It took the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins a little bit of time to get going on Saturday, October 17th, during their 2015-16 home opener. But once they did, they looked every bit as dangerous as they can be this season in dispatching their Pennsylvania Turnpike rivals from Lehigh Valley 6-4 in front of 6,357 supporters.
WBS vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Things didn't start out so well, though. Only 1:11 into the game, former WBS Penguin Chris Conner flew up the right wing, got around defenseman Reid McNeil, and drove to the net. WBS goalie Matt Murray made the initial save, but he could not stop the rebound chance by Petr Straka. At 3:31 of the first, Jay Rosehill (a player more well known for using his hands during extracurricular hockey activities than scoring) picked off a pass in the WBS zone and put a nasty move on Murray for 2-0. At 3:49 of the first, WBS winger Kael Mouillierat put a drive-by elbow on a Phantom, leading to a fight between Straka and WBS defenseman Steve Olesky, as well as a powerplay for Lehigh Valley, which former WBS Penguin Tim Brent converted for 3-0 just 5:06 into the game.
Then WBS started getting their game together. Some extended offensive zone possession led to a Samuel Morin holding penalty and a WBS powerplay, which defenseman Will O'Neill converted in powerful style with a point slapshot for the first home goal of the season. This debuted our new goal song, Van Halen's "Ain't Talking About Love"...a song that is not "Party Hard", but it also is not "The Hey Song", so I'm cool with it. It also caused a lot of fans to look up to the press box as our now-traditional post-goal "WOO" was withheld for a few seconds, but once PA announcer Bobby Day unleashed it, you knew it was once again hockey season in the WB. 3-1 Phantoms after 20 minutes.
WBS came out flying in the second, with powerplay goals by Tom Kostopoulos at 0:28, O'Neill at 7:26, and Dominik Simon at 18:15. Toss in a Niclas Andersen even-strength goal at 4:26, and you've got a well-deserved 5-3 WBS lead after 40 minutes. The WBS PP ended the night 4 for 7, while the WBS PK only conceded one PP goal to three chances for the Phantoms.
Lehigh Valley made things interesting in the third when Nick Cousins scored at 1:45, but that was all the Phantoms could do in the third. When Kostopoulos scored his second of the night after a brilliant centering pass from behind the net by Oskar Sundqvist at 12:01, the result was settled. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 6, Lehigh Valley 4.
Defending AHL Goalie of the Year Murray took the win, recovering from his defense's early miscues to make 22 saves on 26 shots. Longtime AHL veteran Jason LaBarbera took the loss for the Phantoms, managing 25 saves on 31 shots.
Three stars of the game:
- Third star: Will O'Neill, WBS; two goals on two shots, -1
- Second star: Dominik Simon, WBS; one goal on four shots, three assists, +1
- First star: Tom Kostopoulos, WBS: two goals on two shots, one assist, -2
WBS vs. Bridgeport Sound Tigers
WBS then hit the road for a Sunday afternoon engagement with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. A funny thing about the AHL is, with so many games taking place on weekends, often teams will match up playing an uneven number of games. Lehigh Valley, for instance, came into the WBS home opener having visited Springfield the previous night and defeating them, so with a long day of travel between Springfield, Allentown, and Wilkes-Barre, they may have been a bit fatigued during the back end of the WBS game. WBS, meanwhile, was fresh for their Saturday night game, then they traveled to Bridgeport to face a Sound Tigers team playing their third game in three nights.
It showed, as five different WBS Penguins scored their first goals of the season (Mouillierat, Sundqvist, Tom Sestito, Conor Sheary, and Carter Rowney), while WBS goalie Tristan Jarry stopped 35 of 36 shots to earn his first professional victory in a 5-1 WBS decision. The WBS PP scored twice in five opportunities, while the PK shut down six of seven Bridgeport advantages.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Third star: Oskar Sundqvist
- Second star: Conor Sheary
- First star: Tristan Jarry
With the two victories on the weekend, WBS improved to six out of a possible eight points, good for a points percentage of 0.75. Due to the Pacific Division of the AHL playing eight fewer games than the rest of the league (owing to the creation of five new teams in California), the AHL now ranks teams within divisions by points percentage, not raw points. WBS’s percentage of 0.75 is good for a tie for second in the Eastern Division after the games of October 18. Hartford shares WBS’s 0.75 point percentage, and both teams are trailing Bridgeport’s division-leading 0.833 percentage.
Through the games of October 18, Will O’Neill leads the team in goals with 3, with Scott Wilson and Tom Kostopoulos having two each. Wilson also has three assists to tie for the team lead in points with 5 in 4 games; Conor Sheary has 1 goal and 4 assists for 5 points. O’Neill, Kostopoulos, and Dominik Simon have four points each.
The WBS Penguins will play their next two games against the Springfield Falcons, one in Springfield on Friday, October 23 at 7:00 pm EDT, and a return match in WBS on Saturday, October 24 at 7:05 pm EDT.
EDIT: The original version of this post was updated at 5:40 pm EDT, Monday, October 19th, to add the embedded highlights from Sunday's game in Bridgeport, as well as to add game times to the two games against Springfield.