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WBS Weekly: November 14, 2016

WBS runs into a buzzsaw, but recovers well to maintain their status as best in the league.

November 11: WBS Penguins vs. Toronto Marlies

For the last couple of seasons, the regular season matchups between the WBS Penguins and the Toronto Marlies have been matchups of the best teams in the league. Last year’s meeting in the WB began with WBS taking a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes, only to concede three shorthanded goals within about six minutes of the third period, then lose in a shootout. This year’s regular season matchup in the WB didn’t go nearly as well for the home team.

The game started out well enough, with an early power play to WBS leading to a 3-1 shot advantage, but once Toronto killed the advantage, they proceeded to take total control of the game and spoil Thomas DiPauli’s season debut. Up and down the lineup, Toronto’s speed and skill outmatched that of WBS, and combined with the Marlies’ size advantage, WBS had no answers. Fresh off his Calder Cup championship last season with Lake Erie, Toronto winger Kerby Rychel scored his first two goals of the season (second star of the night), one on the PP, and center Frederick Gauthier also tallied his first of the season (third star honors) to pace the Marlies to a final shot advantage of 35-19 and a 3-0 victory. Former Penguins prospect Kasperi Kapanen chipped in with an assist and stellar play all night; also earning assists were Toronto’s scoring leader Brendan Leipsic, NHL veteran Milan Michalek, rookie Andreas Johnsson, and defender Viktor Loov, proving perhaps once and for all that Loov is all you need. (Shoutouts to our friends at the Pension Plan Puppets and Achariya over at Raw Charge, who have been bombarding me with puns all weekend over this.) Toronto goalie Antoine Bibeau (first star) saved all 19 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season, while WBS goalie Tristan Jarry did well to save 32 of 35 in the loss.

November 12: WBS Penguins vs. Providence Bruins

WBS had no time to rest, coming right back to the WB the next night to continue a rivalry forged in the playoffs with the Providence Bruins. As documented here previously, Providence is not the team it was last year, losing four valuable forwards from last year’s team (Austin Czarnik to Boston, Seth Griffith to a waiver claim, Alexander Khokhlachev to the KHL, and Frank Vatrano to injury). As a result, Providence has struggled out of the gate, and WBS looked to take advantage.

The ??? above turned out to be the return to the lineup of Ryan Haggerty.

The Penguins managed to strike first on this night at 7:01 of the first, as a centering pass from behind the net by Sahir Gill struck Jean-Sebastien Dea’s foot and past Providence goalie Malcolm Subban. The ref reviewed it, but he determined that it was not a kick, so Dea’s fourth goal of the season was given, and WBS was off and running. WBS would strike again in the second period, as just after the expiration of a power play, Oskar Sundqvist slammed home a rebound for his fifth of the season, matching his total goal output from 2015-16 in less than a third of the games.

From there, Subban slammed the door, stopping several high-quality chances from WBS on his way to 25 saves on 27 shots in his return to the WB. Providence made it close at 9:02 of the third through Danton Heinen’s power play goal, his third of the season, but the Bruins could get no closer, and Jake Guentzel’s empty-netter at 19:31 of the third, his sixth of the season, provided the final 3-1 margin of victory. WBS starting goalie Casey DeSmith finished with 28 saves on 29 shots for second star honors and his fourth win of the season, all one-goal efforts. Dea’s goal earned third honors, and Sundqvist’s eventual game-winner earned top honors.

(Man, do those black jerseys at home look good.)

November 13: WBS Penguins at Hartford Wolf Pack

Sunday marked the 17th anniversary of the first WBS home game in team history. (Get a load of Johan Hedberg trying to chop Tom Kostopoulos’s arm off in that video.) To celebrate, the Penguins concluded their weekend with a Sunday afternoon drive up to Hartford, the only team in the Atlantic Division performing worse than Providence, and WBS took full advantage.

If those forward lines look a little weird, it’s because less than 3 hours before puck drop, the AHL announced a one-game suspension for Kevin Porter on account of his check to the head in the final minutes of the game on Friday. To compensate, Guentzel dropped down to second-line center, and DiPauli returned to the lineup to compensate. This game also marked the professional debut of Lukas Bengtsson, restored to full health and fitness following his bout with Lyme disease over the summer.

The quality difference between the two teams shone brightly in the first, as Reid Gardiner scored his third goal of the season at 1:31 of the first, unassisted. Great to see Gardiner get more and more acclimated to pro hockey as the season wears on, and great to see him producing as well. Dominik Simon made it 2-0 at 8:02 of the first on a power play, his third goal of the season as well, then David Warsofsky, freshly returned to WBS, tallied his second in four games for WBS at 19:30 of the first, also on the power play. WBS 3, Hartford 0 after 20, and it didn’t get much better from there.

There were no goals in the second, and Hartford made WBS sweat slightly at 5:19 of the third when Marek Hrivik scored his sixth of the season, but Ryan Haggerty opened his account to restore the three-goal advantage at 16:50 of the third. Final margin: WBS 4, Hartford 1, and four points out of six on the weekend.

WBS goalie Jarry recovered well from his outing against Toronto to stop 22 of 23 shots for his sixth win of the season and third star honors. Gardiner’s goal was good enough for second honors, while Oskar Sundqvist took top honors with only a secondary assist on Haggerty’s goal.

Stat Leaders (through November 14)

Goals - Jake Guentzel - 6; Oskar Sundqvist - 5; Kevin Porter, Tom Kostopoulos, Jean-Sebastien Dea - 4; Carter Rowney, Reid Gardiner, Dominik Simon - 3

Assists - Guentzel, Rowney - 7; Chad Ruhwedel - 6; Sahir Gill, Kevin Porter, Garrett Wilson - 5; Sundqvist, Kostopoulos - 4

Points - Guentzel - 13; Rowney - 10; Sundqvist, Porter - 9; Kostopoulos, Ruhwedel - 8, Wilson - 7

Goalies - Tristan Jarry - 6-2-1, 1.76 GAA (5th in AHL among goalies with 240 or more minutes), 93.5% save percentage (3rd in AHL); Casey DeSmith - 4-0-0, 1.00 GAA (1st in AHL), 96.3% save percentage (1st in AHL)

Of note here: Casey DeSmith has played 239:52 this season through November 14, which rounds up to 240 minutes, which qualifies him for the league leaders even though he has only 4 games.

Special Teams - Power play - 10 goals in 57 chances for 17.5%, 18th in the league, no shorthanded goals against; Penalty kill - 5 goals allowed in 53 chances for 90.6%, 1st in the AHL, three shorthanded goals forced

Fight Tracker - Patrick McGrath 2, Reid McNeill 1, Josh Archibald 1, Ryan Haggerty 1, Garrett Wilson 1, Cameron Gaunce 1 (fought Chris Brown of Hartford on Sunday)

Standings - WBS ends the weekend at 10-2-1, good for 21 points and a points percentage of 80.8%, both tops in the division, conference, and league. Lehigh Valley ranks second in the division at 8-3-1, 17 points, 70.8%. Bridgeport is third at 8-4-0-0, 16 points, 66.7%; Springfield fourth at 7-5-1, 15 points, 57.7%; Hershey fifth at 15 points, 6-4-2-1, 57.7%; Providence sixth at 4-6-2-1, 11 points, 42.3%; Hartford last at 3-8-2, 8 points, 30.8%.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, November 16 - WBS at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 pm

Friday, November 18 - Bridgeport at WBS, 7:05 pm

Saturday, November 19 - WBS at Hershey, 7:00 pm

Great way to start the week, with WBS’s first game of 12 this season against the dangerous Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who absolutely blasted the aforementioned Toronto Marlies this past Saturday 7-2. Should be a great midweek rivalry game.