The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins finished October an impressive 8-0, including three wins over the New York Yankees Hershey Bears.

An 8-0 record is even more impressive when you consider that the team played 6 of those games without their top defensemen, Andrew Hutchinson, and one of their top forwards, Eric Tangradi.

The WBS Penguins had a solid, yet inconsistent season last year which culminated in a disappointing first round sweep by Albany.

The lost their top forward in the playoffs, Tangradi, to Pittsburgh as well as their top two defensemen from the previous year in Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland. And they did not miss a beat.

Jason Iacona of Chirps from Center Ice and Eric Politowski from the WBS version of the Pensblog offer their opinions on their 3 stars for October.

Your 3 Stars for October

Jason:

  • 1. John Curry: Getting his game back on track. Let’s face it, he was the #2 goaltender here in Wilkes-Barre (despite what you read) and has virtually played himself back from obscurity. He is the top goaltender in the American Hockey League (thru November 4) and is proving to all of his detractors that last year was an anomaly. The fact that the AHL has recognized both Curry and Thiessen as goaltenders of the month (something they rarely do) just shows how well the two have done to date.

  • 2. Brad Thiessen: No sophomore slump here. 4 games played, 4 wins. Miniscule GAA (1.93) and a 0.930 SV%. Two wins over rival Hershey.
  • 3. Joe Vitale: Nothing more needs to be said about his offensive production (5 goals and 2 shorthanded) and the way the kid hustles night in and night out. He is, without a doubt in my mind, the engine that makes this team go.

Eric:

  • 1. John Curry / Brad Thiessen: Curry, an undrafted 4th year pro out of Boston University, has a 4-0 record to go along with a 1.72 GAA, .940 SV%. Thiessen, an undrafted 2nd year pro out of Northeastern University, is 4-0 with a 1.96 GAA, .930 SV%.

  • 2. Nick Johnson: 24-year-old college product is a dangling prospect but needs to add some more grit to his game to make the jump to the NHL. So far, he is tied for the team lead in points with Dustin Jeffrey. He has one more goal than him, making him the leading scorer thus far. He has good size to go along with some great hands. Could be the next call-up at forward.
  • 3. Steve Wagner: While Andrew Hutchinson was in Pittsburgh on a call-up stint, Wagner took over the reigns on the blue-line. After struggling last year in Peoria, Wagner was acquired via trade last season for Nate Guenin. Wagner, who has over 70 games of NHL experience is a pure offensive defenseman, and flourishes in the right system. He is as confident as ever and has 5 points (2+3) in 8 games. With Hutch back in the WB, Wagner will slide down to the number 2 spot.

Zach:

  • 1. Brad Thiessen/John Curry: They won goaltenders of the month for good reason… because they dominated the competition. Very impressive stuff.

  • 2. Joe Vitale: Vitale led the team in goals including 2 shorthanded tallies. His speed is incredible as well as his tenacity and willingness to muck it up. If he can develop his goal scoring he could see NHL time soon.
  • 3. Steve Wagner: Wagner became the top dog in WBS after the promotion of Hutchinson and he took it and ran with it. He quarterbacked the power play and really showed an offensive outburst that he hadn’t shown before in WBS.

Offense:
This season they have added more scoring up front without losing any players from last season. New to the team this season is former 55 goal scorer Brett Sterling, Ryan Craig, Geoff Walker, and a (relatively) healthy Keven Veilleux.

Nick Johnson and Dustin Jeffrey lead the team in points in October with 8 points in 8 games for each player. This is nothing new for Jeffrey but this is a jump in production for Johnson. He finished last season with 43 points in 61 games. If he can continue his production he could see some time in Pittsburgh sooner than later.

The surprise of the season has been leading goal scorer, 3rd line center Joe Vitale. He led the team in goals in October with 5 goals, one less than his total from last year (6). Despite his low goal totals last season, Vitale set career highs in points after developing good chemistry with Eric Tangradi.

Vitale had no shorthanded goals last season even while playing top PK time. This season, he has scored 2 shorthanded goals and has added goal scoring to his impressive resume of skills.

Defense:
On defense WBS lost their top two players to Pittsburgh, as expected. Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy have rotated as the 6th defensemen for much of this NHL season and have filled in as high as 4th on the depth chart when the injury bug struck the Pittsburgh blueline.

Andrew Hutchinson got the call up to Pittsburgh when Brooks Orpik and Zybnek Michalek both missed time due to injuries and performed better than most people could have expected. Since being sent back to the AHL, he has played excellent and provided a needed spark to the power play that had been average at best without him.

Youngsters Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo, and Carl Sneep have been excellent this season as well and have allowed the Penguins to have not only the best defense in the AHL but perhaps professional hockey.

After October, the Penguins allowed only 1.88 goals against per game which was by far the top mark in the league (stats thanks to Chirps from Center Ice).

Goaltending
Brad Theissen all but stole the starting gig away from John Curry last season, his rookie year, but faltered slightly in the playoffs. Thiessen has improved remarkably this season and has proved to be one of the two top goaltenders in the AHL.

Who is the other one? Why it is the WBS Penguins’ other goalie, John Curry. Curry has been nearly as excellent as Curry and the two goaltenders have proven to be an excellent 1-2 punch in net.

Both Brad Thiessen and John Curry won AHL Goaltenders of the month for October. Both were undefeated in October. Both played excellent.

Conclusion
Wilkes-Barre Scranton had the top record in the AHL in October and they will look to continue that trend for the rest of the season. Hopes are high in WBS that this is the year that they wrest control of the division from the evil empire, the Hershey Bears.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Penguins beat writer Jonathan Bombulie:

“I’ve gone ahead and declared the WBS Penguins the early-season favorites to win the 2011 Calder Cup.”

AHL Star Tracker

  • 1st star = 3 points
  • 2nd star = 2 points
  • 3rd star = 1 point
Name Points
John Curry 9
Brad Thiessen 8
Joe Vitale 3
Steve Wagner 2
Nick Johnson 2