When Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins fans think rivalry, their thoughts turn to the Hershey Bears.
It’s true that a bona fide rivalry exists against the East Division opponent that the Penguins will face a total of 12 times this season, but the Bears aren’t the only team that makes the Penguins blood boil time and again.
This weekend the Penguins will face two other division opponents — they travel to Binghamton to face the Senators tonight and come home to host the Norfolk Admirals on Saturday. They face Binghamton and Norfolk eight times each this season, and each matchup is sure to rekindle the lengthy histories the Penguins have with each club.
“We’ve seen them in the playoffs the last couple of years and there’s no love lost against those teams,” said center Zach Sill, who has seen plenty of the Senators and Admirals during his five years with the Penguins. “Every game is a war against them, and it’s been that way for a couple of years.”
After this weekend, the Penguins will have seen a different opponent in all eight of their games this season, including all five East Division foes and teams from the Atlantic and Northeast divisions.
Head coach John Hynes said it’s good to face such a variety of opponents early in the year.
“You get a good feel not only for the teams in your division, but for the variety of opponents that are out there,” he said.
But this weekend the focus is solely on a pair of rivals in Binghamton and Norfolk.
Hynes said both teams are well coached, talented and have established their own identities and yes, they do qualify as rivals much like the Bears.
“When you play teams eight times and they’re quality opponents, every game is tough,” Hynes said. “We’ve seen in the regular season and in playoffs that these games turn into tight-checking, competitive affairs.”
- Forward Jayson Megna was recalled by Pittsburgh on Thursday while forwards Chris Conner and Harry Zolnierczyk were reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Megna could make his NHL debut Friday against the Islanders. He has three goals, five points and is a plus-8 through six games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Conner and Zolnierczyk each have three goals in three games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.
- During his last two fights, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and his opponent both removed their helmets before the scrap began, taking an extra two-minute minor in accordance with a new rule this season.
Could it be that the rule — which assesses a minor penalty to any player who removes their helmet before a fight, is more nuisance than deterrent?
Well, Leblond said the helmet removals aren’t really a way of intentionally disobeying the new rule. It’s more about old habits being hard to break.
“It’s not planned. It just happens and you don’t always think about it,” Leblond said. “Everything happens so fast out there that you’re not planning to go out and do that.”
Leblond believes the practice of removing helmets before a fight won’t go away even with the two minute penalty and he predicted more tough guys will continue to take their lids off before a fight.
“I don’t want to encourage it, but I think you’re going to see a lot of that,” he said. “For so long they let us do it, maybe it’s just an old habit.”
- Hynes on his team’s penchant for scoring clutch goals in the third period and overtime this season: “When they’re in those situations, the guys are making good plays and they’re executing. We’ve been pretty consistent with that.” The Penguins are outscoring opponents 15-4 in the third period this season.
- Hynes on Brian Gibbons’ (11 points in six games) scoring success: “The reason why it’s coming is he’s been very consistent in his game and work habits. He’s got great hockey sense, all the ability and skill, and now his mind is right. He’s got a great work ethic, and now you’re seeing the total package he has.”
- Sunday’s overtime win against Manchester was the 150th AHL victory for Hynes.
- Last season’s Penguins team opened with a 2-4 record and produced 15 goals. This season the Penguins are 6-0 and have scored a league-leading 27 goals.