WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Two nights, two games and two rivals. Weekends don’t get much bigger for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins than the upcoming matchups against the Hershey Bears tonight followed by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday.
“Two games against rivals,” said Penguins coach Todd Reirden. “There’s always a little more at stake when you play against teams that you faced last year in the playoffs.”
While each game is against an East Division rival, there is a different issue facing the Penguins with each matchup.
With Hershey, the Penguins will be looking to get on the board after the Bears left town with a 3-0 win during the last meeting on Oct. 9.
Other than that, there really isn’t much the Penguins have to do differently to beat Hershey, according to Reirden.
“We outchanced Hershey and just didn’t have anything to show for it,” Reirden said. “I certainly haven’t pushed the panic button. I liked how we played against them and were able to push them.”
In the Oct. 9 game the Penguins outshot the Bears 38-28 and remained down 1-0 until Hershey scored two goals in the third period to seal the win.
“It’s going to be a good test for us,” said veteran forward Ryan Bayda. “Last time against them we played a good game – more than 25 scoring chances. We should have some confidence that we can stay with these guys and compete at their level.”
After the Oct. 9 game against Hershey, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hosted Bridgeport the next night and suffered a 2-1 loss in an affair that saw the Penguins lose two players early with injuries and three more thanks to game misconducts resulting from a second period line brawl.
The brawl began when Bridgeport’s Pascal Morency boarded Joe Vitale and resulted in Sound Tigers enforcer Trevor Gillies punching rookie Robert Bortuzzo after he fell to the ice.
Despite the short bench, the Penguins maintained a 1-1 tie until Bridgeport scored with 10 seconds left in the game.
This time around the Penguins will have a full bench,and enforcer Wade Brookbank is ready to play, joining Aaron Boogaard and Jesse Boulerice as options for Reirden to use if the game gets rough again.
Boogaard, who was involved in the line brawl, wouldn’t be surprised if the bad feelings persisted against the Penguins and Bridgeport.
“Something’s going to carry over. Anyone who was at the last game could see that something’s going to happen,” he said. “Older guys like Gillies can’t really do that to a rookie, but at the same time this is still just another hockey game that we have to win and take two points from them.”
Brookbank, who injured his knee early in the Bridgeport game, said team doctors cleared him to play this weekend. Common sense would dictate that the physical stuff from the last matchup would carry over to Saturday’s game in Bridgeport, but Brookbank said that’s not always the case.
“I’ve been in a lot of situations where you’re expecting this huge war and it ends up being a 3-2 game with barely any physical play,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. We’re going to try to win the game first and foremost.”
Reirden said Brookbank’s knee will be monitored to see how it responded to Thursday’s practice before he decides to play him. As far as dressing all three of his tough guys for the Bridgeport game, Reirden would only say the memories from the Oct. 10 game haven’t faded.
“It wasn’t a real long time ago and I haven’t forgotten a lot about the events of that night. I don’t think any of our team has,” he said. “We’ll dress the lineup that gives us the best success to win.”
Hershey Bears at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
When: 7:05 p.m. today at the Wachovia Arena
Last game: Oct. 9; Bears 3, Penguins 0 at Wilkes-Barre
Players to watch: Hershey – Boyd Kane. With Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux recalled to Washington on Thursday, Kane will be expected to pick up the scoring load, as will his linemates – Andrew Gordon and Kyle Wilson.
Penguins – Chris Conner. The speedy winger had a game-high seven shots on Oct. 9 against the Bears, and his chemistry with Wyatt Smith on the top line continues. Luca Caputi has played particularly chippy lately, adding to the havoc he creates around opponents’ nets.