It’s never easy to see your season come to an end. It’s even more difficult when you have high expectations. And after a 51-win regular season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins certainly thought they had the ability to advance deep into the Calder Cup Playoffs.
But a 2-1 Game Five defeat at the hands of the Providence Bruins on Sunday ended the Pens’ hopes for a run at a postseason championship.
“I thought we did absolutely everything in our power [Sunday] to try to win that game,” said forward Oskar Sundqvist.
Falling in the first round is undoubtedly disappointing. And when you take into account that the Atlantic Division featured four of the top eight teams in the entire league, any opening series matchup was going to present challenges – on both sides of the puck.
“Overall, yeah, we’re disappointed we’re not in the playoffs. We’re disappointed that we have a good enough team here that we could of made a good run,” said head coach Clark Donatelli. “If you look at the whole broad picture of what we did as a group, there are a lot of positives that came out of it.”
So before we close the book for good on the 2016-17 season, let’s take a look back at some of those positives and high points for the Penguins.
Guentzel returned to Wilkes-Barre in early December, recorded his first career hat trick on December 27 against the Springfield Falcons, and posted 42 points (21+21) in just 31 teams with the AHL club. He was recalled once again on January 16, and has been a fixture in the Pittsburgh lineup ever since.
Oskar Sundqvist’s second season can’t be considered anything except a success. The native of Sweden recorded his sixth goal of the campaign in his 16th game, eclipsing his mark from the 2015-16 season. He had 16 points by December 4 (one fewer than his entire tally from last year), and blew past his first-year total on December 10, when he tied a team record with four goals in a game against the Hershey Bears.
Sundqvist hit the 20-goal mark on April 7, one of just three Penguins skaters to see that total this season, and his 46 points (20+26) in 63 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tied him for third on the team.
Additionally, he saw action in 10 games with Pittsburgh this season, giving him 28 NHL contests in his first two years in North America.
ARCHIE ON THE ATTACK
Josh Archibald came into his own this season, setting new career highs in goals (16), assists (13) and points (29). He also paced the AHL with four short-handed tallies, and finished sixth in the league with a plus-25 mark in 61 games. The fourth-year pro also thrilled with Pittsburgh, scoring his first two NHL goals in his first game of the season, February 11 against the Arizona Coyotes.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton captain Tom Kostopoulos showed few signs of slowing down in his 18th season of professional hockey, leading the Penguins with 24 goals and 54 points while appearing in a team-high 74 games.
Along the way, TK hit memorable marks by recording his 400th point with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (November 4); hitting the 500 point plateau in the AHL (January 28); appearing in his 600th game with the Pens (February 4); and recording his 200th AHL goal (February 10).
The Penguins goaltending duo of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith posted the lowest goals against average in the league at 2.15, earning the tandem the Harry ‘Hap’ Holmes award.
Jarry finished the season with 28 wins, third most in the league and the fourth-highest single season total in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history. The AHL All-Star moved into a tie for fourth place on the team’s all-time wins list with Matt Murray (45) by year’s end, and his three shutouts this season evened Jeff Zatkoff’s career total of eight, tied for fifth in the Pens record book.
DeSmith posted an impressive 21 wins in 29 appearances, and led the entire AHL with a 2.01 goals against average. He stopped 26 shots to record his first AHL shutout on April 1 against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of his final 11 regular season appearances.
Additionally, David Warsofsky proved to be one of the most reliable defenseman in the league, finishing third overall with a plus-30 ranking, ranking seventh among blue liners with 47 points, and tied for fourth among defensemen with nine power play goals. A member of the Atlantic Division squad at the AHL All-Star Classic, Warsofsky’s totals of 16+31=47 established new career highs across the board for the seventh-year pro.
Nine different Penguins skaters recorded their first career AHL goals during the 2016-17 season:
Reid Gardiner – November 5 at Bridgeport
Thomas DiPauli – November 16 at Lehigh Valley
Teddy Blueger – December 11 at Bridgeport
Lukas Bengtsson – December 16 vs Rochester
Ethan Prow – February 3 vs St. John’s
Zach Aston-Reese – March 21 vs Hartford
Troy Josephs – April 1 vs Lehigh Valley
Pat McGrath – April 8 at Hartford
Cody Wydo – April 9 at Providence
Also, goaltender Sean Maguire picked up his first AHL victory with a22 save performance against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the Pens regular season finale on April 15.
GOING TO THE SHOW
In addition to Guetnzel, three other Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins made their NHL debuts with Pittsburgh this season.
Carter Rowney, suited up for the big club for the first time on January 31 against the Nashville Predators, and netted his first NHL goal on March 17 against the New Jersey Devils.
Tristan Jarry and Jean-Sebastien Dea both appeared in Pittsburgh’s regular season finale on April 9 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
ADDITIONAL HONORS AND AWARDS
Jake Guentzel captured the CCM / AHL Rookie of the Month honors for December with 17 points (11+6) in 10 games during the month.
Guentzel and DeSmith were named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team at season’s end.
Warsofsky earned All-AHL Second Team honors.
The Penguins clinched their 15th consecutive playoff appearance – the longest current stream in the AHL – on April 2.
The Penguins laid claim to the Emile Francis (Atlantic Division Champion) and Frank Mathers (Eastern Conference Champion) trophies following a 2-1 win over the Providence Bruins on April 9.
The Penguins finished the season with a record of 51- 20-3-2 (107 points) and captured the MacGregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the league’s regular season champion on April 15.