Andrey Pedan had appeared in 211 American Hockey League games prior to Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Laval Rocket. And in that time, the Russian defenseman had a grand total of one multi-goal game in his minor league career, that coming on April 6, 2014 as a member of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
So you could excuse the 6’5” blue line for being just a little bit happy when he popped in three goals to lead the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins past the Rocket this past weekend.
“I was excited. There were not many hats out there, playing on the road,” laughed Pedan. “[Garrett Wilson] did a really good job in front [of the goal], so it was easy. I just had to hit the net.”
Pedan’s first goal was a shot from the slot that hit goaltender Michael McNiven, then fluttered over the goal line. But tallies two and three were deftly placed shots from the point, both coming on the power play.
The sixth-year pro was happy to hit the back of the net, even if it wasn’t the first thing on his mind.
“I don’t really worry about points, just taking care of the D-zone,” he said. “We have a great group of forwards who can score.”
Perhaps the only person happier than Pedan this past weekend was head coach Clark Donatelli, who has seen the early season acquisition (he was traded to the Penguins for defenseman Derrick Pouliot) bloom on the Penguins backline.
“We’ve been working with him here now since the trade and trying to get him up to speed on our systems and his details and his habits, how he plays,” Donatelli said. “I think you can see a big difference from when we got him to now.
“Less is more with him. It’s hard to do less when you’re competing like that. But I think he’s buying in. He did a lot less and got three goals, and got a lot accomplished on the defensive side of the puck as well. So he’s come a long way since we got him, and we’re really happy with his success.
Pedan wasn’t the only Penguin celebrating a hat trick last weekend. Ryan Haggerty started off the team’s trek through Canada with a three-goal game in a 6-2 victory against the Belleville Senators on Friday night. What made it even more special is that his father, Roger, was on hand as part of the team’s fathers’ trip to witness it firsthand.
“It was something special to have all of the dads here,” said the younger Haggerty, who now has 16 goals in just 26 games this season. “And it’s pretty cool to play that well as a team and to go out and win a game like that. It’s more special to have all of the dads with us.”
Haggerty has already eclipsed his previous single-season high of 15 goals in a season, set in 2014-15 with the Hartford Wolf Pack. It took him 73 games that year to reach the mark.
“Hagg’s has been playing great all year,” Donatelli said. “He’s got an NHL shot and release. He’s just played fantastic from the time he stepped on the ice his first game this year. He’s been very consistent in his play, and I think that’s a big difference from last year.”
The Penguins have been known as one of the top defenseive teams in the AHL in recent years, with their goaltenders taking home the Harry ‘Hap’ Holmes Award, presented to the netminders on the team with the lowest goals against average, in five of the past seven seasons.
So it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton currently ranks second in the league in goals scored per game at 3.67 (132 goals in 36 games).
What’s even more impressive is that the team has done plenty of damage while two of its top scorers – Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong – have been on recall with Pittsburgh.
Simon was originally summoned by Pittsburgh on December 8, but returned to the team on December 30. He netted the overtime winner in that contest before returning to the NHL club.
Sprong got his promotion on that same day, after netting 18 goals in 29 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Despite not having the duo in the lineup since the end of the calendar year, the Penguins have posted five straight wins (seven overall dating back to December 29), and have outscored the opposition 23-9 in 2018.
“Spronger leaves, and it’s just another opportunity for someone else to come in and grab that ice time,” said Donatelli. “We have a lot of guys here that are going to take advantage of that. You’re seeing it with him and Simon being up there, where guys are getting more ice time. They jump right in there and take advantage of that.”
Wednesday night’s game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms starts a stretch of games that will see the Penguins face off with Atlantic Division foes in 10 of 11 contests. And although the Pens currently hold down the top slot in the standings, Donatelli knows the upcoming schedule will be a challenging one to navigate.
“My experience in this division, even when you’re winning you don’t break away [from the pack],” he said. “If you’re not on your ‘A’ game, you’re going to get beat in this league, and especially in our division. We’re just going to approach it one game at a time. It’s a tough stretch for us, but our guys are ready.”
The Penguins’ next game is Wednesday, Jan. 17 against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Puck drop between the Penguins and Phantoms is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. Individual tickets for all Penguins home games are available at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza box office, online at TicketMaster.com, or by calling 800-745-3000.
Season ticket packages for the 19th season of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey, including 22-game, 12-game and Flexbook plans, are available by contacting the Penguins directly at (570) 208-7367.