Quote Me

"I’ve never been impressed when a guy brags about how hard he’s perspiring shovelling dirt back in a hole when he dug the hole."
- Brian Burke

See the entire transcript of the Burke interview with James Mirtle here.


The Babies Thus Far

Each year during my month-long winter break, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have graciously managed to schedule in homestands -- as in I usually get to take in between nine to 11 games during that stretch. It gives me a good enough look at what type of group my #1 team is.

This year the Baby Pens are in the middle of the pack: 42 points in 39 games; good for third in the East Division. They're in a tough position this year because of division re-alignment. In order to make the play-offs they have to not only be in the top four of the East Division, but they also have to be better than the fifth place team in the Atlantic Division. Right now the fifth place team in the Atlantic is Bridgeport with 46 points; the Pens have three games in hand.

The best thing the Baby Pens have right now is their work ethic. Man, they work hard. I love teams like this. It's the type of team that can pull off some surprises in the post-season -- that is, if they can dig deep and find some scoring. These guys outshoot their opponents almost every game, but they cannot finish. Granted they don't have any Chris Minards or Jeff Taffes, but they are getting shots to the net. Their defense is pretty good -- I'd argue Deryk Engelland is the best player on the team right now. Goaltending is a little shakey. There isn't a high confidence level in John Curry or Adam Berkhoel (or the games that Brad Thiessen squeezed in while he was in the Dub-B). But at least they try. The only time I thought they looked lazy was six minutes of a second period against the ridiculously good Hershey Bears. It cost them the game.

So I love this team in terms of how hard they work. I'm always a supporter of the workhorse teams over the skill-based teams (:cough: San Jose :cough:). They're going to have to start generating more offense and allowing fewer goals to really give themselves a chance. Sounds like common sense, I know.

In terms of individual players and who stuck out to me, here are my thoughts:

Eric Tangradi -- What is eating Eric Tangradi? Seriously. People might say I'm being harsh. He's on a point streak afterall. But the only thing that has stuck out about him is his size. Maybe I got caught up in the hype that is Tangradi. He was one of the top players in the OHL and a highly ranked prospect. Getting him in a trade from Anaheim was a big deal. Tangradi currently has 15 points in 31 games (9+6). He was caught off-guard with a shoulder injury at the start of the year, so when I saw himover Thanksgiving break, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was still getting back into the groove of things. A month later it's time to get going. He's a bit slower than I thought he would be (I understand he's bigger so it doesn't look like he's skating as hard. Bottom line is, I don't care how big your strides are. You're either fast or slow.). He hasn't done anything breathtaking on offense. He scored a nice goal or two over the ten or eleven games I saw him. I still have high hopes for him. It very well could be an adjustment thing. Either way, people in Pittsburgh hoping he gets called up are going to be waiting for awhile. He is not ready.

Deryk Engelland -- Best player on the team. I'm making that argument now. I always feel comfortable with him out there. He's created a good reputation for himself by playing well. He's a good D-man who isn't afraid to be aggressive when he needs to be. He just does things that make you go 'Nice. I like that guy.' Class act, and I'm very happy to see how he's turned out.

Brian Strait - Okay so I'm obviously a bit biased towards a BU boy, but Strait's game has transitioned exactly the way I thought it would. Watching Strait for three years at BU, it was easy to see how smart of a defenseman he was. He's not going to score goals for you. Offense is not in his game. But he will always be in position. Plain and simple: he makes smart plays. He doesn't overthink things. He does what he's supposed to. Talk about solid. He has pleasantly surprised a lot of people in his first year pro. Not me. The kid will be just fine in his career.

Dustin Jeffrey -- Second best player on the team. Jeffrey has certainly evolved into an awesome player. He's fifth in the league in scoring with 41 points in 37 games (12 + 29). He's an AHL All-Star starter and deservingly so. The kid's on fire. He can score. He should easily be the next call-up to Pittsburgh should they need a center.

Chris Conner -- So tiny (listed at 5-8"). So fast. Can't finish. That about sums him up -- at least during the December-January stretch I saw him.

Joe Vitale -- The definition of workhorse. The kid battles the entire game. How can you not like him?? He knows his role, and he fills it well.

Tyler Spurgeon -- He found his way back on the Baby Pens' roster this season. Not one of the more talented guys on the team, but he NEVER stops moving. I like that.

John Curry -- It breaks my heart to say I think he can be doing much better. I LOVE Curry. I saw him perform miracles in college. Not to mention he has a GREAT story of being a walk-on at BU and working his way up from third-string to number one. He has two habits that seem to bite him in the ass sometimes: going down too early and playing the puck behind the net when he shouldn't. Don't get me wrong: Curry is not bad. He's just not what he could be. He's sitting on a 2.54 GAA and a .904 save percentage over 31 games. Eh.

Here's to hoping the Baby Pens have a strong second half. If they start getting some more goals, I think they'll be fine. If everything clicks and they get more goals & better goaltending? They can be dangerous. They have some work to do until then.

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