Honestly, my favorite part of this blog is the social/cultural commentary surrounding the sport… you know, fan behavior, my mom’s random hockey observations, history, etc., and I struggle a great deal with the actual hockey writing, but as it’s a big deal going into the second round, and I feel like I owe everyone an actual series preview of sorts, though I’m going to focus on the Checkers and not too much on the other guys. Most have already done their previews, but I figure better late than never, right? (Charlotte Checkers, Charlotte Observer, WBS Beat Writer Jonathan Bombulie and more HERE with NASCAR references, and last, but certainly not least, WBS Blogger “Chirps from Center Ice” )
Last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated by Tampa Bay in game seven of the first round of the NHL playoffs. While there are a number of players on the Pittsburgh roster who spent the majority of the season in WBS, due to the clear day rules, they are not eligible to be returned to WBS for the second round of the playoffs.
A bit of history on the WBS Penguins and the Charlotte Checkers:
While they don’t have the same extended history in professional hockey like Hershey did, the WBS Penguins have a lot of playoff experience in their much shorter tenure. (In comparison with Hershey, a team that pre-dates the AHL by two years, not with our first-year franchise!) The Penguins came into existence in 1999. In their 12 seasons, they have only missed the playoffs twice, and this is their ninth straight playoff appearance. They’s gone to the Calder Cup Finals three times, but have yet to win a cup.
Last season, the Albany River Rats swept them in the first round of the playoffs. There are 16 Checkers from last year’s River Rats on the current roster, and Wilkes-Barre has 12 active players on the team that the Rats swept in round one in 2010. Playoff rivalries have a lot of weight, and I firmly believe last year’s sweep by Hershey on the River Rats played into the Checkers winning of the series this year. Hopefully, the Checkers can overcome the Pens desire to oust their own 2010 Playoff demons!
By the numbers and the win/loss record, it might be easy to assume the Penguins have the advantage, but I’m here to give some confidence to Checkers fans.
Justin Pogge‘s record vs. WBS was pretty abysmal this year, in six starts, he went 1-4-1. He played in a seventh game, when he came into the second period in relief of Mike Murphy, who suffered a concussion on March 20 when tripped by a Penguins player behind his own net. Pogge had a 4.51 GAA, and .874 SV%. In two of Pogge’s starts, he was pulled and replaced by Murphy in net. One of these pulls resulted in Murphy taking the loss (January 26) despite the fact that Pogge got them into an unbeatable hole.
Mike Murphy only made two starts vs. WBS this season. His record was 0-2, but as mentioned previously, he played in four games. He had a 2.90 GAA, and .919 SV% against the Penguins. In his second start, on March 20, he was having a very good game until leaving the ice with an injury.
Brad Thiessen had some of the best numbers in net AHL-wide, in 46 games played he had 35 wins and a 1.94 GAA. His record was 35-8-1. Much like the goaltending tandem of Pogge and Murphy, Thiessen split time in net with John Curry, who appeared in 41 games. Curry had a record of 23-13-0, and had a 2.44 GAA overall. Against Charlotte, Thiessen went 5-0, with a 1.97 GAA. Curry was 2-1, with a 5.16 GAA (thanks mostly to the 9-5 debacle in January when the Checkers beat the Penguins in a PIM filled matchup).
In my opinion, there is no choice but to start Murphy in net this series. He has developed a great deal over the course of the season and playoffs, and is the logical choice against the playoffs. He is coming off a strong series against Hershey, and should be brimming with confidence. For WBS, Thiessen is the clear starting goaltender.
Checker Superstars to watch:
As everyone seems to have mentioned (and I LOVE reading about it!) the Checkers have an amazing core of offensive firepower. They have scoring power that goes deep into the fourth line of forwards. Just to name a few of our Checkers superstars:
- Zach Boychuck, in five appearances vs. WBS, had ten points, with 5G and 5A. He also had seven points vs. the Bears in the first round. Let’s keep those numbers alive!
- Brett Sutter continues to impress me. He’s got grit and determination, and I think this is going to be a great matchup of him vs. WBS. His first round numbers are fantastic, with 2G, 4A.
- Forward Jon Matsumoto and Defenseman Bryan Rodney each played in all eight matchups vs. WBS this season. Each had 1G, 7A and 6PIM, and is a -6. I actually don’t place a huge amount of weight on +/- ratings though, because it’s not always an accurate read of a player’s effectiveness.
- Zac Dalpe, in only four appearances in the regular season vs. WBS, racked up five points, 1G and 4A. He’s also been quite the playoff superstar, with eight points in his six games against the Bears.
- Chris Terry finished third in the AHL in goal scoring in the regular season, but was held to only 1G & 1A in his six games vs. Hershey. Against the Penguins in the regular season, he had five points in eight games.
- Jacob Micflikier had six points in six games vs. WBS. In the first round of the playoffs, he had two assists
- Justin Faulk with his recent NCAA Championship, and World Juniors experience should prove to be an asset to the Checkers in this playoff run. This kid is incredible as a puck mover, and has already demonstrated great finesse with the Checkers in his three playoff games last week.
- The defensive pairing of Michal Jordan and Brett Bellemore are going to play a lot of minutes this round. Jordan (20) and Bellemore (22) are young and defensively minded, and appeared to play the most defensive minutes against Hershey. I’d look to these two continuing that trend.
- Oskar Osala took no time coming back from injury to get back into the game right where he left off. He was a beast vs. Hershey, racking up 2G and 2A.
- WBS has a mascot named Tux, who is appropriately, a Penguin. Penguins are flightless birds, but pretty cool animals that are found in the Southern hemisphere. They usually live on rocky islands without a lot of land-dwelling predators, since they can’t fly to escape them.
- The Checkers have a polar bear mascot named Chubby. Polar bears typically hunt, kill and eat seals, but they are viscious creatures who would definitely eat a penguin for dinner if they could in the real world (i.e. a world where they live in the same hemisphere, since Polar Bears live in the Northern one, in awesome places like Churchill, Manitoba, and Penguins live in the Southern hemisphere)
- The Checkers have Checkmates who wave pom poms and show way too much skin in a cold, icy rink (though it is nicely tanned, even in the dead of winter when the rest of the fans and players are pasty white due to lack of natural sunlight.) On the flip side, like Hershey, the WBS Penguins do NOT have cheerleaders, which makes me want to take back my comment about polar bears eating penguins for dinner.