Tuesday buzz: Penguins hoping for boost from Tokarski

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📝 by Patrick Williams

Good health for the Pittsburgh Penguins means a healthy boost in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

With Tristan Jarry’s return to the Pittsburgh crease on Monday following a month-long injury absence, the NHL club returned two-time Calder Cup-winning goaltender Dustin Tokarski to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Tokarski has played just two games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton since New Year’s Day, when Jarry was injured in the NHL Winter Classic in Boston.

Tokarski has made four appearances with Pittsburgh, including a 38-save effort on Saturday against New Jersey.

Before his recall, Tokarski had been a workhorse with the AHL Penguins, appearing in 21 of the team’s first 29 games. He ranks fourth in the AHL with a 2.31 goals-against average and fifth with a .920 save percentage.

In Tokarski’s absence, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has been using rookie Taylor Gauthier, Filip Lindberg and Tommy Nappier in net, and a 3-9-0-2 record in their last 14 games has dropped the Penguins to three points back of the final playoff position in the Atlantic Division. The club has also been without of top forward Drew O’Connor since December (recall) and defenseman Xavier Ouellet since early January (injury), so Tokarski’s arrival comes at an opportune time.

The Penguins host Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night.

A long road swing is coming to an end for the Texas Stars.

After a two-game stop in Colorado on Feb. 10-11, the Stars headed to the Midwest for four games in six nights, a stretch that ends in Rockford on Wednesday. Texas split a pair of games in Milwaukee over the weekend in a battle between the top two teams in the Central Division, including a 3-2 overtime victory on Sunday in which they recorded a season-high 49 shots. The Stars and Admirals enter the new week tied for first place.

Texas is back home this weekend for a pair of games against Bakersfield, the first meetings between those teams since January 2019.

Wednesday’s game in Rockford is also the Stars’ last road contest against a division opponent this season. They head to California for a six-game trip in March, and play two games in Tucson in early April.

A recent surge by the Ontario Reign has tightened up the Pacific Division race considerably.

Thanks to a 6-0-1-0 run, the Reign are now tied with Colorado for fourth place in the division, just one point back of third-place Abbotsford. Coming out of the All-Star break two weeks ago, Ontario was seven points behind Colorado and six behind Abbotsford.

This past weekend was especially productive for the Reign, who defeated Coachella Valley on Friday and again on Monday behind the goaltending of Cal Petersen (13-8-2, 2.59, .919). Offensively, T.J. Tynan has 30 points in his last 20 games, while Lias Andersson has 14 goals and Martin Chromiak has scored 12 times in that span.

The Reign are back at Toyota Arena for three games this week, beginning with another battle against Coachella Valley on Wednesday.

With setbacks come opportunities for growth, and Abbotsford faced that this past weekend.

“There are details of the game that make the difference between winning and losing, and we just didn’t do it,” Canucks head coach Jeremy Colliton said via the team’s website following Monday’s 7-2 loss to San Jose on home ice.

Back-to-back losses to the Barracuda left Colliton flummoxed. Following a 4-3 defeat on Saturday, the Canucks did not provide the response that he had expected, instead surrendering four goals in the first 12:34 of Monday’s rematch. They were Abbotsford’s first back-to-back regulation losses on home ice this season.

“We didn’t do what needs to be done,” Colliton continued. “I expected us to be a lot better, and I don’t think we had the right mentality. When we faced that adversity early, we didn’t respond in the right way, and so that’s something we’ve got to fix.

“If we want to have long-term success, if we want to have sustainable success, we’ve got to clean that up.”

But learning those lessons and then being able to put them into action — consistently — is one of the purposes of player development. That process does not necessarily happen quickly or smoothly, and it can be uneven, but it is vital. Now the Canucks have an opportunity to pause and get in some practice time before heading to Colorado for games Friday and Saturday, the start of five consecutive games on the road.

Colliton, who is in his first year with Abbotsford after parts of four seasons and 193 games leading the Chicago Blackhawks, summed up the AHL’s mission.

“We’re trying to learn how to win here,” he said. “Trying to learn how to contribute to winning at the next level. Nothing else matters.

“That’s why we’re here.”