After spending the last three weeks practicing and then finally getting a chance to play a game that counts last Saturday, one would think that another full week of practices wouldn’t be too crucial for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
But with a lineup that isn’t yet set in stone and several players still looking to make an impression, this week’s practice schedule could produce some more changes as the team prepares for its home opener this Saturday against Hershey.
Goaltending tops the list.
Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers got the start in the season opener against Bridgeport and stopped 22-of-24 shots in the 5-2 win. After a strong training camp and a solid performance on Saturday, Deslauriers appears to be the front runner to man the net against Hershey this weekend.
But head coach John Hynes isn’t ready to give Deslauriers the nod just yet.
“We’ll see how this week in practice goes and then make a decision on that,” he said.
Hynes has plenty to consider when it comes to picking a starter for Saturday and beyond.
If Deslauriers keeps up his strong play the team has a chance to win every night. But Hynes also has rookie Eric Hartzell to consider and off-season free agent acquisition Peter Mannino, who is recovered from an injury and is now in Wheeling to log some minutes in net.
“The competition’s on,” Hynes said after Tuesday’s practice at Coal Street. “I think it’s important that Eric Hartzell gets an opportunity to play. We want to find the right time for him to play. If Jeff keeps playing well he’s going to earn some starts.
“For Peter, (Wheeling) is an opportunity for him to play games, get a lot of minutes and he’s back in the mix for the competition to be here.”
For a 10-year pro like Deslauriers, a goalie competition is nothing new.
“Every year you have to earn your spot and even if you have a spot, you have to compete to keep it,” he said. “That’s hockey. There’s always going to be a challenge.”
And it’s not just limited to goaltenders.
Players such as Adam Payerl, who didn’t make it into the opening night lineup, will use this week of practices to make an impression. Despite having a strong finish to the end of last season and a good showing in training camp, Payerl lost out to wingers Dominik Uher and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond for a spot on the fourth line.
“You don’t want to be out for the season-opener, but you have to learn from it. I need to use this week to my advantage and make an impression to get into a game,” Payerl said.
Hynes added that the opening night roster also includes players who need to continue to impress in practice if they want another game. It’s a competition that virtually continues throughout the season, and much of it is played out in practice.
“There are some guys that didn’t get into the game and that was based on performances in training camp. Guys outplayed them for those positions,” Hynes said. “And then there are guys that maybe didn’t have their best game on Saturday and are competing to stay in the lineup.”
• D Brian Dumoulin is recovered from his injury and was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice.
• Hynes said Mannino’s time in Wheeling isn’t necessarily a conditioning stint but rather an opportunity to get some game action. Mannino missed all of training camp with an injury.