The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins entered this week in a dead heat with the Hershey Bears for first place in the Atlantic Division, gaining priority status over the Bears only due to tiebreakers. With 12 games to go, the race was on for the division championship. Let's take a look at how the week progressed.
WBS PENGUINS VS. BINGHAMTON SENATORS, MARCH 23
First on the docket was a home game against former division rivals Binghamton. The Senators came into this game in last place in the North Division but on a four-game winning streak, so it was imperative that the Penguins did not take the Senators lightly. Fortunately, they did not, as the Penguins cruised to a 5-0 victory over their I-81 rivals. Carter Rowney opened the scoring 3:32 into the game with his 21st of the season. The Penguins put up three goals in the second period, as Dominik Simon (19, PP), Jean-Sebastien Dea (18), and Josh Archibald (9) expanded the lead to four goals after 40 minutes. Simon then finished the scoring at 1:06 of the third with his second power play goal of the evening and the 20th goal of his North American rookie season. Tristan Jarry was tested only occasionally on his way to posting his fifth shutout of the season, stopping all 20 shots he faced, while his counterpart Chris Driedger could only stop 31 of 36 WBS shots.
Dea's goal, plus his primary assist on Simon's first goal, garnered him third star honors. Simon's two goals got him second honors, while Jarry's shutout earned top honors.
WBS PENGUINS AT BINGHAMTON SENATORS, MARCH 25
The Penguins continued their week by making the short drive up I-81 to Binghamton for their final meeting of the season with the Senators. Unlike Wednesday's game in the WB, this game was much more tightly contested, with all four goals scored in regulation being power play goals.
Binghamton's Michael Keranen opened the scoring at 13:49 of the first, his 12th of the season. Captain Tom Kostopoulos answered nearly 4 minutes later at 17:39 with his 18th goal of the season to tie the game after 20 minutes. In the second, Casey Bailey scored his ninth of the season at 11:46, which was once again answered by Kostopoulos at 17:55 of the second, his 19th of the season. With no scoring in the third period, the game progressed to overtime, and fortunes smiled upon WBS on this night as Kael Mouillierat deflected in a Barry Goers shot at 2:12 of the extra session to give WBS a 3-2 victory and set an AHL record with WBS's 11th straight season with 40 or more victories.
Tristan Jarry faced another relatively light workload on this night, facing only 19 shots and stopping 17 of them for the victory. His opposite number on this night was Matt O'Connor, who stopped 31 of 34 WBS shots in a losing effort.
Binghamton's Jason Akeson took third star honors with assists on both Binghamton goals. Tom Kostopoulos's two goals were good for second honors, while Kael Mouillierat's game-winner in OT earned top honors.
WBS PENGUINS VS. PROVIDENCE BRUINS, MARCH 26
In that game, his last for WBS prior to being recalled to Pittsburgh for the final time, he scored the first and eventual game-winning goal 38 seconds into a 3-0 WBS victory over the Albany (then) River Rats. Nearly ten years later, he wore the captain's C for Providence as the Bruins charged into the Mohegan Sun Arena and whitewashed the Penguins to the tune of 5-0. Providence's leading scorer, Seth Griffith, scored the first two goals for Providence, his 21st and 22nd of the season, with Talbot getting secondary assists on both. Talbot himself would go on to score two goals of his own, resulting in a four-point night. Providence's Colin Miller registered the final goal against Tristan Jarry, who stopped 29 of 34 shots for the loss.
Griffith took third star honors with his two goals and an assist on Talbot's first goal. Talbot's four points were good for second star honors and a loud ovation from the departing crowd of 6,183, which Talbot reciprocated with applause of his own...a fitting reaction for one of the more beloved Penguins in history. Providence's Jeremy Smith stopped all 32 WBS shots he faced for a shutout and top star honors.
You'll notice in the line combinations the additions of both Jake Guentzel and Teddy Blueger, both of whom signed ATOs with the Penguins this past week for the conclusion of this season.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 26, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 26, 2016
So the Penguins concluded their week by taking four out of six points, which would normally be a good week except for Hershey winning 8-0 at Lehigh Valley, 2-1 in OT at Utica, then 3-2 at home against Albany in a shootout to take all six of their potential points this weekend to jump two ahead of WBS in the division standings.
STATISTICS (as of March 27, 2016)
- Goals - Scott Wilson first with 22; Carter Rowney second with 21; Dominik Simon third with 20; Tom Kostopoulos fourth with 19, Jean-Sebastien Dea fifth with 18
- Assists - Dustin Jeffrey first with 38; Will O'Neill ranks second with 34; Carter Rowney third with 31; Conor Sheary fourth with 29; Tom Kostopoulos fifth with 27
- Points - Dustin Jeffrey leads the team with 55 points; Carter Rowney second with 52, Tom Kostopoulos third with 46 points; Kael Mouillierat fourth with 43 points; Will O'Neill fifth with 42 points
- Rookies - Simon's 40 points are good 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 - 16-10-3, 2.47 GAA (T-16th in AHL), 91.4% save pct (T-19th in AHL), five 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 - 22.0% home (6th in AHL), 18.2% away (4th), 20.1% overall (5th)
- Penalty Kill - 85.0% home (15th), 82.4% away (13th), 83.6% overall (13th)
- Team Record: 19-10-2-1 home, 21-12-2-0 away, 40-22-4-1 overall, 85 points
- Team Points Percentage: 63.4%; 2nd in division, 4th in conference, 7th in league
- Magic Number to Clinch Playoffs: 9 (per the AHL Playoff Primer of March 27, found at http://theahl.com/playoff-primer-2016-p201276), a drop of 7 over the prior week's number of 16. WBS gained four out of six points this weekend, lowering its number by 4; WBS's number also dropped by 3 thanks to Hartford dropping a point to Providence on March 23, then losing at Lehigh Valley on March 26 to drop 2 more points.