The six-month regular-season grind of the American Hockey League season never becomes easier.
A busy offseason stocked several Atlantic Division rosters and that summer work has made for a successful fall for several teams.
However, a significant test awaits the owner of the league's most promising beginning, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (10-2-1-0), long a dependable source of young talent for the parent Pittsburgh Penguins, continues to excel this season. Pittsburgh management rebuilt its AHL defense last summer by signing free agent Stuart Percy, the No. 25 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, to join proven veterans Cameron Gaunce, Chad Ruhwedel, David Warsofsky and holdover Steve Oleksy.
Goaltender Tristan Jarry is starting for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after spending his rookie season playing behind Matt Murray. Jarry, 21, has the fourth-best save percentage in the AHL (.935) while partner Casey DeSmith's .963 save percentage in four games leads the league. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has allowed 1.54 goals per game, fewest in the league, and has the top penalty kill at 90.6 percent.
Injuries and recalls have prevented a full Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defense for much of the season, but a 4-1 win at the Hartford Wolf Pack last Sunday has coach Clark Donatelli's team at a league-leading 21 points.
However, a tough schedule looms for Donatelli and his players beginning at the rival Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Wednesday.
The Phantoms have won six consecutive games, including a 7-2 home victory against the Toronto Marlies last weekend, and are second in the Atlantic Division. However, Lehigh Valley will be without goaltender Anthony Stolarz, who was recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers to replace the injured Michal Neuvirth. Stolarz's departure will push rookie Alex Lyon into the No. 1 role.
The calendar will not go any easier on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with a visit from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Friday. The Sound Tigers have lost defensemen Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield from their opening-night roster but started this week third in the Atlantic Division.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's week concludes Saturday with a 90-minute drive south to visit the Hershey Bears, the opponent that ended their playoff run last season in a seven-game second-round series between the archrivals. The Bears have slipped to a fourth-place tie in the Atlantic Division after two losses last weekend, but were 6-0-2-0 in their previous eight games.
AHL affiliates of the Arizona Coyotes have struggled for years, missing the Calder Cup Playoffs in eight of the past 11 seasons.
But an ambitious offseason makeover for the Coyotes' new in-state affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners, may be able to turn that around. Playing last season as the Springfield Falcons, Arizona prospects went 26-42-3-5, their 60 points placing them second-to-last in the AHL.
However, Coyotes general manager John Chayka set about rebuilding his AHL roster, adding coach Mark Lamb to go with several key veterans in place to supplement a strong prospect core including forward Brendan Perlini, the No. 12 pick in the 2014 draft, and defenseman Kyle Wood.
Perlini has a team-leading six goals as a rookie and Wood's nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 10 games place him third among rookie defensemen. Another rookie, forward Michael Bunting, has five goals.
Veteran forward Chris Mueller is tied with captain Craig Cunningham at 11 points. The Tucson defense features NHL experience in Jamie McBain, Jarred Tinordi and Brandon Burlon. Defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, the No. 19 pick in the 2014 draft, was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 25 and has earned time with Arizona.
Tucson received further help from Arizona with the reassignment of AHL veteran goaltender Justin Peters on Tuesday.
It has added up to a 7-1-2-0 start that is good for the Western Conference lead and second in the AHL. The Roadrunners have at least a point in each of their past nine games (7-0-2-0).
With at least a point in each of their first five home games (4-0-1-0), a two-game series with the visiting Manitoba Moose this weekend starts a six-game homestand and a stretch of eight of the next 11 games at Tucson Arena.
Springfield Thunderbirds goaltender Reto Berra won the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending Sunday. He won each of his two starts and had saves on 51 of 52 shots.
Marlies forward Brendan Leipsic has 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) to lead the AHL. … St. John's IceCaps forward Charles Hudon has a league-leading nine goals. … San Antonio Rampage forward A.J. Greer has moved one point ahead of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton center Jake Guentzel for the lead among rookies with 14 points (five goals, nine assists). … DeSmith's 1.00 goals-against average leads all goaltenders. … Brad Hunt of the Chicago Wolves leads all defensemen with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists). … The San Jose Barracuda have 4.13 goals per game, most in the league.
ON THE MOVE
Ongoing injury problems in net for the Los Angeles Kings cost the Ontario Reign goaltender Jack Campbell. Ontario was already without Peter Budaj. … The Milwaukee Admirals are without goalies Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros, who are on recall to the Nashville Predators. … Syracuse Crunch captain Luke Witkowski remains with Tampa Bay. … Forward Jake Virtanen was scoreless in two games for the Utica Comets before returning to the Vancouver Canucks.
AROUND THE AHL
The Binghamton Senators and new coach Kurt Kleinendorst are 13th in the Eastern Conference and have one win in seven home games (1-6-0-0). … An eight-game losing streak (0-6-2-0) has the Hartford Wolf Pack 12th in the Eastern Conference. … A two-game sweep of the visiting Chicago Wolves ended the defending champion Cleveland Monsters' five-game losing streak. Cleveland sits 13th in the Western Conference. … Greer became the 32nd AHL player to make his NHL debut this season.