As I mentioned in this space last week, the 16-5-0-0 start for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season is tied for the third-best 21-game start in their history, behind the 19-0-2-0 start in 2005-06 and the 17-4-0-0 start in 2010-11. Based on history alone, I was anticipating either another run at the league's best record and another MacGregor Kilpatrick trophy (2010-11), or I was bracing for another mid-season coaching change, having watched Pittsburgh's less-than-ideal start to the season (2005-06). This week, I got my answer...and it was not the answer I wanted.
WBS VS. SYRACUSE CRUNCH, 12-9-15
WBS entered this midweek engagement with Syracuse, their first game of 3 this week, on a three-game losing streak, but they wasted no time shattering this streak to pieces, as Tom Kuhnhackl and Tom Kostopoulos (returning from injury as it was very doubtful whether he would return) tallied goals within 40 seconds of each other to send WBS to a 2-0 lead inside the first four minutes of the game. When Conor Sheary broke into the zone one on four, deked around his defender, and in the same motion rifled a wrister top shelf over Kristers Gudlevskis in a sequence I can only describe as "video-game-like", WBS took a 3-0 lead.
Syracuse’s Jeff Tambellini scored a power play goal in the second period to make the game 3-1 WBS after 40 minutes, but the Penguins' dynamic rookie, Dominik Simon, broke out of his brief scoring slump in a huge way in the third period, cleaning up the rebound of a Kevin Porter shot from a sharp angle and at very short range for his eighth goal of the season at 6:11. Simon followed that up with an unassisted breakaway goal at 12:06 of the third for 5-1, and WBS concluded the scoring at 18:58 when Dominik Uher, a player overdue for a goal thanks to the excellent work he, Tom Kostopoulos, and Oskar Sundqvist have been doing all season, tallied his first of the season. Yanni Gourde provided an academic goal at 19:31 of the third, but all it did was increase Matt Murray’s GAA as WBS returned to the win column with a well-deserved 6-2 decision. Murray took the win with 30 saves on 32 shots, while Gudlevskis saved 29 of 35 WBS shots in a losing effort.
3) Tom Kostopoulos, WBS; one goal
2) Matt Murray, WBS; 30 saves on 32 shots
1) Dominik Simon, WBS; two goals
WBS AT LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS, 12-11-15
On Friday night, the Penguins took their first trip down the Turnpike of the season to visit the team that broke their perfect home record, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and they exacted a small measure of payback, taking a 4-0 decision from PPL Center in Allentown. Dominik Simon continued his scoring rush, tallying two goals, while his teammate Scott Wilson broke out of a minor goal drought of his own with two power play goals. Matt Murray took the cage again and posted his fourth shutout of the season, stopping all 23 Phantoms shots sent his way, while Anthony Stolarz took the loss for Lehigh Valley stopping only 16 of 20 WBS shots.
The shutout by Murray was also the 16th of his career…
#WBSPens Stats: Four of Matt Murray's 16 shutouts have come against Lehigh Valley.— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 12, 2015
Tonight was Murray's 16th career SO. He's one away from the WBS record, which is currently held by Brad Thiessen.— Seth Lakso (@CVSethLakso) December 12, 2015
Think about that. One quarter of Murray’s career shutouts against one team, and in barely a season and a quarter, he’s one away from WBS’s franchise record for shutouts by a goalie. Incredible.
3) Scott Wilson, WBS; two powerplay goals
2) Matt Murray, WBS; 23 saves on 23 shots, 4th shutout of the season
1) Dominik Simon, WBS; two goals
WBS VS. ALBANY DEVILS, 12-12-15
There was change in the air as WBS returned home to take on the Albany Devils on Saturday night, with the news that their head coach, Mike Sullivan, had been promoted to Pittsburgh to take the place of Mike Johnston. With Jay Leach and Mark Recchi behind the bench, the Penguins welcomed an Albany team that had won seven straight games and who had allowed just as few goals as WBS to this point in the season.
So naturally, WBS ran train on the Devils.
Kevin Porter started the fireworks at 17:01 of the first, assisted by Dominik Simon and Carter Rowney. Then, just 22 seconds into the second, Tom Kostopoulos buried the rebound of a Niclas Andersen point shot for his 6th of the year, assisted also by Oskar Sundqvist. Porter tallied his second of the night and 5th of the season at 15:47 of the second, once again assisted by Simon and Rowney. Scott Wilson closed the scoring at 6:32 of the third with a powerplay slapshot goal, his 14th of the season, from Conor Sheary and Kostopoulos. Tristan Jarry stopped all 22 shots fired at him for his first career shutout, while Yan Danis took the loss, stopping only 23 of 27 WBS offerings.
Defenseman Steve Oleksy sat out Saturday's game, making an opening for Clark Seymour to play his first game of the season alongside Derrick Pouliot. Otherwise, lines and defense pairings are pretty well set now:
3) Tom Kostopoulos, WBS; goal and assist
2) Kevin Porter, WBS; two goals
1) Tristan Jarry, WBS; 22 saves on 22 shots, shutout
(Stats are as of December 12, 2015, compiled from theahl.com after the games of December 12 concluded)
- Goals - Scott Wilson, 14 (T-3rd in AHL behind Devin Shore of Texas and Petr Straka of Lehigh Valley, 15 goals each)
- Assists - Conor Sheary, 19 (league leader in assists)
- Points - Dominik Simon/Conor Sheary (tie), 25 (T-4th in AHL; Scott Wilson's 22 points has him at a tie for 9th and gives WBS three of the league's top-10 scorers)
- Rookies - Dominik Simon's six-point week gives him 25 for the season in 24 games, good for 2nd among AHL rookies behind only Devin Shore of Texas, who has 26 points. I wouldn't be surprise if Simon gets a nod for Player of the Week.
- Matt Murray 12-4-0, 1.84 GAA (4th in AHL), 93.8% save pct (T-1st in AHL), four shutouts (T-1st in AHL)
- Tristan Jarry - 7-1-0, 1.70 GAA (2nd in AHL), 93.4% save pct (4th in AHL), one shutout
- Special Teams
- Power Play - 21.0% home (6th in AHL), 19.1% away (6th), 20.2% overall (7th)
- Penalty Kill - 84.9% home (15th), 88.4% away (4th), 86.5% overall (5th)
- Team Record: 12-2-0 home, 7-3-0 away, 19-5-0 overall, 38 points
- Team Points Percentage: 79.2% (1st in division, conference and league)
- Miscellaneous: 89 goals scored in 24 games (3rd in AHL behind Texas at 103 in 26 games and Toronto at 102 in 26 games); 49 goals allowed in 24 games (3rd in AHL behind Ontario's 38 in 19 games and Albany's 46 in 24 games)
THE WEEK AHEAD:
December 16 at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 pm
December 18 vs. Toronto, 7:05 pm (This one is going to be a massive clash of titans, as only Toronto’s record can challenge that of WBS at this point in the season.)
December 19 at Syracuse, 7:00 pm
I’ll leave you with this. After mid-season promotion from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Michel Therrien took the Pittsburgh Penguins to within breathing distance of the Stanley Cup. Dan Bylsma did get Pittsburgh a Cup. Having watched Mike Sullivan work with WBS for 23 games, I think he can certainly improve Pittsburgh’s situation. I sorely wish he would have stayed here, though…that Mike Johnston would have figured out how to win as the Pittsburgh coach and Pittsburgh could be the juggernaut that WBS was and can still be. Meanwhile, we in WBS will continue to do our job…develop prospects and coaches for the National Hockey League.
I just wish we would get a championship out of the deal too. Maybe Jay Leach and these Penguins are finally the ones to do it.