WILKES-BARRE TWP. – It seemed like a routine play during Friday’s exhibition game between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears.
Times Leader Photo StoreEarly in the second period, Hershey defenseman Dylan Yeo had gained control of the puck in his own end while the Penguins left on a line change.
And then Penguins forward Chris Collins seemed to come out of nowhere and transformed a routine play into a potential disaster for Hershey.
Using his speed, Collins back-tracked behind the play, skated underneath Yeo and ripped the puck away. Collins was able to turn and shoot, and while he didn’t score he did draw a hooking penalty on Yeo, who was doing whatever he could to recover from the turnover.
“It’s just a hard-working play and I pride myself on that,” Collins said. “You don’t give up on a play.”
And Collins is doing everything he can this preseason to convince the Penguins not to give up on him.
Listed at only 5-8 and having spent the last two seasons playing in Europe, it would appear that Collins would need some time to readjust to the AHL game. But after having played in all three Penguins exhibition games thus far, Collins is proving that he can play again at the AHL level.
During Friday’s 4-3 shootout victory over Hershey, Collins displayed not only his quickness and ability to read plays, but his offensive upside as well by sending a slap shot through traffic and into the net for his first preseason goal.
“I’m feeling better every night. Sometimes you just need to get that one goal to get the ball rolling, so I’m real happy about getting it tonight,” he said.
Penguins head coach John Hynes was happy to see Collins score while another player trying to make the roster – Geoff Walker – provided a screen in front of the net. He said the play was proof that both Collins and Walker can play at the AHL level.
“I have two smart players that listen and it was good to see them get rewarded for it with the goal,” Hynes said. “The thing I’m happy about most with those two guys is they’ve competed in every game and they’ve found ways to be successful consistently.”
For Collins, that consistency should mean forcing more turnovers and producing more points.
“I feel like my two years in Europe helped me out a lot skill-wise,” Collins said. “I always had the grittiness, and now I’m confident that I can put up numbers and produce offensively. I’m excited about it.”
• Scoring goals for the Penguins were Nick Johnson, Nick Petersen and Chris Collins. During the shootout, Keven Veilleux and Petersen scored for the Penguins.
• Steve Wagner made a beautiful pass from the point in the first period. With the Penguins on the power play, Wagner skated in from the point, faked a shot and feathered a pass down low to Johnson at the corner of the net. Johnson flipped the puck under the crossbar for the Penguins first goal.
• Despite creating several scoring opportunities, Brett Sterling couldn’t buy a goal on Friday. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t look good. Hershey netminder Todd Ford stopped Sterling on a breakaway and in front before he hit the post on his third chance in the first period. Midway through the third, Sterling turned and fired a wicked wrist shot, but the net was knocked off its moorings and the goal was whistled off. Despite not scoring a goal, Hynes was impressed with Sterling’s effort. “That’s why we have him. He’s got great offensive instincts, the puck seems to find him and he’s very competitive,” Hynes said.
• Geoff Walker continued his impressive preseason bid to make the roster when he set up Nick Petersen’s goal in the first period. Walker skated the puck in along the boards and sent a pass through the slot, hitting Petersen in stride for an easy tap-in. In the third period, he screened the Hershey goaltender allowing Collins’ shot from the slot to get through.
• Dropping the gloves for the Penguins were Drew Fata against Joel Rechlicz and Ryan Schnell against Grant McNeill. The main event of the night, however, was a third period bout between Zach Sill and Kaliegh Schrock, as both players landed several bombs and absorbed a number of punches during a lengthy fight. “When he (Sill) fights, he fights,” Hynes said. “He doesn’t hold on. He’s throwing. It’s great to see and he’s good at it.”
• John Curry started in net and stopped 25 of 28 Hershey shots, along with all four shootout attempts he faced. Hynes said Brad Thiessen will get the start tonight when the Penguins face the Bears in Hershey at 7 p.m.