My sincerest apologies for not being with you last week; I was visiting Pittsburgh last weekend to take in three parent Penguins games. (They won all 3; maybe I should visit more often.) We’ve got a lot to cover, therefore, with five games taking place between my last update and now, so let’s get to it.
December 3: WBS 6 @ St. John’s 2
Forced to leave their star prospect Carter Rowney behind in Wilkes-Barre with what was later characterized as a “week-to-week” injury by coach Clark Donatelli, WBS departed for Newfoundland as the calendar switched over to December for their two road matchups against the St. John’s IceCaps. WBS won the first meeting handily, by the score of 6-2. Six different Penguins scored goals (including the first in a WBS uniform for recent acquisition Danny Kristo), captain Tom Kostopoulos provided three assists, and Tristan Jarry stopped 31 of 33 STJ shots.
December 4: WBS 2 @ St. Johns 3 (OT)
The second game in Newfoundland did not go as well for the Penguins, as they fell in overtime to take three out of a possible four points from the road trip. After falling behind 2-0, WBS received goals from Oskar Sundqvist and Chad Ruhwedel to tie the game, but despite 52 shots against STJ goalie Yann Danis, they came 26 seconds shy of forcing a shootout, as STJ’s Chris Terry scored his eighth of the season at 4:34 of OT to give the IceCaps the extra point on the day. Casey DeSmith took the loss in net for WBS, stopping only 22 of 25 shots.
December 9: Hershey 5 @ WBS 2
Upon returning from Newfoundland, WBS was heavily bolstered by the return of Jake Guentzel, Derrick Pouliot, and Tom Sestito in advance of its two-game home series against their longtime rivals, the Hershey Bears. Despite the hype surrounding the first meeting of the season in WBS of the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, the first game on Friday was a rather dull effort by the home side, as Hershey outclassed the Penguins 5-2. Bears forwards Zach Sill, Nathan Walker, Chandler Stephenson, Zach Sanford, and Garrett Mitchell scored goals, as both times WBS closed the lead to within one goal (Guentzel in the first period, Jean-Sebastien Dea early in the third), the Bears found a way to force an odd-man rush, and each time Hershey attacked Tristan Jarry with numbers, they were able to pass their way to easy tap-ins. Jarry could only stop 17 of 22 Hershey shots in the losing effort, while the top goalie prospect of the Washington Capitals, Vitek Vanecek, stopped 26 of 28 WBS shots for the win. The returning Guentzel did his part, with a goal and an assist, but Pouliot finished a rough game at -3, and Sestito finished -1.
December 10: Hershey 2 @ WBS 6
The second of the two games against Hershey on the weekend started out much the same way as the first, with Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson scoring goals to give the Bears a 2-0 lead after 12:11. Thankfully for the home team, though, the Hershey dominance came to a crushing halt, as late in the first, Penguins forward Garrett Wilson took the game back to the old days of Black and Blue Hockey with two crushing forechecks to engage the crowd, then mere seconds later, the puck found its way to Oskar Sundqvist in front for his first goal of the night.
As it turned out, that first goal opened the floodgates for Sundqvist, as he would proceed to score three more goals on the night to become only the third WBS Penguin in history to score four goals in a game (Erik Christensen and Jean-Francois Jacques the others). Jake Guentzel and Tom Kostopoulos also added goals to complete a 6-2 whitewashing of the Bears to earn a split of the home series. WBS goalie Casey DeSmith did his part, with 21 saves on 23 shots, while Hershey goalie Joe Cannata could only stop 30 of 36 WBS shots.
December 11: WBS 4 @ Bridgeport 1
Guentzel continued his torrid pace during WBS’s third game of the weekend, a trip up to Connecticut to take on the dangerous Sound Tigers. Bridgeport’s Kane Lafranchise opened the scoring at 6:18 of the first, but the rest of the game belonged to the Penguins. Guentzel fired a vicious shot-pass off Teddy Blueger’s stick 2:22 into the second for Blueger’s first professional goal and a tie game, then David Warsofsky scored his third of the season on the power play at 18:44 of the second for the eventual game-winner. The oft-injured Stuart Percy added insurance at 3:51 of the third with his first as a WBS Penguin, then Guentzel finished off his weekend in style.
Opponents will learn very quickly not to leave Guentzel open there.
Tristan Jarry earned the win with 26 saves on 27 shots, while Bridgeport’s Stephon Williams took the loss with 32 saves on 36 shots. Total tally since I last spoke to you: Five games, seven out of a possible ten points, and now the best record in the American Hockey League.
STATISTICS (through December 11)
- GOALS: Oskar Sundqvist - 11; Jake Guentzel - 10; Jean-Sebastien Dea - 8; Tom Kostopoulos - 7, Kevin Porter/Carter Rowney - 5
- ASSISTS: Guentzel - 13; Garrett Wilson - 11; David Warsofsky/Sundqvist/Kostopoulos - 10; Porter/Chad Ruhwedel - 9
- POINTS: Guentzel - 23; Sundqvist - 21 (exceeding his 2015-16 total in just 22 games); Kostopoulos - 17; Porter/Wilson - 14
- GOALIES: Tristan Jarry - 10-5-1, 2.12 GAA (9th in AHL), 92.1% save percentage (15th in AHL), one shutout; Casey DeSmith - 6-0-2, 1.84 GAA (4th in AHL), 92.9% save percentage (5th in AHL)
- SPECIAL TEAMS: PP 18.8%, 14th in the AHL, with no shorthanded goals allowed (one of only 3 teams not to allow a shorthanded goal this season). PK 89.9%, 1st in AHL, 3 shorthanded goals forced
- FIGHT TRACKER - Patrick McGrath 3 (fought Hershey’s Liam O’Brien on December 10), Cameron Gaunce 2, Josh Archibald 1, Ryan Haggerty 1, Garrett Wilson 1, Carter Rowney 1, Tom Kostopoulos 1 (fought STJ’s Jonathan Racine on December 3)
- STANDINGS - 1st-WBS, 72.9% points percentage (1st in AHL); 2nd-Lehigh Valley/Hershey, 70.0%; 4th-Bridgeport, 66.7%; 5th-Providence, 62.0%; 6th-Springfield, 52.1%; 7th-Hartford 37.5%
Think about this for a second. At the conclusion of play on December 11, the top 3 teams in the AHL’s Atlantic Division all have a better record than the North Division’s leader, Syracuse at 69.6%. If not for the Central Division leader Milwaukee at 70.5%, the top 3 in the Atlantic Division would also be the top 3 in the entire League. Those top 3 teams (WBS, Lehigh Valley, and Hershey) are within 90 minutes of each other on the highways. There is some truly incredible professional hockey being played in Pennsylvania right now, with the top 3 teams in the AHL, the defending NHL champions in Pittsburgh, and Philly’s NHL team on a 9 game winning streak.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Wednesday, December 14: WBS at Hartford, 7:00 pm EST
Friday, December 16: Rochester at WBS, 7:05 pm EST
Saturday, December 17: Springfield at WBS, 7:05 pm EST
Three games in four days this upcoming week, then WBS goes on a nine-day break for the holiday season.