Three weeks and seven games into the 2016-17 American Hockey League season, and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have allowed a measly nine goals against – the lowest total in the 30 team league. They’ve allowed just one goal in five of those seven contests, and have only allowed two goals in regulation once so far – that coming in a 6-2 opening night victory against the Hartford WolfPack.
It’s an historic start for a club that has become well known for stout displays of defense over the past decade.
But head coach Clark Donatelli isn’t necessarily figuring that the fantastically low GAA will hold up all season.
“It’s early. Right now we’re playing well. Our guys are paying attention to details,” he said following a nearly two hour practice on Wednesday at the Toyota SportsPlex. “The D corps are playing very well, we’re getting good goaltending. But I think overall it’s solid team defense. Our forwards are coming back. We work really hard at it in practice, and we pride ourselves in playing good defense.”
The Penguins are the only team to allow than 10 goals so far this season. The San Jose Barracuda are close behind with just 11 against, but have played only four games to far. The next closest teams after San Jose (Springfield, Tucson and Bakersfield) have allowed 15 tallies each to date.
And while the Pens have been less than generous in allowing goals, the work they’ve done in their own end is leading to tallies of their own.
“We try to create offense from all three zones,” said Donatelli. “Guys are working really hard. They’re blocking shots and winning one-on-one battles. So so far so good.”
Kevin Porter provided a pair of prime examples of how defensive play can lead to offense when the Pens took on the Syracuse Crunch on October 22. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward tallied a pair of shorthanded goals in the 3-1 victory, becoming the first Penguin in nearly a decade to accomplish the feat.
The first goal came after Josh Archibald chipped a puck off of a Syracuse defender and fed Porter, who broke in alone on Crunch net minder Adam Wilcox. The second goal saw Porter pressing the play at the Syracuse blue line, taking advantage of a defender’s miscue and sniping his second of the night.
“If you play good defense, it translates into the offense,” Porter stated. “They’re going to have breakdowns offensively, then we chip it out and we go. We have a good transition game. Forwards are back-checking, D are standing up and making good plays.”
The Penguins will look to keep their opponents at bay again this weekend, when they play three games in three days. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hosts the Binghamton Senators on Friday night at 7:05pm, before hitting the road for contests against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Saturday night) and Providence Bruins (Sunday afternoon).
Tickets for Friday night’s home contest are available at the Mohegan Sun Arena box office, online at TicketMaster.com, or by calling the Penguins at 570-208-7367.