This week in WBS Penguins land featured a midweek visit from some longtime rivals and a home-and-home series with a team on the playoff borderline fighting to solidify its chances. Let's take a look at how the week progressed.
WBS PENGUINS VS. LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS, MARCH 9
With Tristan Jarry falling ill and unavailable to play, the Penguins signed Wheeling goaltender Frankie Palazzese to a professional tryout contract to back up Brian Foster. It's a good thing they did, as the midweek engagement with the Phantoms started out very badly. With Foster in net, the Phantoms struck first as Kevin Goumas scored his sixth of the season at 5:54 of the first period. WBS answered through Steve Oleksy's second goal of the season at 10:46, but from there, Lehigh Valley took over. Goals by Cole Bardreau (11) at 11:58 of the first, Phil DeSimone (5) at 1:16 of the second, and Adam Comrie (4) at 5:14 (power play) extended the Lehigh Valley advantage to 4-1. Although Carter Rowney scored his 18th of the season on the power play at 8:14 to narrow the lead to 2, Danick Martel restored the three-goal advantage at 16:23 of the second on the power play to send Lehigh Valley to the locker room at the second intermission with a 5-2 lead.
Foster would be replaced by Palazzese to start the third period, and for whatever reason, WBS came out of the gates flying in the third period. Kael Mouillierat scored his 14th goal of the season at 5:30 of the third on the power play, followed swiftly by Jarrett Burton's first as a WBS Penguin at 6:14 of the third to bring WBS to within 1. WBS continued to press and press and press for the equalizer, and with only 4.1 seconds left on the clock, Jean-Sebastien Dea finally broke through to tie the game with his 16th goal of the season, stealing a crucial point for WBS. Then, at 3:28 of overtime, Rowney fired a shot that opposing goalie Anthony Stolarz got 90% of, but that remaining 10% caused the puck to trickle over the line for the extra point and the overtime winner, 6-5.
Palazzese took the victory in his WBS debut, making four saves in the third period and OT in relief of Brian Foster. Stolarz saved 35 of 41 WBS shots in the losing effort. Danick Martel for Lehigh Valley took third star honors with a goal and an assist; Tom Kostopoulos took second honors with an incredible four assists; Rowney's two goals and the secondary assist on Dea's game-tying goal secured him top honors.
WBS PENGUINS VS. BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS, MARCH 12
The Penguins then welcomed the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to town for the first of two straight games against the Tigers. In the interim, WBS returned Brian Foster to Wheeling, as well as forwards Derek Army and Anton Zlobin, while recalling Adam Krause from Wheeling and welcoming back Conor Sheary from Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, as a result of the injuries sustained by the Pittsburgh Penguins during Friday night's game against Columbus, Pittsburgh made some roster moves just before game time, recalling Sheary as well as Dominik Simon and returning Tom Sestito to WBS.
Without Sheary and Simon, WBS pressed on, outshooting Bridgeport 16-6 in the first period but getting no goals thanks to a standout performance by Bridgeport goalie Stephon Williams. Tom Kostopoulos solved Williams off a rebound on a power play at 7:47 of the second to open the scoring, but Bridgeport's Colin Markinson equalized at 10:18 of the second. The third period opened 1-1, but Bridgeport's Carter Verhaeghe solved WBS goalie Tristan Jarry at 5:07 of the third on a nasty shot finishing a 3 on 2, then Mike Halmo beat Jarry on a power play deflection at 8:01 of the third to extend the lead to 3-1. Kael Mouillierat responded at 17:00 with a beautiful finish on a power play face-off play to bring WBS within 1, but despite some last-minute rushes, WBS could get no further, and Bridgeport earned a 3-2 victory.
Stephon Williams for Bridgeport took the victory with 30 saves on 32 shots, but was shockingly not a star of the evening. Tristan Jarry took the loss with 16 saves on 19 shots. WBS's Carter Rowney took third star honors with two assists; Kostopoulos was second star with his goal, and Bridgeport's Mike Halmo took top honors with a goal and an assist.
WBS PENGUINS AT BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS, MARCH 13
WBS sought revenge on Sunday afternoon in Bridgeport, and for a short time, it looked like they were going to get it. Bridgeport's Justin Florek opened the scoring at 19:15 of the first, but Carter Rowney answered with his 20th goal of the season at 4:53 to tie the game at 1. WBS's Tim Erixon scored at 2:30 of the third to put WBS ahead 2-1, but then Florek caught fire with his fifth goal of the season at 9:01 of the third to tie it, then his sixth of the season and completion of a hat trick at 15:37 of the third to send Bridgeport to another victory over the Penguins. Stephon Williams stopped 23 of 25 WBS shots and got third star honors; Bridgeport's Ben Holmstrom assisted on all three Florek goals for second star honors, and the obvious choice for first star was the mad hatter of the night, Justin Florek.
STATISTICS (as of March 13, 2016)
- Goals - Scott Wilson first with 22; Carter Rowney second with 20; Dominik Simon third with 18; Jean-Sebastien Dea fourth with 16; Tom Kostopoulos and Kael Mouillierat tied for fifth with 15 each
- Assists - Dustin Jeffrey first with 37; Will O'Neill ranks second with 34; Conor Sheary third with 29; Carter Rowney fourth with 25, and Tom Kostopoulos fifth with 24
- Points - Dustin Jeffrey leads the team with 51 points; Carter Rowney second with 45, powered by six points this week; Will O'Neill third with 41 points; Tom Kostopoulos fourth with 39 points; Dominik Simon fifth with 38 points.
- Rookies - Simon's 38 points are good for 10th in the AHL among rookies.
- Matt Murray - 20-9-1, 2.10 GAA, 93.1% save pct, four shutouts (currently in NHL)
- Tristan Jarry - 12-9-3, 2.45 GAA, 91.7% save pct, four shutouts (T-5th)
- Brian Foster - 2-3-1, 3.15 GAA, 87.0% save pct, one shutout
- Casey Desmith - 1-0-0, 1.50 GAA, 93.5% save pct
- Frank Palazzese - 1-0-0, perfect GAA and save pct in 22:21 of work
- Special Teams
- Power Play - 21.7% home (6th in AHL), 17.8% away (5th), 19.8% overall (7th)
- Penalty Kill - 83.5% home (21st), 83.8% away (11th), 83.7% overall (14th)
- Team Record: 17-9-2-1 home, 19-12-2-0 away, 36-21-4-1 overall, 77 points
- Team Points Percentage: 62.1% (2nd in division, 4th in conference, 8th in league)
- Magic Number to Clinch Playoffs: 20 (per the AHL's Playoff Primer as of March 14, accessible at http://theahl.com/playoff-primer-2016-p201276), a drop of 3 over last week's number of 23. WBS's overtime comeback against Lehigh Valley dropped its number by two; while WBS was unable to further reduce its number by its own actions this weekend, some shuffling around of the playoff teams served to shave one additional point off the team's magic number.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Saturday, March 19 vs. Hershey, 7:05 pm
Sunday, March 20 at Hershey, 5:00 pm
Simple enough schedule this week. Home and home against the division leaders.
At some point, WBS needs to show it is capable of surviving long enough to get the reinforcements it knows is coming from Pittsburgh. Right now, it's far too shaky to say whether or not this will happen, and with 14 games to go, anything can still happen.
EDIT: Article updated March 14, 2016 to include the WBS Magic Number to clinch the playoffs.