WILKES-BARRE TWP. – When the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins get ready for a game, they study their opponents’ leading scorers – the guys who can make plays or score goals with regularity.
Normally those players are forwards, and head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coach Todd Reirden have a plan drawn up to neutralize the threat.
But when the Penguins travel to Philadelphia today to face the Phantoms, Bylsma and Reirden will have to plan a little bit differently. Sure, the Phantoms’ leading scorer is forward Jared Ross, but right behind him with 41 points in 48 games is defenseman Danny Syvret.
Syvret leads all AHL defensemen in points (41), assists (35), is tied for first in power play assists (20) and is second among blueliners with 24 power play points.
It all means that Syvret is an offensive threat, and the Penguins forwards are going to have to work a little bit harder to keep him off the scoreboard.
“It is something that’s different,” Reirden said about a defenseman being a top point producer for a team.
“Philadelphia’s power play is in the top 10 in the league, and Syvret is a big reason for that. He will definitely be a focus point for us.”
Having played with offensively-gifted defensemen such as Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis during his NHL career, Reirden knows a thing or two about their tendencies and how to play against them.
Reirden said Syvret has a potent shot and can move the puck up ice with skill. He doesn’t hesitate to be the fourth player on an offensive rush, and that means the Penguins’ forwards will have to pay attention.
“Because Syvret does try to join the attack, our first two forwards in on the forecheck have to come back harder,” Reirden said. “They are responsible for not letting the defensemen beat us up the ice.”
The Syvret factor is just one element that will play out when the Penguins and Phantoms renew their rivalry tonight. The matchup has been overshadowed this season by the Penguins epic battles with the Hershey Bears, but forward Jeff Taffe said the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – Philadelphia rivalry is as strong as ever.
“Everyone gets geared up for the Hershey games more from a fan standpoint than the players I think,” Taffe said. “But Philly and Binghamton are all playing us tough these days. You can name all these close cities that are rivalries for us, and I think Hershey does overshadow it a bit.”
The Penguins are 3-3 against the Phantoms this season and have won the last two matchups. Taffe has nine assists against the Phantoms and said Philadelphia is one of the hardest teams to play against.
“They are solid defensively and have defensemen who can block shots and move the puck up, along with speedy forwards who are good on the rush,” he said. “We matched up well against them so far this year, but it’s definitely a test for us.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (29-16-1-2)
at Philadelphia Phantoms (26-20-1-1)
When: 7:05 p.m. today
Where: Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s NHL Affiliation: Philadelphia Flyers
Last game: Dec. 30, 2008; Penguins 6, Phantoms 4
Scouting the Phantoms: Danny Syvret is always a threat from the blueline, but speedy center Jared Ross has 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists) in 37 games. Ross is one of four Phantoms with 12 goals or more.
Philadelphia players with NHL experience: Danny Syvret (Edmonton), Jared Ross (Philadelphia), Boyd Kane (Philadelphia, Washington), Nate Raduns (Philadelphia), Nate Guenin (Philadelphia), Andreas Nodl (Philadelphia), J.S. Aubin (Pittsburgh, Toronto, Los Angeles)
Keep an eye on
For the Penguins – Tim Wallace has three goals in his last two games, including a two-goal effort during Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch.
For the Phantoms – Patrick Maroon is a big forward who is currently ninth in the AHL among rookie scorers with 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists).