Berger Helping Out Pens During Playoff Push
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins rookie Chase Berger thought the puck would sail past Springfield goaltender Chris Dreidger for his first professional goal.
But as the netminder lunged with his glove to snare the flying disc from danger in Saturday’s game at Mohegan Sun Arena, Berger instead had his first “welcome to the AHL” moment.
“I thought that was in to be honest,” Berger said Thursday at the Toyota SportsPlex. “Somebody skated by me after and said, ‘Not in this league, buddy. Not yet.’ But, yeah, that was a really nice save there.”
On Tuesday at Bridgeport, the end result was a lot better for the Penn State product.
Berger beat Jeremy Smith with an early wrist shot for his first career tally, and the Penguins cruised to a key 3-1 win that kept their playoff hopes relatively intact. The 24-year-old has recorded five shots through his first two games, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hopes that early success can continue as it begins a crucial three-game weekend tonight against the Binghamton Devils.
“He’s playing a lot of minutes,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said. “He’s a mature kid, he’s responsible, and he’s picked up the pro game really fast.”
Berger has started both games on the bottom line with fellow ATO rookie Christopher Brown and said their combination has felt good so far. He also said he’s learned from skating with a couple more experienced Penguins like Cam Brown and Jimmy Hayes.
Donatelli described Berger as a big body that can skate and has a good shot, meaning he fits the team’s preferred mold in terms of his physical attributes and fundamentals.
His goal on Tuesday was a perfect example, as he sent his wrister past a sliding Sound Tigers defender and through a bevy of bodies in front of the net to beat Smith far side. Christopher Brown picked up his first career assist on the play.
In addition to adjusting to the speed of the AHL game, playing three games in three days will pose a new challenge for Berger. It’s something college teams aren’t used to doing.
However, with the Penguins only three points back of the Providence Bruins in the playoff race, he’s ready to do whatever the team needs to start a new win streak.
“Just happy to be out there with whoever,” Berger said. “Everybody’s really good up here. ... I’ll definitely try to take care of my body as best I can. It’ll be fun.”
■ Over the last two days, the Penguins have signed three more players to amateur tryout agreements: defenseman Jon Lizotte and forwards Brandon Hawkins and Jan Drozg.
The most notable of the three is the 20-year-old Drozg, Pittsburgh’s fifth-round draft pick in 2017. He had an assist in one game for the Penguins last season and is coming off a career season in juniors with the Shawinigan Cataractes (21G-41A).
Donatelli said Drozg looked good in practice on Thursday and is an immediate lineup candidate with his dynamic speed.
Hawkins, 24, also signed an AHL contract for next season. He had 33 points (12G-21A) this season for Northeastern, which won the Hockey East championship.
Lizotte, 24, had 10 goals and 46 points in 147 games for St. Cloud State. The team was surprisingly eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
■ Defenseman Juuso Riikola and forwards Anthony Angello and Ryan Scarfo remain week to week with their respective injuries.
Forward Ben Sexton was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment on Thursday and could be upgraded to day to day depending on the feedback.
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Weekend scouting report
Opponent: Binghamton Devils
When: 7:05 p.m. tonight
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena
Last matchup: The Penguins won, 5-4, in overtime on Jan. 26 in Binghamton.
About the Devils: Binghamton has dramatically tailed off in the second half and is now the league’s worst team by point percentage at 26-38-6-0. The group is also among the league’s worst on both the power play (16.6%) and penalty kill (78.5%). Binghamton has never beaten the Penguins since the franchise was rebranded as the Devils. Binghamton has used seven different goaltenders this season, and their collective save percentage is only .879. Nick Lappin and Blake Pietila lead the team with 19 and 18 goals, respectively.
Opponent: Lehigh Valley Phantoms
When: 7:05 p.m Saturday and 3:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: PPL Center
Last matchup: The Penguins won, 5-4, in overtime, on March 23 in Allentown.
About the Phantoms: Lehigh Valley is clinging to its postseason hopes after dropping a pair of midweek games to first-place Charlotte. It enters the weekend with 75 points, three behind the Penguins. Byron Froese has been a thorn in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s side with four points (3G-A) since joining the Phantoms. The team also received an addition this week in the form of Flyers fourth-round pick Matthew Strome, who had 79 points in 68 games this season with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.