Last updated: April 16. 2013 11:50PM - 1358 Views
By - tvenesky@timesleader.com

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Chad Kolarik has a chance to do something no other Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin has ever done.

With two games left in the regular season, Kolarik is just three points away from being the AHL’s leading scorer, trailing Rockford’s Brandon Pirri and Hershey’s Jeff Taffe, who are both tied at 70. Kolarik’s 31 goals are two behind Syracuse’s Tyler Johnson and Matt Fraser of Texas for the league lead.

No Penguin has ever led the AHL in scoring. The closest was Janne Pesonen, who finished fourth with 82 points in 2008-2009.

But now that the Penguins have locked up a playoff spot and the fifth seed is pretty much a given, there isn’t a whole lot to play for when the season winds down this weekend.

But that doesn’t mean that Kolarik won’t get the ice time he needs to have a chance at locking up the scoring title.

“When you coach players with that type of talent you want to see them rewarded for their hard work,” said head coach John Hynes about how much ice time Kolarik will get this weekend. “It’s definitely something you take into consideration as a coach. It’s great for him and our organization if he has the opportunity to win it, and it would be special in his career, so we’ll definitely keep it in mind.”

If some of the Penguins regulars do sit a bit this weekend, it’s not because Hynes is worried about keeping them healthy. He said it’s more important to make sure they’re sharp and game-ready when the playoffs roll around and that will determine how much ice time each player receives this weekend.

“For some that might be two games, and some it just might be how we practice. It’s not about health. You have to practice hard and play hard,” Hynes said. “The concern is making sure we’re giving guys the right amount of work level to be sharp and ready when the playoffs start.”

Take it easy

After winning both games in St. John’s last weekend and clinching a playoff spot, Hynes rewarded his players with a day off on Tuesday. The team will resume its regular practice schedule today at Coal Street.

Depth at another level

During the preseason there was a lot of talk centered around the Penguins’ depth at the defensive position. But now the organization has stockpiled depth at the goaltending position as well, beginning in the offseason when Jeff Zatkoff was signed as a free agent and Pittsburgh selected netminders Matthew Murray and Sean Maguire in the 2012 draft. Over the weekend they added standout college goaltender Eric Hartzell when they signed him for the rest of the season.

It’s a situation that has Hynes excited.

“I haven’t seen (Hartzell) play, but his track record and the success that he’s had is impressive,” Hynes said. “It’s encouraging. It’s something we talked about as an organization over the last couple of years and it’s good to see we’ve taken some steps to strengthen those areas. It’s such an important position.”

Defensive depth for the playoffs

The Penguins signed D Peter Merth to a PTO on Tuesday.

Merth recorded a goal, 16 assists and 75 penalty minutes in 48 games with the Wheeling Nailers this year. The 25-year old also saw AHL action during the 2012-13 season, signing a PTO with the Hamilton Bulldogs on Mar. 15 and posting an assist in seven appearances.

Now a third-year pro, Merth played in 11 contests for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, contributing two assists and 22 minutes of penalties.

Hynes said he hoped to bring Merth up this season but an opening never presented itself.

“We feel he can help our team with depth and physicality for the playoffs,” Hynes said.

In other moves, Hynes said W Chris Collins, who has been playing on a PTO, will stay with the team for the playoffs.

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