Compared to the busy slate of weeks past, the WBS Penguins only played two games this past week. But the two games they did play were two huge games, as the schedule called for a home and home weekend series against the Atlantic Division-leading Hershey Bears. These two games presented a prime opportunity for WBS to re-stake its claim as the top team in the Atlantic Division. Let's take a look.
WBS PENGUINS VS. HERSHEY BEARS, MARCH 19
The first game of the home-and-home was the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration for WBS, as they donned their traditional, special green uniforms against the Hershey whites. Hershey was forced to play this game without their captain, Garrett Mitchell, who served the third and final game of his three-game suspension for his head hit on Tyler Biggs during the game on March 6. Biggs was concussed on the hit, and he has not played since.
WBS came out flying in the first period, taking control early on and dominating the play to an eventual shot advantage of 14-6 in the first. To his credit, Hershey goaltender Dan Ellis brought his A-game, repelling everything sent his way through the first 17 minutes of the period.
The critical sequence of the period started at 15:38 of the first, as Sean Collins took a penalty for checking to the head and Zach Sill took a penalty for hooking at the same time, giving WBS two full minutes of 5 on 3 PP time. WBS went to work, but was unable to break through at first. At 16:38 of the first, Chandler Stephenson for Hershey took a slashing penalty, but unfortunately Will O'Neill was also called for embellishment on the play. In a call that would later serve to be game-changing, O'Neill was also tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, making the 5 on 3 PP a 4 on 3 PP.
With only six seconds remaining on the power play, Ellis made a save on a point shot from Tim Erixon. In the ensuing scrum, Ellis also denied Carter Rowney a chance, but the puck fell to Tom Kostopoulos, and he was able to muscle a backhand home for his 16th goal of the season and a 1-0 WBS lead. However, Hershey would quickly answer as the extra minor to O'Neill led to a Hershey power play, and while Hershey did not score on the advantage proper, Riley Barber tallied his 21st of the season just after the advantage expired to level the proceedings at 1 through 20 minutes.
Those who read my weekly articles who enjoy the pugilistic aspects of hockey (I don't, really) will want to take a look at the highlight video below for the bout between Tom Sestito and Liam O'Brien. It has some unique strategy from O'Brien that I've never seen before.
The game would proceed as normal until 7:38 of the second, when...
That is indeed Dustin Jeffrey somehow deflecting a Barry Goers shot past Ellis to restore the one-goal lead for WBS, which they held through the end of the second period.
Hershey absolutely dominated the third to the tune of a 14-5 shot advantage, and they honestly could have had many, many more shots if not for the defensive efforts of the Penguins. Tristan Jarry was able to stop all 14 shots he faced in the third to propel him to first-star honors on the evening, and empty-net goals by Jeffrey and Sestito provided the final 4-1 margin of victory that was in no way indicative of how close this game was played.
Third star honors were given to Tom Kostopoulos for his power play goal, while Jeffrey's two goals were good enough for second star honors.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 19, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 19, 2016
WBS PENGUINS AT HERSHEY BEARS, MARCH 20
The return matchup in Hershey on Sunday featured the Bears donning their St. Patrick's Day jerseys. The game began with a flourish, as nearly one year to the day after he did this...
...Kael Mouillierat scored his 16th goal of the season in spectacular style...
Behind the net view of Mouillierat's goal. pic.twitter.com/EsHtrLvTng— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 20, 2016
Yes, you're seeing that correctly...he balanced the puck onto his stick and backhanded it lacrosse-style into the net behind Hershey goalie Justin Peters. I still can't believe it, no matter how many times I see it.
The good times for WBS, however, did not last, as just 2:18 after Mouillerat's goal, Hershey's Madison Bowey tied the game with his 4th of the season, then Sean Collins recorded his 15th of the season on a power play at 9:59 of the first.
If you go by the scorebook, WBS won the second period, but WBS definitely took the hard way to do it, as they gave Hershey six straight power plays in the second period. After Dustin Jeffrey tied the game at 12:35 of the second, Hershey converted a Tom Sestito tripping penalty through Jakub Vrana's 10th of the season, but right after Will O'Neill took a delay of game penalty directly after the goal, Adam Krause scored his first goal for WBS shorthanded at 18:26 of the second to tie the game at 3 after two periods.
The third period opened solidly in Hershey's favor, as Ryan Stanton beat Jarry off a face-off play at 3:15 of the third, then Zach Sill beat Jarry just 32 seconds later to make it 5-3 Hershey. To WBS's credit, they did not give up, as Sestito threaded a beautiful pass for Jean-Sebastien Dea to tip home for 5-4 at 5:02 of the third. Then, at 13:59 of the third...
Oleksy shot, TK with the put away. 5-5 pic.twitter.com/N5LtNL7FVg— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 20, 2016
That goal was enough to get the game to the always-frenetic 3 on 3 overtime, where WBS was able to turn a Jarry save on Chris Bourque...
O'Neill wouldn't have scored the goal if it weren't for this Tristan Jarry save just seconds before. pic.twitter.com/F1YO5huiSS— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 20, 2016
...into the game-winning goal by Will O'Neill.
Mouillierat's lacrosse goal, plus one assist, earned him third star honors on the evening. Madison Bowey also had a goal and an assist, and he got second star honors. O'Neill's game winner got him top honors.
Tristan Jarry took his second win in as many nights, with 22 saves on 27 shots. Justin Peters took the loss with 25 saves on 31 shots.
STATISTICS (as of March 20, 2016)
- Goals - Scott Wilson first with 22; Carter Rowney second with 20; Dominik Simon third with 18; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Dustin Jeffrey, and Tom Kostopoulos tied for fourth with 17
- Assists - Dustin Jeffrey first with 38; Will O'Neill ranks second with 34; Conor Sheary and Carter Rowney tied for third with 29; Tom Kostopoulos fifth with 25
- Points - Dustin Jeffrey leads the team with 55 points; Carter Rowney second with 49, Tom Kostopoulos and Will O'Neill tied for third with 42 points; Kael Mouillerat fifth with 39 points
- Rookies - Simon's 38 points are good for a tie for 11th in the AHL among rookies.
- Matt Murray - 20-9-1, 2.10 GAA (second in AHL), 93.1% save pct (second in AHL), four shutouts (currently in NHL)
- Tristan Jarry - 14-9-3, 2.49 GAA (16th in AHL), 91.5% save pct (16th in AHL), four shutouts
- 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 - 21.5% home (6th in AHL), 17.3% away (T-8th), 19.4% overall (7th)
- Penalty Kill - 84.2% home (19th), 83.2% away (14th), 83.7% overall (13th)
- Team Record: 18-9-2-1 home, 20-12-2-0 away, 38-21-4-1 overall, 81 points
- Team Points Percentage: 63.3%; tied for 1st in division with Hershey; WBS owns the tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins, 3rd in conference, 7th in league
- Magic Number to Clinch Playoffs: 16 (per the AHL Playoff Primer of March 21, found at http://theahl.com/playoff-primer-2016-p201276), a drop of 4 over the prior week's number of 20. WBS gained four out of four points this weekend, lowering its number by 4.