals and 37 points, enjoying his time on the first line and the power play. Those are two elements that he didn’t experience much of during his time in the NHL.
“The last eight years, I’ve always been a penalty killer and haven’t seen any power play time,” Kostopoulos said. “It’s been different and I was wondering how I would adjust. It’s been fun to be more offensive and get those chances.”
Kostopoulos is also on pace to break his season high of 27 goals. Despite being the oldest player on the Penguins, Kostopoulos said his body is holding up well.
“It was harder at the beginning of the season. The first two months are a grind getting back up to game speed,” he said. “But I feel good. You get into that routine of practices and games and it’s less on your body.”
• Pittsburgh recalled F Brian Gibbons and D Simon Despres on Monday. Gibbons, 25, has 11 goals and 30 points in 28 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Despres, 22, has six goals and 22 points in 34 games, along with a plus-18.
• D Barry Goers rejoined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the fourth time this season, signing another PTO on Monday. Goers, 27, has a goal and five points in eight games with the Penguins this season.
• The Penguins wrap up their season series against Hershey tonight at home. They are 5-3-2-1 against the Bears this season and trail them by a point in the East Division.