Wilkes-Barre lends a helping hand to Penguins’ success

They are requests that can throw his working life into some disarray, but John Hynes looks forward to them.

Because of a long series of injuries to Penguins players, Hynes, coach of the Penguins’ American Hockey League club, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, has been sending out a steady supply of players all season.

“You’re trying help players move on, so it’s a great phone call to have,” Hynes said Sunday. “When guys are able to go up and do well, we take a lot of pride in that.

“It’s also exciting here because then you get an opportunity to work with other players” coming up from Wheeling of the ECHL.

Hynes might well have gotten another such call Sunday night, because it appeared likely the Penguins will be short a player or two — particularly on defense, where they were down to, at most, six available players — for their game tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center.

He agreed with the notion that injuries seem to be especially widespread for the Penguins this season, which leaves him scrambling to reorganize line combinations and defensive pairings on his team.

Scouting report
Matchup: Penguins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Jonathan Bernier for Maple Leafs.

Penguins: Have won eight home games in a row and lead NHL with 14 home wins. … Are 17 for 17 on penalty-kill in past six games. … Sidney Crosby has at least one point in 11 home games in a row and in 16 of 17 at home.

Maple Leafs: Ended three-game losing streak with 7-3 win Saturday vs. Chicago, also first regulation win since Nov. 19. … Penalty-killing (76.7 percent) among worst in NHL. … Phil Kessel has 11 points in past 10 games (5 goals, 6 assists).

Hidden stat: The Penguins are 10-1 when they are outshot.

“A situation like this, you’re not really sure day to day, practice-wise and planning for your team, who’s going to be there,” Hynes said. “You have to be a little flexible.

“The positive side is that it’s nice to see the guys go up and be able to play well, and it really helps your depth. You get an idea of which guys in the American Hockey League can play in the NHL.”

The Penguins already are 10 deep among defensemen on their organizational chart. Six forwards have been called up and have appeared in games, including three — Jayson Megna, Chris Conner and Zach Sill — currently on the roster.

Five players have made their NHL debut with the Penguins this season.

Hynes said the organization is hardly scraping the bottom of the barrel. He offered scouting reports on three defensemen he feels are most ready to get the next call-ups, if and when the Penguins need:

• Brendan Mikkelson, 26 (two goals, 17 points in 25 games with Wilkes-Barre) — “He’s a strong skater,” Hynes said. “He has an excellent shot. He’s a very good two-way defenseman. Physically, he can slot up to the NHL and not miss a beat.”

• Philip Samuelsson, 22 (six assists in 22 games) — “He has really been a guy who’s grown. We’ve had him for three years,” Hynes said. “A very solid two-way defenseman. He’s very reliable. He’s first over the boards on the [penalty-kill] and is matched up nightly against the other team’s top players.”

• Scott Harrington, 20 (two goals, 10 points in 26 games) — “He’s a young player, but he’s physically ready to play,” Hynes said. “He has a lot of moxie to his game, good hockey sense. He doesn’t get caught out of position. He’s played in all situations. On the power play, he has a very good shot, gets the shot through. He kills penalties. He’s been in our top four all year.”

As for forwards, Hynes said two players who already have spent time in the NHL this season, Brian Gibbons and Harry Zolnierczyk, plus Nick Drazenovic, are the most NHL-ready. Drazenovic has been limited to 15 games in Wilkes-Barre because of injury, but is healthy now.

There were indications that Samuelsson and Zolnierczyk might be called up.

Hynes, despite the revolving door on his roster, has guided Wilkes-Barre to a 16-7-1-2 record and first place in the AHL’s East Division.

Likewise, all the missed time and replacement players haven’t appeared to damage the Penguins’ record significantly. They are 23-10-1. Going into Sunday, they led the Eastern Conference with 47 points and no teams were closer than 10 points behind them in the Metropolitan Division.

Despite a 4-1 win Saturday at Detroit, the Penguins were left licking their wounds.

A look at who is out:

• Defensemen Rob Scuderi (ankle), Paul Martin (leg) and Brooks Orpik (concussion), and wingers Beau Bennett (hand/wrist), Tanner Glass (hand) and Andrew Ebbett (ankle).

• Goaltender Tomas Vokoun is out because of a medical ailment.

• Winger James Neal has two more games to serve of an NHL suspension.

• Defenseman Deryk Engelland will be out tonight and could be suspended for another five or more after an in-person hearing Wednesday with the NHL player safety department regarding his check on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader.

A look at who else might be out:

• Defenseman Kris Letang was a late scratch Saturday and is being evaluated for an undisclosed injury.

• Center Evgeni Malkin left the game Saturday after crashing into the end boards. He did not put any weight on his left leg as he was helped from the ice, although he was walking around after the game. He also is being evaluated.

The Penguins have two rookies who have been on the team from the start of the season: Defenseman Olli Maatta, 19, who was fresh out of junior hockey, and backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who starred for Wilkes-Barre last season.

The pipeline between the Penguins and Wilkes-Barre apparently will stay active.

“It’s always an opportunity for these guys, no matter what,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. “They get an opportunity to play. … I actually look forward to seeing them play and see how they do.

“It’s a great experience for these young players. That’s what happens with injuries. So far, I think they’ve acquitted themselves quite well.”

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.

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