On the heels of a successful three-game stint against two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins find themselves facing an opponent that is last in the division and battling just to make the playoffs.
But are the Norfolk Admirals less dangerous than the Penguins previous two opponents — Binghamton and Providence?
Not at all, according to Penguins coach John Hynes.
While the tonight’s opponent may not be one of the best teams in the conference record-wise, they’re a desperate team that has played well with its playoff hopes on the line.
“I would consider Norfolk a top team,” Hynes said before boarding the bus for Virginia after Monday’s practice. “If you look at where they’ve come from and how they’re playing now, they’re a top team.”
The Admirals are 8-3 in their last 11 games and with 71 points they are just two points behind Hershey for the final playoff spot in the conference. They trail the Penguins - who are in the sixth spot, by five points.
“They’re making a hard push,” Hynes said. “They’ve jumped three or four teams to get into the playoff mix. In our opinion, we’re playing one of the hottest teams in the conference.”
The same could be said of the Penguins, who won two of the last three by beating Binghamton twice and earning a point while taking Providence to a shootout.
But against Norfolk, the Penguins have struggled of late. They are 2-4-1 this season against the Admirals and have dropped the last three.
Tonight’s meeting is the eighth and final game of the season series against Norfolk, and the Penguins enter the matchup with confidence generated from Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over Binghamton.
“The reason we’ve been able to get points out of the games is we’ve had contributions throughout the lineup, along with the identity that we play with,” Hynes said. “When we play that way, the results will come. If we play with this type of commitment, then we’re going to have a good chance to beat any team.”
• D Robert Bortuzzo was called up to Pittsburgh on Monday, but Wilkes-Barre/Scranton still has plenty of blueline depth with Cody Wild and youngsters Clark Seymour and the recently recalled Reid McNeill. Hynes said Seymour and McNeill won’t play tonight, but they could suit up over the weekend with a three-in-three on the schedule.
• Hynes said C Phil Dupuis, who hasn’t played since Jan. 12, is done for the season due to an upper body injury. Dupuis, who was signed as a free agent over the summer, finishes with two goals and 11 points in 34 games.
“It’s unfortunate,” Hynes said. “He’s a good veteran, older player that we would’ve certainly liked in the lineup here. It’s disappointing for Phil, but as long as he takes care of himself he should be right back at it a year from now.”
• Everyone else on the roster is healthy, according to Hynes.
• G Jeff Zatkoff has given up seven goals in his last four starts and earned the win in the last two contests against Binghamton. Hynes said Zatkoff’s call-up to Pittsburgh late last week further bolstered his play.
“Although he didn’t play while in Pittsburgh, he earned that call-up, which was his first,” Hynes said. “Just to get a taste of what it’s like at that level in Pittsburgh, it was motivating for him. He’s played well and we expect him to continue to play well.”