AHL Atlantic Division Finals Preview: Bitter In-State Rivals Battle to Advance by @jfoo1654 - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

AHL Atlantic Division Finals Preview: Bitter In-State Rivals Battle to Advance by @jfoo1654

Bitter Rivals Clash in Round 2
By the time the Puck drops tonight in Hershey for Game 1 of the Atlantic Division Finals, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will have had a week-and-a-half break to rest up the bumps and bruises, and to scout their bitter rivals from an hour down Interstate 81. Scouting reports be damned though, because when these two arch enemies battle in the playoffs, just about anything can and will happen. The two played each other an exhausting 12 times during the regular season and virtually split with WBS claiming the series by just one loser's point with a record of 6-5-0-1. Both fan bases are over the top excited, with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line. The stakes are high, and much like the two parent clubs have shown in the NHL series, blood will be shed.

Forwards

Hershey - The Bears come into this Atlantic Division Final with plenty of firepower, and it all starts with league MVP and perennial Penguins-Killer; Chris Bourque. He finished the regular season with a whopping 80 points in 72 games. He tallied 30 goals and 50 assists. He is also the straw that stirs the chocolate drink on the PP, which is deadly. He often plays the point on the top PP unit for the Bears, and has an impressive knack for getting pucks through the traffic and all the way to the net-minder. Outside of Bourque, the Bears rely on a group of talented young players to give them offense. Riley Barber had a fantastic rookie season and has the ability to score goals in any fashion, and Nathan Walker is a spark-plug type of player who relies on speed and energy to find his way onto the score sheet.  Jakub Vrana has overcome some injury struggles to really find his game late in the year, and led the way for the Bears in round 1. He has a lightning quick release and doesn't need any space to get the rocket off. (Think Dominik Simon, but bigger.) Former fan favorite in Wilkes-Barre Zach Sill was dynamite against his old team this year registering 8 points in 11 games. Sill is willing to play the physical game to match what WBS will be sure to want to use against the Bears.



Wilkes-Barre - The Penguins are more of a gritty, grind it out type of offensive unit. Their most productive line in round 1 was the line of TK-Rowney-Guentzel, and they had success by getting pucks deep and cycling and possessing the puck until they wore down the defense. The Rookie Guentzel was unstoppable registering 7 points including 3 goals, and the 2OT series ending goal. He scored a pair of deflection goals and then on the series winner he showed off his slick hands on a breakaway. Dominik Simon had a great rookie season for the Pens, and has yet to really find his rhythm this postseason. Simon has the ability to catch fire and has had some success against Hershey this season. Dustin Jeffrey and Kael Mouillierat are gifted veteran offensive talents, and really played well once Daniel Sprong was given his promotion to the top line. Sprong made an immediate impact after coming to town following his junior season ended in round 2 of the QMJHL Playoffs. He scored a pair of goals, including the OT winner in Game 2, and added a PP tally in Game 3. The return of Sahir Gill could be a nice boost for the Penguins.

Advantage - Push - It's hard to ignore the firepower the Bears bring into this series, and if Bourque finds his touch early the Pens will have their hands full. At the same time, the late season additions of Guentzel and now Sprong have given the Penguins a huge lift offensively, and their veteran leaders play a physical game opening up time and space while creating turnovers.

Dominik Simon has the ability to catch fire.


Defenseman

Hershey - Similar to their Forwards, Hershey's D-Men are a young and dynamic group that like to create offense. At times the Bears can get a bit lazy in their own zone, and they aren't overly big and can be worn down physically. Madison Bowey and Aaron Ness are both mobile puck movers who love to jump down into the play and create. Both can bomb shots from the blue line as well. Erick Burgdoerfer always seems to play well against WBS and Christian Djoos is as impressive of  young defenseman as their is in this league. Veteran Mike Moore has had success against the Pens but has found himself a healthy scratch due to the Veteran Limit. For this unit, it's all about whether or not they can take the beating that WBS' forwards are sure to dish out.

Wilkes-Barre - In the first round the Penguins Defensive Unit played almost to perfection. They played an extremely physical game to shut down the talented young stars of Providence. They will need to play the same style to control a dynamic Hershey offense. Ryan Parent and Barry Goers were paired up and were noticeably stingy, they hammered Vatrano and Company every chance they got. Both blocked numerous shots as well. Tim Erixon scored goals in Games 2 and 3, and he demonstrated the all around ability that allowed him to make the NHL roster out of training camp. Will O'Neill had a historic season, breaking the single season scoring record for a defenseman in WBS history. He had a rather quiet round 1 which is promising for the Pens, because if O'Neill finds his game and the others keep playing at an elite level, WBS will clearly have the edge here.

Advantage
- Wilkes-Barre. This one is pretty cut and dry for me. The Pens have the experience, the Physical edge, and on paper a more productive offensive push from the back end. As I stated above, the D-Core of WBS dominated Providence, and will need the same gameplan to shut down the Bears. Clear edge to the Penguins.
The Rivalry brings the best out of Burgdoerfer.
Goaltending
Hershey - Justin Peters was the backup to Dan Ellis for most of the season in chocolatetown, and was ridiculed at times by the Bears faithful as looking disinterested. That all changed after he replaced Ellis to start Game 2 of the Portland series. Peters absolutely took control of the series and stood on his head while clearly frustrating the Pirates. Both Peters and Ellis are AHL Veterans who have seen it all before, and their experience will be valuable. If Peters plays the way he did in round 1 the Penguins will be tested for sure. That being said, the Penguins had great success against Peters pretty much all year long. Expect the Bears to ride the hot hand in Peters.

Wilkes-Barre - Casey DeSmith was outstanding in round 1 against Providence. He went 3-0 with a 2.45 GAA and a .930 Save Pct. After spending the majority of the season with Wheeling, the former standout at UNH has emerged as a fairy tale storyline during the Calder Cup Playoffs. Much like the Parent Club in Pittsburgh the AHL Penguins will have to decide upon which Goalie to go with. Tristan Jarry was the #1 after Murray's promotion, but had to sit and watch as DeSmith stole the show in the first round. After a week and a half off, I think the organization is going to want to see Jarry get some Pro playoff experience. My gut tells me Jarry gets the nod. Either way WBS will have a reliable goalie between the pipes.

Advantage - Wilkes-Barre - Whether Donatelli elects to stay with the hot hand in DeSmith, or turn to his top prospect in Jarry, I believe the Penguins have a slight upper-hand here. Peters struggled all year and especially against WBS. The Penguins defense core will go a long way in deciding the edge here as well. This series will be decided by a bounce here or there, and so I believe that Goaltending will ultimately be the deciding factor in this series. That being said, Peters did play unreal in round 1 and if he turns in that kind of performance again, it could spell the end for WBS.

Tristan Jarry may get his chance to shine


Ex-Factor

Hershey - The easy choice here is MVP Chris Bourque, but I believe that Christian Djoos is the man to watch for the Bears. Djoos stood out every time that these two met during the season and he plays a huge role in getting the Hershey PP rolling. Djoos can do it all, and the Penguins forwards will need to crash and bang him as much as possible if they want to keep him under wraps. If Djoos and the Bears PP gets hot, WBS will be outmatched in this series. The Penguins PK had great success against the Bears all year, control Djoos and that should continue.

Wilkes-Barre - I went with Jake Guentzel in round 1 and he certainly made me look much smarter than I am. For this round I am going with another rookie, only this one spent the whole season in NEPA. Dominik Simon can be an offensive powerhouse for a small man. He has great speed and super soft hands, and he can score all different ways. His biggest asset is the ability to release his wicked wrist shot in a split second, and I believe that skill will be the one that gets him off and running tonight in Game 1. Simon has had some good games against the Bears this season and I personally think he will catch fire here in the Division Final.

Daniel Sprong off to a hot start in WBS
Prediction

Penguins in 6. I picked the underdog Pens to upset Providence in 4 games in round 1 due to their physicality and experience. They did it in 3. I am picking them to beat the Bears for the same reasons. I believe the Pens' physical game plan will wear down the young talent of Hershey, and eventually they get it done on home ice in Game 6. Seth Lakso of the Citizens Voice noted that the winner of Game 1 has won the series each of the previous 6 meetings between the two teams. I think Game 1 will be a tough one for WBS coming off of the long layoff but I do think they will find a way to grind Hershey down, and turn the sweetest place on earth just a little bitter this spring.

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