A look at how the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and St. John’s IceCaps match up:
St. John’s: While they may not have scored the most goals as a team in the postseason, the IceCaps offense has plenty of weapons. Center Eric O’Dell leads with seven goals and he is tied with Andrew Godron with eight points. Gordon has long been a familiar foe to the Penguins dating back to his days with the Hershey Bears. Jason Jaffray is a veteran AHL goal producer, as is Jerome Samson, who notched 27 goals in the regular season. Kael Mouillierat only has one goal in 10 postseason games but registered 20 in the regular season, so he could heat up. The same goes for John Albert (28 regular season goals) and Carl Klingberg (22 goals).
Penguins: Coming into the Providence series it was all about the Penguins veterans. At the end of the series it’s still about the veterans, but also the young guys as well. Rookie Conor Sheary led the Penguins with five goals and eight points in the Providence series, Anton Zlobin was second with four goals and seven points. After that, the goals were a little sparce. Chuck Kobasew and Tom Kostopoulos each had two, while Harry Zolnierczyk, Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons had one each. Nick Drazenovic and Spencer Machacek didn’t put a puck in the net, but they did set up some important scores.
Advantage: Penguins. The Penguins will have Gibbons for a full series. He did exit before the end of Game 7 against the Bruins after taking a high stick, but it appears to be nothing serious. Throw in all the veterans, Megna, Sheary and Zolnierczyk and this is a deep group.
St. John’s: Will O’Neill and Zach Redmond have been as steady as they come in the postseason. Each blueliner has seven points - all assists, and Redmond is a plus-8. Rookie Josh Morrissey has impressed with two goals and six points in 10 games, while Ben Chiarot and Brenden Kichton each had a pair of goals. Kichton had 10 goals and 48 points in 76 regular season games.
Penguins: When it comes to offense from the blueline, Brian Dumoulin leads the AHL with 11 postseason points. He had six points against Providence and shows no signs of cooling off. Brendan Mikkelson is the veteran of the bunch and got his first goal in Game 7 against the Bruins. Despres has stepped up offensively with five points in the series but is still prone to making a bad pinch at times. The return of Philip Samuelsson, who played in the last two games, help solidify the group defensively.
Advantage: Even. St. John’s has the offensive advantage from the blueline, barely, while the Penguins have a slight edge defensively with Samuelsson healthy.
St. John’s: Michael Hutchinson has been a dominant force in net for the IceCaps. He is 7-3 with a superb 1.77 GAA and a .941 save percentage. His numbers were just as solid in 24 regular season games. He has won four of his last five postseason starts in the series against Norfolk and has allowed two goals or less in seven out of 10 starts.
Penguins: Peter Mannino may have given up goals in bunches at times during the playoffs, but he has consistently come up with the big saves when the game was on the line. That’s a true veteran. Against Providence Mannino had a mediocre 2.80 GAA and a .893 save percentage. But he doesn’t get rattled, even when it seems like pucks are bouncing off everything and toward the net. If Mannino does stumble, the Penguins have rookie backup Matt Murray - who has one AHL game, and rookie Eric Hartzell, who hasn’t suited up in quite some time for the AHL club.
Advantage: St. John’s. You can’t argue with Hutchinson’s numbers so far.
St. John’s: Andrew Gordon is a proven weapon in the postseason. With the Bears in 2010 Gordon had 13 goals and 20 points in 17 playoff games. This year he had a hat trick in the opening round against Albany and scored in three games against Norfolk.
Penguins: It has to be Conor Sheary, who joined the Penguins late in the regular season after wrapping up his college career. He has fresh legs and plenty of jump after having played only 34 games in college this year. Against Providence, Sheary scored five goals and was held off the scoresheet only once in seven games.
Prediction: Penguins in seven. But only if they can solve Hutchinson. Seems like the perfect formula for a lot of 2-1 games, and that’s what the Penguins like.