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WBS Weekly: March 7, 2016

New faces, old rivals, and a spectacular close to the weekend.

WBS Penguins

After a whirlwind trade deadline that saw the return of a former Penguin and the addition of son depth to the WBS forward lines, the WBS Penguins embarked on a three-game weekend featuring a home and home series against the team they are now chasing in the Atlantic Division standings, the Hershey Bears. Let's take a look.

WBS Penguins @ Lehigh Valley Phantoms, March 4th

The more highly regarded of the two new additions to the WBS lineup, Dustin Jeffrey, paid immediate dividends as the weekend began, as WBS visited their Pennsylvania Turnpike rivals in Lehigh Valley and posted a 3-0 shutout.  Jeffrey provided the primary assist on Dominik Simon’s 16th goal of the season at 15:12 of the first, as well as the secondary assist on Simon’s 17th of the season at 1:28 of the third.  Jean-Sebastien Dea provided the third goal at 19:44 of the second.  Tristan Jarry, now fully in charge of the WBS net with Matt Murray promoted to Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future, stopped all 36 shots he faced for his fourth shutout of the season.

Dea’s goal was good enough for third star honors on the evening.  Jarry’s shutout earned the WBS keeper second star, while Simon’s double garnered top honors.

WBS Penguins @ Hershey Bears, March 5th

Saturday night at the Giant Center, against the top-ranked Hershey Bears.  Never an easy task, and the task overwhelmed the Penguins this time around, as the Bears overwhelmed the Penguins to the tune of 6-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 10,975.  Faced with the unenviable choice of Tristan Jarry on back to back nights or Brian Foster on the road, coach Clark Donatelli went with Jarry, and he was only able to stop 17 of 23 Hershey shots.  Jarry’s opposite number, Dan Ellis, stopped 12 of 14 WBS shots (WBS’s lowest shot output of the season) for the victory.

On the scoresheet, both new WBS Penguins registered goals, as Jeffrey scored his 14th of the season at 18:19 of the second, and right winter Matthias Plachta scored his 3rd of the season at 9:42 of the first.  The new additions, however, were no match for Hershey’s depth across the lineup and power play prowess, with Nathan Walker leading the charge with two goals, and Christian Djoos, Carter Camper, Dustin Gazley, and former WBS Penguin Zach Sill recording the other goals.  The Hershey power play scored three goals on six opportunities.

Gazley’s goal and the primary assist on Djoos’s goal were good enough for third star honors.  Walker’s two goals got him second star honors, while Carter Camper added two assists to his goal for top honors on the evening.

WBS Penguins vs. Hershey Bears, March 6th

The teams then traveled to the WB for their return match, and the two rivals treated the Sunday afternoon crowd of 5,848, including yours truly, to the most entertaining first 20 minutes of the season.  It started right off the opening face-off, as Patrick McGrath fought Liam O'Brien after just eight seconds despite O'Brien's reluctance to throw hands.  McGrath took an instigator penalty and gifted Hershey a power play right off the hop, which was a very scary proposition, but WBS did well to kill it off, and just 11 seconds after the penalty was killed...

That would be the start of a huge night for Rowney.

Hershey took control of the game immediately afterwards, though, with goals by Tyler Lewington and Aaron Ness putting Hershey up 2-1 at the 7:50 mark of the first.  It looked for all the world like Hershey would continue its dominance from the previous day, but to their credit, WBS stepped up in a huge way.

Following Jean-Sebastien Dea's 15th goal of the season at 9:42 of the first, WBS was granted a huge opportunity when Lewington and Ryan Stanton took minor penalties just 12 seconds apart, gifting WBS a 5 on 3 for 1:48.  Sensing the moment, Coach Donatelli called for time to set up his team, and at 12:22 of the first...

Kind of an ugly goal after some beautiful movement, but as long as it counts.

Having apparently not learned his lesson, Lewington took another penalty at 14:02 of the first, leading to one of the prettiest power play goals I've seen in quite a long time.

That's Matthias Plachta threading a beautiful pass right through the Hershey defense to Simon at the other circle, and Simon did not miss.  What a play, what a goal, 4-2 Penguins.

Hershey's Riley Barber scored his 21st of the season on the power play at 17:50 to narrow the gap after a blistering 20 minutes to 4-3.  Hershey then drew level at 4:38 of the second through Aaron Ness's second of the game, granting Ness third star honors on the evening.

Then things got weird.

With just under three minutes to go in the second, the Hershey captain, Garrett Mitchell, slammed into WBS winger Tyler Biggs in the neutral zone.  It was a very hard, borderline hit, the kind of hit that, in a rivalry game such as this, was sure to be answered.  Patrick McGrath attempted to do just that, but all he ended up doing was taking a roughing penalty as well as an unsportsmanlike misconduct, giving Hershey yet another power play.  However, at 19:16 of the second, the script was flipped on its head, and hats started flying at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Rowney's third of the night provided the final margin of victory as well as top star honors, as WBS held Hershey off the scoresheet in the third despite a late power play to overcome the Bears 5-4 and take four out of six points on the weekend.

The game against Hershey also represented Tom Kostopoulos's 600th in the American Hockey League, making him only the fourth player in history to play 600 games in both the AHL and the NHL.  Kostopoulos celebrated with three assists on the evening and second star honors.

WBS goalie Brian Foster stopped 18 of 22 Hershey shots to take his second victory of the season for WBS, while Hershey's Justin Peters stopped 28 of 33 WBS shots in a very shaky effort.

STATISTICS (as of March 6, 2016)

Individual Leaders

  • Goals - Scott Wilson, 22 (T-7th in AHL); Dominik Simon leads current WBS players with 18 goals, trailed by Carter Rowney with 17, Jean-Sebastien Dea with 15, and Tom Kostopoulos/Dustin Jeffrey with 14 each
  • Assists - Dustin Jeffrey, 36 (3rd in AHL); Will O'Neill ranks second with 31, Conor Sheary is now third with 29. Carter Rowney ranks fourth with 22, and Kael Mouillerat ranks fifth with 21.
  • Points - Dustin Jeffrey leads the team with 50 points, though clearly not all of them are for WBS; Carter Rowney is now second with 39, and Dominik Simon/Will O'Neill have 38 each.  Scott Wilson and Conor Sheary's tie at 36 points is now tied for fifth on WBS.
  • Rookies - Simon's 38 points are good for 9th in the AHL among rookies.
  • Goalies
    • Matt Murray -  20-9-1, 2.10 GAA (2nd in AHL), 93.1% save pct (2nd in AHL), four shutouts (T-5th in AHL) (currently in NHL)
    • Tristan Jarry - 12-7-3, 2.40 GAA (13th in AHL), 92.0% save pct (9th), 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

Team Statistics

  • Special Teams
    • Power Play - 20.2% home (9th in AHL), 18.3% away (3rd), 19.2%overall (7th)
    • Penalty Kill - 85.2% home (T-11th), 83.3% away (12th), 84.2% overall (11th)
  • Team Record: 16-8-2-1 home, 19-11-2-0 away, 35-19-4-1 overall, 75 points
  • Team Points Percentage: 63.6% (2nd in division, 4th in conference, 8th in league)
  • Magic Number to Clinch Playoffs: 23 (per the AHL Playoff Primer as of March 7, 2016, found at  WBS's four points this weekend lowered its magic number by 4 over the previous week, and WBS's number dropped by another point due to, I think, Portland dropping a point in overtime to Providence on Sunday.

The Week Ahead

Wednesday, March 9 vs. Lehigh Valley, 7:05 pm EST
Saturday, March 12 vs. Bridgeport, 7:05 pm EST
Sunday, March 13 at Bridgeport, 5:00 pm EDT

I was admittedly skeptical going into Sunday afternoon's game, on the heels of a 6-2 whitewashing at the hands of the division-leading Bears.  But the performance put forward by WBS on Sunday, on the last game of a 3 in 3 stretch, against those same Bears gave me hope that maybe this team still has enough in the tank to last until the playoffs, when they are due to get a huge infusion of skill once/if Pittsburgh crashes out first.

Let us now see where this goes.

EDIT:  Article updated March 7, 2016 to include the highlights from Sunday's game as well as WBS's magic number to clinch playoffs as of March 7.