The WBS Penguins started their final week of games before the All-Star Classic with three All-Stars and a comfortable lead in their division. They ended their week on a four-game losing streak, only one All-Star (who was not one of the original three), a quickly-shrinking division lead, and at least one supporter who is very nervous about where things stand as the league stopped to showcase its best.
Let's see what happened.
WBS PENGUINS VS. HARTFORD WOLF PACK, 1-27-16
After a rough three-in-three in the New England states, the Penguins returned home for a midweek engagement with Hartford. The Penguins did not have the services of their two top scorers, Scott Wilson and Conor Sheary, who were demoted back to WBS after Pittsburgh's shutout of the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, January 26 but not yet available to suit up for WBS, so the offense naturally struggled against Hartford. Former Penguin Jayson Megna opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at 19:23 of the first, which was answered by Niclas Andersen's third goal of the season at 4:14 of the second. In the third, Jeff Tambellini beat Matt Murray at 4:03 of the third to give Hartford the lead, and Travis Oleksuk's empty-netter at 19:09 of the third doomed WBS to their fourth loss in their previous 5 games, 3-1. Andersen's goal was good for third star honors; Hartford goalie Magnus Hellberg took second star honors with a 27-save performance; Tambellini took first star.
WBS PENGUINS AT LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS, 1-29-16
Between Wednesday's game and Friday's game, it was announced that WBS All-Star Derrick Pouliot would not be participating in the AHL All-Star festivities, being on Pittsburgh's roster. In addition, it was announced that fellow All-Star Matt Murray would be shut down for the All-Star weekend, so he wouldn't be going either. This left Dominik Simon as the only remaining all-star of the originally announced three, but there was some question going into Friday's game in Allentown as to whether Simon would be healthy enough to play, having picked up a minor injury in Wednesday's game.
Bolstered by the return of Sheary and Wilson to the WBS lineup, the Penguins took a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes on the strength of a Tom Kostopoulos power play goal and Josh Archibald's eighth of the year. You'd have thought with a two-goal lead and Tristan Jarry in the net, that would be enough. Unfortunately, it was not, as the Phantoms scored three goals in the third (Davis Drewiske's third of the year, Cole Bardreau's sixth of the year, then former Penguin Chris Conner's ninth of the year on the powerplay) to take the lead with 3:44 to go. To WBS's credit, they came right back with the tying goal through Kael Mouillierat just 26 seconds after Conner's goal, and the score was level after 60 minutes. The extra point would go to Lehigh Valley on this night, as Bardreau clinched first-star honors on the evening with his second goal of the night just 44 seconds away from the end of overtime. Conner's powerplay goal, along with an assist on Bardreau's first, gave him second star honors, while Mouillierat's goal, paired with the second assist on Kostopoulos's goal, gave him third star honors. Tristan Jarry took the overtime loss with 30 saves on 34 shots, while Jason LaBarbera took the win with 27 saves on 30 shots.
WBS PENGUINS VS. LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS, 1-30-16
The return match between WBS and LV on this home and home was billed as Throwback Night, with WBS wearing their black jerseys from their first season. The Penguins also inducted former Penguins captain and current assistant coach for the Arizona Coyotes John Slaney into their Hall of Fame, and it was the Penguins' first sellout of the season against their longtime Phantom rivals.
Unfortunately, the game itself was a kind of throwback as well...to the bad old days of WBS Penguins hockey, to a time when post-whistle scrums were the norm, fights were sought, officiating was sketchy, and WBS lost as a result of getting overly emotional rather than playing the game.
The game started out well enough, with Will O'Neill (fresh off being named to the All-Star Game, with Simon officially ruled out earlier in the day) sending a floater on net through a Kostopoulos screen that somehow eluded All-Star Anthony Stolarz for a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. The second period, though, saw three Phantoms goals in the first six minutes as Taylor Leier (power play), Colin McDonald, and Chris Conner put the Phantoms ahead 3-1. Scott Wilson scored his 21st of the season on the power play at 11:06 of the second to bring WBS back to 3-2, but then things got a little weird.
The box score calls it Pavel Padakin's first goal of the season from Andrew MacDonald and Phil DeSimone, but the video shows Tom Sestito trying to clear out the crease of a Phantom but taking out his own goalie in the process. With Jarry pinned under the combined weight of a Phantom and Sestito, Padakin had little problem finding empty space in the net for the 4-2 Phantoms advantage and sending the sellout crowd of 8,209 into a frenzy, believing the goal should not have counted due to interference. The goal was a good one, though, and Lehigh Valley maintained its 4-2 lead through 40 minutes.
Wilson and Sheary would combine for a beautiful goal at 9:47 of the third, Wilson's 2nd of the night and 22nd of the season, to bring WBS back to 4-3, but more hard luck would bite the Penguins hard in the final minute as, with Jarry off the ice for an extra attacker, Kael Mouillerat's stick imploded as he attempted a pass, and the resulting turnover led to an empty-netter for Colin McDonald at 19:12. Fittingly, the game ended with a Kostopoulos boarding minor at 19:55 of the third, as the captain spent a fair amount of time in the final 40 minutes attempting to stir the pot rather than fill the net, and the final horn saw both Tom Sestito and Josh Archibald trying to incite fights. A fitting end to the bad old days of WBS hockey, and an apt metaphor for the Penguins' implosion going into the All-Star break having lost six of their previous seven games.
Chris Conner took third star honors with a goal and an assist. Scott Wilson's two goals were good for second star honors. Andrew MacDonald took top honors with three assists. Jarry took the loss, allowing four goals in a game for the second straight night and making 30 saves; Stolarz took the win, with 24 saves on 27 shots.
THE ALL-STAR CLASSIC
The lone representative for the WBS Penguins, Will O'Neill, performed in three events during the skills competition on Sunday night. O'Neill took part in the first event, the puck control relay, leading his race teammates Nick Cousins (LV) and Seth Griffith (PRO) to a victory in the first race. O'Neill and Cousins joined Bridgeport's Alan Quine in the Pass and Score event, putting zero goals past Manitoba's Eric Comrie in three chances. O'Neill then took part in the Breakaway Relay, but his attempt was denied by Ontario's Peter Budaj.
In the All-Star Challenge, Jay Leach's Atlantic Division dropped its opening game to the Central Division 2-1 in a shootout. Pat Cannone, the captain of the Chicago Wolves and eventual MVP of the All-Star Challenge, registered the lone Central goal in regulation, as well as the only goal in the shootout, to lead the Central to victory, while Hershey's Chris Bourque sent the game to a shootout with a slapshot at the buzzer. The Atlantic rebounded in its second game to defeat the Pacific Division 2-1 behind goals by Bridgeport's Alan Quine and Providence's Seth Griffith, while Lehigh Valley's Anthony Stolarz allowed only Sean Backman of Ontario to beat him. The Atlantic then used a 4-1 victory over the North Division to advance to the championship game behind two goals by former Penguin Rob Schremp, a goal by Chris Bourque, and a goal by Alan Quine. WBS Penguin Will O'Neill recorded his only point of the Challenge by assisting on Bourque's goal.
Unfortunately for the Atlantic, on this evening the Central Division was a buzzsaw, and they carved up the Atlantic in the title game 4-0 behind goals by Cannone, Jeff Hoggan of Grand Rapids, Derek Ryan of Charlotte, and Xavier Ouellet of Grand Rapids. Throw in a shutout performance by Michael Leighton, and the Central won the Challenge handily.
STATISTICS (As of the All-Star break)
- Goals - Scott Wilson, 22 (1st in AHL); Dominik Simon, Tom Kostopoulos, Jean-Sebastien Dea all tied for second with 12 goals each
- Assists - Conor Sheary, 29 (T-2nd in AHL); Will O'Neill second with 20; Simon third with 19
- Points - Sheary and Wilson tied with 36 each (T-10th in AHL); Simon third with 31; O'Neill fourth with 26
- Rookies - Simon's 31 points are fifth among AHL rookies
- Matt Murray - 16-8-0, 1.97 GAA (2nd in AHL), 93.3% save percentage (T-1st in AHL), four shutouts
- Tristan Jarry - 11-2-1, 1.97 GAA, 93.0% save percentage, three shutouts. If Jarry had enough minutes, his GAA would be tied for 2nd in the league, and his save percentage would be fourth in the league. Through the All-Star break, Jarry has played 821 minutes; the goalie leaderboards ask for a minimum of 840 minutes.
- Brian Foster - 1-3-1, 2.97 GAA, 87.9% save percentage
- Casey DeSmith - 1-0-0, 1.50 GAA, 93.5% save percentage
- Special Teams
- Power Play - 22.1% home (6th in AHL), 18.9% away (5th), 20.5% overall (5th)
- Penalty Kill - 85.4% home (12th), 87.2% away (3rd), 86.4% (3rd)
- Team Record - 15-6-0-1 home, 14-7-1-0 away, 29-13-1-1 overall, 60 points
- Team Points Percentage - 68.2% (first in division, second in conference, fourth in league