By Tony Androckitis
Heading into the Christmas break, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have managed to maintain the top spot in the East Division despite numerous call ups to their NHL counterpart in Pittsburgh and several injuries throughout the organization. In the midst of a six game home stand and 10 out of 12 at home, the depleted AHL Penguins continue to be effective, going 9-5-1-0 in their last 15 games.
A total of nine players who started the season in the Wilkes-Barre have been called up to Pittsburgh already this season. All but defenseman Philip Samuelsson, who was re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre earlier this week, are still with the NHL Penguins.
In addition to those lost to Pittsburgh, the AHL Penguins have had plenty of injuries of their own, including defensemen Peter Merth and Reid McNeill and forwards Adam Payerl, Dominik Uher and Nick Drazenovic.
Drazenovic had missed several games in November before returning to face his former team, the Springfield Falcons earlier this month.
“It’s tough,” Drazenovic said of returning after a lower body injury kept him out of the lineup for a few weeks. “I felt a little tired out there in back-to-back games, three games in four nights. It’s a process getting back into shape and skating hard.”
With the injuries and call ups on defense, rookie defenseman Nick D’Agostino has been getting more ice time and playing more on special teams, which has paid off for the former Cornell standout. He recently scored his first career goal as a professional earlier this month in a 1-0 victory over Utica. D’Agostino acknowledged the holiday home stand when I caught up with him after his game-winning power play goal.
“Going into the Christmas stretch, all points are important,” D’Agostino said. “We’ll take all the points we can get at this point in the season.”
Drazenovic mimicked D’Agostino’s response, also noting the importance of having the guys together and on the same page.
“We had that one trip to St. John’s [Newfoundland, Canada]. It’s good team bonding to get on the road but it’s also nice to get home, especially at this time of the year,” Drazenovic said. “To spring some wins together would be huge.”
Winners of three out of their last four games, the Penguins look to finish their season-high, six-game home stand on a positive note tonight against the Norfolk Admirals before traveling to Hershey to take on the Bears on Saturday night.
The road ahead for the Penguins sees them traveling quite a bit in the month of January as they are scheduled to play eight games on the road, including a six-game road trip spanning ten days from January 16th-27th.