Peter Mannino was quick to point out the biggest difference between his success during the month of March compared to the rest of the season.
“I was playing hockey,” he said.
That’s an understatement.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltender made 10 starts in March. He never allowed more than two goals, posted two shutouts and won seven games, including back-to-back wins at Norfolk over the weekend. In closing out the month, Mannino stopped 211 of 222 shots to post a 1.09 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.
Such impressive numbers made it less surprising when Mannino was named the AHL Goaltender of the Month on Tuesday.
It’s a big turnaround from how Mannino spent the much of the first half of the season — sitting out while suspended for not reporting to Wheeling.
“It’s a good feeling,” Mannino said of the award. “Hockey’s a sport where if you sit around, it will pass you by real quickly. It’s essential for me to get games in as much as possible.”
Mannino certainly isn’t giving head coach John Hynes any reason to take him out. The veteran goaltender is a big reason behind the Penguins ability to rebound from a dreadful February where they only won three of 11 games.
“Peter’s played well in net and he’s really given us some stability there,” Hynes said. “He’s been consistent game-to-game and period-to-period, and has the ability to manage the game and bring calmness back there, which is nice to see.”
Mannino began March with 19 saves in a 2-1 win at Albany on March 1. Following a shootout loss at Utica on March 7 in which he allowed just one goal in regulation and one goal on five shootout attempts, Mannino put together a four-game winning streak, with a home-and-home sweep of Hamilton on March 8 and March 14, followed by consecutive shutouts of Norfolk (Mar. 15) and Syracuse (Mar. 21). Mannino was on the losing end of a pair of 2-1 decisions before closing out the month with back-to-back wins at Norfolk on March 28-29.
Still, despite the success Mannino said there was more to it than just his play.
It’s a result of the play of his teammates and the Penguins system.
“It’s just very detailed. Keep the puck out of the zone, quick transition, limit shots against, block shots and clearing those rebounds,” he said. “That’s our system and as a goalie you love that. The team’s been playing well and it’s a more a credit to them. It’s all on them.”
• D Philip Samuelsson, who was injured in the second period of Wednesday’s game against Providence, will be out four to six weeks with a lower-body injury, Hynes said. Samuelsson was leading the team with a plus-17 rating. With Samuelsson out, Hynes said the rest of his D corps can expect expanded roles, especially on the penalty kill.
• C Zach Sill, who is recovering from a skate blade cut to his arm, is on target to return during the last week of the season, according to Hynes.
• With Mannino playing well, Hynes said it’s still important to get backup Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers some game action as the team prepares for the playoffs. He said it will be an easier task considering the team as two three-in-threes coming up.
• The Penguins signed Bryan Rust to a two-year NHL deal on Tuesday. Rust just completed his senior season at Notre Dame, where he led the team with 17 goals in 40 games. Rust was Pittsburgh’s third-round pick in 2010 and he played for Hynes for a year with the U.S. National team.
“He’s a smart player, strong on the puck and plays a pretty solid two-way game,” Hynes said. “He can play both ends of the rink but he has some offensive talent and can score.”
Rust will report to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this week on an ATO.