Penguins minor-league report: Thompson, Reese turn on the offense


There may be good news soon on the NHL labor front, but let’s take a look at the recent results put forth by the Penguins’ minor-league affiliates, the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (4-5-0, 8 points – 5th in East Division)

Although they remain in last place in the five-team East Division, the “Baby Pens” have now won four of their last five after starting the season 0-4. WBS picked up a pair of road victories last week with undrafted third-year AHL forward Paul Thompson netting four goals to take the team points lead with eight (6g, 2a).

January 23, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; New York Islanders defenseman Dylan Reese (42) carries the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

The spotlight was on the crease last Friday night in Manchester, N.H., as Jeff Zatkoff earned his first Penguins shutout with 33 saves. Interestingly, the 2006 L.A. Kings draft pick spent the last three full seasons in Manchester with the Monarchs, so there might have been some extra emotion in play for the 6-foot-3 ‘tender.

Eric Tangradi and Pittsburgh-born defenseman Dylan Reese each scored a power-play goal against the Stanley Cup champs’ AHL club, with Thompson adding an empty netter. Tangradi, now with five goals in his past five games, is tied with Thompson for the team goal lead at six.

Two nights later in Bridgeport, Conn., the Penguins topped the Sound Tigers (affiliate of the New York Islanders) 5-3 when Thompson scored a second-period natural hat trick. The former University of New Hampshire star turned a 1-1 tie into a commanding Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lead.

Reese also scored against the Sound Tigers, helping Zatkoff (.918 save percentage) earn a 37-save victory, his third in seven appearances. This week, the Penguins battle divisional foes Binghamton (Wednesday) and Hershey (Friday) to start a five-game homestand, which continues Saturday against Portland.

Wheeling Nailers (3-4-2, 8 points – 3rd in Atlantic Division)

Following a two-win home-opening weekend at WesBanco Arena, the Nailers held their ground in the four-team Atlantic with a 1-1-1 performance against North Division opponents. Goaltender Patrick Killeen, a sixth-round Penguins draft pick in 2008, continued his promising start to the season with 35 saves on 38 shots in a pair of starts last week.

Killeen turned away 19 regulation shots and all five shootout attempts in Wheeling’s 3-2 home win over Toledo on Friday. Defenseman Cody Wild had a goal and an assist in the Nailers’ third straight victory; last year’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin has eight points (2g, 6a) in nine games so far, tied with forward Paul Crowder for the team lead.

Cody Chupp scored twice Saturday night in Evansville, Ind., the Nailers fell 4-3 in the first-ever meeting between the two teams. Stefan Chaput, a 2006 Carolina draft selection, earned an assist against the Central Hockey League-transplant IceMen, extending his point streak to four games and giving him six points (2g, 4a) on the season.

Wheeling’s busy weekend concluded in Cincinnati, and for the second time this season, the Nailers lost to the Cyclones in overtime. Killeen denied 26 shots and Scott Zurevinski, who scored 46 goals in four years at Quinnipiac University, nailed his second professional goal to force sudden death.

The Nailers, four points behind division-leading Elmira, welcome Atlantic rival Reading to WesBanco on Wednesday night. Wheeling hosts Toledo on Friday and concludes its home-and-home with the Walleye on Saturday in northwestern Ohio.