Penguins minor-league report: Home ice kind to Baby Pens


In lieu of discussing the increasingly bipolar NHL labor negotiations, let’s engage in more healthy activities, like exploring the past week for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ minor-league affiliates. Today’s report looks at two hockey clubs moving in opposite directions.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (6-6-0, 12 points – 4th in East Division)

As Drew Shetler noted earlier this week, the so-called “Baby Penguins” have been playing like fully-grown adults since an 0-4 start to their season. Their 6-2 surge continued last week as Pittsburgh’s American Hockey League club began a five-game homestand at Mohegan Sun Arena.

2010 Pittsburgh draft pick Tom Kuhnhackl hasn’t scored a regulation point in five AHL games, but he nailed the shootout winner last Wednesday as the WBS Penguins topped rival Binghamton. Goalie Jeff Zatkoff, in his first year with the Pittsburgh organization, registered his second shutout in three starts, making 32 saves through overtime and six more in the shootout.

Six-year AHL veteran forward Riley Holzapfel is also new to northeastern Pennsylvania, and the 2006 Atlanta Thrashers draft choice scored the Pens’ only goal in a 3-1 loss to Hershey last Friday night. The 24-year-old Holzapfel also scored the following evening, as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton survived a three-goal Portland rally to beat the Pirates 4-3 in a shootout.

Mar 24, 2012; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen (39) during a break in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place. The Senators defeated the Penguins, 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-US PRESSWIRE

Trevor Smith, who played 16 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, netted a pair of goals against Portland, helping the Baby Pens’ build a 3-0 first period lead. Goaltender Brad Thiessen (pictured) made progress in his return to the crease, earning his second victory when Eric Tangradi and Benn Ferriero lit the lamp in the tiebreaker. Tangradi (six goals) and Ferriero (seven assists) have been powering the WBS attack in the opening month of the slate.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which has won seven straight shootout decisions dating back to last season, will host the AHL-leading Springfield Falcons tonight (Wednesday) and Bridgeport on Friday before heading south to Hershey, Pa., on Saturday.

Wheeling Nailers (3-6-3, 12 points – 4th in Atlantic Division)

While the WBS Penguins continue to trend in a positive direction, the ECHL’s Nailers suffered three losses last week to remain in the basement of the four-team Atlantic Division.

Wheeling led Reading 3-0 entering the third period last Wednesday, but as Matt Shetler reported, the visiting Royals stunned WesBanco Arena by coming back to claim a 4-3 overtime victory. 21-year-old Nailers forward Phillipe Lebebvre scored two goals against Reading and is currently riding a three-game point streak; the second-year pro is fourth on the team with seven points (3g, 4a).

Following a 5-2 home loss to Toledo last Friday, the Nailers traveled to northwestern Ohio on Saturday to complete a home-and-home with the Walleye. Wheeling rallied three times to tie Toledo, but a three-goal third for the home side doomed the Nailers to a 5-3 defeat.

Cody Chupp, who had 34 points for the Nailers last season, scored two goals in two games over the weekend. Defenseman Cody Wild (3g, 7a) and Stefan Chaput (3g, 6a) also buried goals Saturday; they rank first and second on the team scoring list, respectively.

Defenseman Carl Sneep, drafted by Pittsburgh in 2006, has three assists and a plus-1 rating since being assigned to Wheeling. Goaltender Patrick Killeen, also property of the Penguins, allowed 13 goals on 81 shots last week to drop his save percentage under .900.

The Nailers will get a third crack at the Walleye this Saturday night in Toledo; it is Wheeling’s only scheduled game this week.