For nearly 114 out of 120 minutes played this week between the St. John's IceCaps and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, play was even. Play was tight. The two sides fought each other ferociously at times, with neither able to gain significant advantage.
It was, however, those remaining six minutes, spread over two games, that resulted in two more WBS victories this week en route to one of the best 10-game starts in their history.
The first period between St. John's, previously the affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets but now the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, and WBS on Wednesday ended 1-1, with a Tom Kuhnhackl goal cancelled out by a powerplay goal by the IceCaps' 6'6" center, Michael McCarron. The second period, however, was a very different story, as within the first 3:29 of the session, Carter Rowney (0:44), Jean-Sebastien Dea (2:30, powerplay), and Kuhnhackl (3:29) scored goals to blast the game wide open and chase starting goaltender Zachary Fucale from the game. Longtime STJ goalie Eddie Pasquale came in to mop up the rest of the game, which ended 5-2 as David Warsofsky's first goal for WBS at 14:01 of the second was answered by Christian Thomas at 11:56 of the third. Matt Murray picked up yet another win for WBS, who were outshot by STJ on the evening 43-22, including a shocking 21-5 in the third period.
3) Will O'Neill, WBS; three assists
2) Jean-Sebastien Dea, WBS; one goal and three assists
1) Tom Kuhnhackl, WBS; two goals and one assist
STJ put up a much closer, much tighter battle in the return game on Friday night, out shooting WBS 11-6 in the first period and using a goal by Daniel Carr to take a 1-0 lead after 20. The second period proceeded in much the same fashion as the first, with tight play, sometimes nasty battles, but no equalizer for WBS through the first 18 minutes. Then, following some rather blatant liberties after a save by STJ goalie Pasquale, the captain of the Penguins, Tom Kostopoulos, brought the towering McCarron out of a scrum and started throwing hands with him. Physically, it was a mismatch of a fight, but psychologically, the fight would prove to have a distinct effect on the rest of the WBS team.
McCarron, in addition to the fighting major with Kostopoulos, took a roughing minor at 18:49 of the second. With just 10 seconds remaining in the second period, the Penguins' dynamic rookie, Dominik Simon, did this.
What. A. Snipe.
Empowered by the tying goal, WBS came flying out of the blocks in the third period, thoroughly outplaying STJ in both zone possession and shots. It was one of the more impressive third periods these eyes have had the privilege of seeing, engaging the crowd of 4,511 to cheer like the days of old, and fortunately for the home team, it resulted in three goals within 2:22 near the end of the game.
First, the tiebreaker, as Tim Erixon gathered the rebound of a Derrick Pouliot shot and fired it back on net, but instead of finding a teammate's stick, he found a defender's skate, which deflected the puck into the net at 14:53. Then, Kostopoulos fed the puck to a streaking Rowney, who cut in from the right side towards the goal, slammed the brakes right in front, dangled Pasquale out of position, then roofed the insurance goal at 16:08. Finally, Pouliot provided the icing on top of yet another Matt Murray win with an empty netter at 17:15.
Final score: WBS 4, STJ 1, and another perfect week.
Line combinations and defense pairings from Friday night looked like this, based on my in-game observations. Try not to think of these as a ranking of the lines, because they really aren’t. For the first time in years, I can’t really pick out a hierarchy of lines from 2 to 4, especially not a 4th line dedicated to bruising and fighting (despite TK’s scrap on Friday night). It’s a very refreshing change.
Powerplay units: Pouliot-Wilson-Sheary-Mouillierat-Kostopoulos, Warsofsky-O'Neill-Dea-Porter-Simon
Penalty kill units: Porter-Kuhnhackl-Pouliot-Oleksy, Wilson-Sheary-Erixon-O'Neill
3) Tim Erixon, WBS; game-winning goal
2) Dominik Simon, WBS: game-tying powerplay goal
1) Carter Rowney, WBS; insurance goal
(all statistics courtesy of theahl.com, compiled after the games of November 6 concluded)
Goals - Scott Wilson, 6 (T-5th in the AHL with 10 others)
Assists - Dominik Simon, Will O’Neill, Derrick Pouliot (tie), 6
Points - Wilson, 11 (T-11th in AHL with 4 others)
Rookies - Dominik Simon now has 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points in 10 games, good for tie for 3rd in the AHL in rookie scoring.
Matt Murray: 7-1-0 (league leader in wins), GAA 1.75 (4th in AHL), save pct 94.6% (2nd in AHL), one shutout
Tristan Jarry 2-0-0, GAA 2.00 (9th in AHL), save pct 93.8% (6th in AHL)
Special Teams: Power play 27.5% (T-1st in AHL); penalty kill 87.8% (T-4th in AHL)
Team Points Percentage: 0.900 (first in Atlantic Division, first in Eastern Conference, first in AHL)
After Ten Games
After their first ten games this season, the WBS Penguins are 9-1-0-0. Using the schedule details of theahl.com (which go back to 2005-06) and a WBS Penguins media guide from 2007-08 (which goes back to the inaugural season), I looked at the first ten games for each season.
They are as follows, using the win-loss-tie before the 05-06 season; and the win-loss-OT loss-SO loss starting with the 05-06 season moving forward.
Look at that. Thirteen straight seasons of .500 or better 10-game starts, going all the way back to the Eastern Conference championship season of 2003-04.
The Penguins' 10-game record of 9-1-0-0 this season is tied for second-best in their history, matching their start from 2010-11 and trailing only the 9-0-1-0 start from 2005-06. That season, by the way? The Penguins started that season 21-1-2-1. They almost made it to Thanksgiving before losing in regulation. You know how I know the numbers 21-1-2-1 without even looking them up? Because it was at that point in November 2006 that hockey fans in Pittsburgh first learned to put the following letters together - HCMT.
No, I don't think Mike Johnston is going anywhere, nor do I hope Mike Sullivan is going anywhere. But keep your eyes peeled on this team. I'm sensing something very special afoot here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The Week Ahead
November 13 vs. Hershey, 7:05 pm
November 14 vs. Rochester, 7:05 pm
November 15 at Hartford, 4:00 pm