After a punishing week in which the WBS Penguins played four games in six days, managing to gather six out of a possible eight points, the Penguins only faced two games on their schedule this past week. The first of those games, though, was about as big a game WBS has played this season. Let's take a look at how this week in WBS Penguins history progressed.
WBS PENGUINS AT TORONTO MARLIES, FEBRUARY 19
What a matchup. The two leading teams in the league. The league's second-most prolific offense against the team's second-stingiest defense.
Just as in their first meeting on December 18 in WBS, the Penguins held the Marlies scoreless through 40 minutes, though not for a lack of trying. Toronto registered 19 shots in the first period, with WBS goalie phenom Matt Murray repelling them all. The WBS defense buckled down in the second, allowing only six shots, for a two-period total of 25, and when Anton Zlobin and Kael Mouillierat scored goals just 47 seconds apart in the second period, WBS looked every bit Toronto's equal with a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes.
The @WBSPenguins score back-to-back goals less than 4 minutes into the second period pic.twitter.com/ml1gPzfuMv— AHL (@TheAHL) February 20, 2016
Unfortunately, just as in their first meeting, Toronto caught fire in the last 20 minutes. Starting with defenseman TJ Brennan's 20th goal of the season just 34 seconds in, Toronto dominated the third period, outshooting WBS 15-10 and getting four goals total. Brennan's goal was followed by a power play goal by Connor Brown at 9:34 of the third, William Nylander's 16th of the season at 13:04, and Brett Findlay's 4th of the season at 16:02 to provide the final margin of victory, 4-2.
Remarkable, really, that of the six periods and one overtime that WBS and Toronto shared together this season, WBS managed to shut down Toronto for four of those periods plus the overtime, and they only got one point out of those two games.
Matt Murray took the loss, with 36 saves on 40 Toronto shots. Toronto goalie Antoine Bibeau took the win, stopping 28 of 30 WBS shots. Connor Brown took third star honors with his game-tying power play goal. William Nylander took second star honors with his game-winning goal plus the secondary assist on Brennan's goal. Top honors went to Toronto's Zach Hyman, with three primary assists.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) February 19, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) February 19, 2016
WBS PENGUINS AT ROCHESTER AMERICANS, FEBRUARY 21
The Penguins enjoyed a rare Saturday off this past week, only the second (and final) Saturday on which they were not playing. They woke on Sunday morning to a moderate roster shakeup, as following Jeff Zatkoff's underwhelming performance for Pittsburgh against Tampa Bay on Saturday, Pittsburgh promoted Matt Murray to the big show as the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury for Pittsburgh's victory in nearby Buffalo on Sunday afternoon. Pittsburgh also returned defender David Warsofsky to WBS following a concussion. WBS also promoted forward Ty Loney, defender Clark Seymour, and goalie Brian Foster from Wheeling to bolster the roster in advance of WBS's contest in Rochester.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) February 21, 2016
Excepted #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) February 21, 2016
WBS wasted very little time kicking off the proceedings against the Americans...
Carter Rowney gives the #WBSPens a 1-0 lead (gif) pic.twitter.com/hGLgCJ0spL— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) February 21, 2016
That's Carter Rowney finishing off a nifty passing play with Tom Kostopoulos and Sahir Gill assisting at 3:53 of the first. The first period ended 1-0, but Rochester's William Carrier tied the game at 4:24 of the second. The scorching-hot line of Rowney/Gill/Kostopoulos then responded...
Tom Kostopoulos puts the #WBSPens back in front with his 14th of the season (GIF) pic.twitter.com/10bTZwXQkJ— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) February 21, 2016
That lead stood for just over 8 minutes, as Carrier notched his second of the game and his ninth of the season at 14:50 to send the game to the second intermission tied at 2. WBS had every opportunity under the sun in the third period to take the lead, getting three separate power plays (including a 5 on 3), but Rochester repelled all three penalties. The third period ended with WBS recording a total of 38 shots against Rochester's 28, but no additional goals, so the game went to overtime. WBS went the entirety of regulation without taking a penalty, but just 1:03 into overtime, Carter Rowney was whistled for tripping, and former Penguin Cal O'Reilly took advantage just 42 seconds later to give Rochester a 3-2 overtime victory.
Tristan Jarry took the loss, stopping 26 of 29 Rochester shots, while Rochester's Nathan Lieuwen put in a strong 36-save performance for the victory. Kostopoulos took third star honors for his goal and a secondary assist on Rowney's goal. O'Reilly's game-winner garnered him second-star honors, while Carrier took top honors with two goals.
(Stats are as of February 21, 2016, compiled from theahl.com after the games of February 21 concluded)
- Goals - Scott Wilson, 22 (T-5th in AHL, currently in Pittsburgh); Tom Kostopoulos leads current WBS players with 14 goals, trailed by Dominik Simon with 13 and Carter Rowney/Jean-Sebastien Dea with 12 each.
- Assists - Conor Sheary, 29 (T-8th in AHL, currently in Pittsburgh); Will O'Neill leads current WBS players with 26 assists (somehow, he lost an assist from last week to this week), trailed by Carter Rowney with 20 and Dominik Simon/Kael Mouillierat with 19 each.
- Points - Scott Wilson and Conor Sheary (tie), 36; Will O'Neill leads current WBS players with 33 points, trailed by Dominik Simon and Carter Rowney with 32 points each, then Kael Mouillierat with 30.
- Rookies - Simon's 32 points are good for 10th in the AHL among rookies.
- Matt Murray 19-9-1, 2.11 GAA (2nd in AHL), 93.1% save pct (2nd in AHL), four shutouts (T-3rd in AHL)
- Tristan Jarry - 11-3-3, 2.09 GAA, 92.7% save pct, three shutouts (Jarry's GAA would be 2nd in the AHL and his save percentage fourth if he had enough minutes to qualify among the league leaders; he has played 1,004 minutes, while the goalie leaderboard asks for 1,020 minutes)
- Brian Foster - 1-3-1, 2.97 GAA, 87.9% save pct, one shutout
- Casey Desmith - 1-0-0, 1.50 GAA, 93.5% save pct
- Special Teams
- Power Play - 20.2% home (12th in AHL), 20.8% away (3rd), 20.5% overall (5th)
- Penalty Kill - 86.5% home (T-8th), 86.4% away (3rd), 86.4% overall (3rd)
- Team Record: 15-7-2-1 home, 17-8-2-0 away, 32-15-4-1 overall, 69 points
- Team Points Percentage: 66.3% (1st in division, 2nd in conference, 3rd in league)
THE WEEK AHEAD
February 23 vs. Hershey, 7:05 pm
February 26 at Portland, 7:00 pm
February 27 at Springfield, 7:00 pm
February 28 at Providence, 3:00 pm
Usually, my look ahead encompasses just the next week, which is punishing enough with four games in six days, but let's take a quick look at the remaining 24 games of the WBS season. Of the 24 games remaining:
- Eight against Hershey (4 home, 4 away)
- Four against Lehigh Valley (2 home, 2 away)
- Three against Bridgeport (2 home, 1 away)
- Three against Providence (2 home, 1 away)
- Two each against Springfield, Portland, and Binghamton (1 home, 1 away for each)
Add it all up, and you've got 22 divisional games left, with 12 of those against WBS's closest, most bitter rivals. Despite WBS still holding the division lead by 3.3 percentage points, despite holding two games in hand over Hershey, and despite WBS still holding top-5 positions in special teams, this season is nowhere close to over.
In fact, it may just be beginning.