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WBS Weekly: April 4, 2016

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Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is starting to face plenty of questions as they race for the playoffs. Do they have the answers?

The WBS Penguins opened the week with a magic number of 9 and three home games in front of them.  Let's take a look at this week in WBS history.

SPRINGFIELD FALCONS AT WBS PENGUINS, MARCH 29

The week opened up in very promising fashion, as WBS hosted the last place team in the Atlantic Division, the Springfield Falcons. WBS opened the proceedings with Dustin Jeffrey's 18th goal of the season at 5:11 of the first, only to have Domenic Monardo answer just over three minutes later to tie the game.  The Penguins' steady rookie, Dominik Simon, tallied his 21st of the season at 10:53 of the first to send WBS to the first period intermission leading 2-1.  In the second, Springfield's Craig Cunningham scored his 19th of the season to tie the game again at 2, but WBS quickly responded through Niclas Andersen's 4th of the year at 2:26 of the second. WBS was able to hold this lead for the remainder of the game, buffing it through Tom Sestet's power play goal, his 5th of the season at 10:52 of the third. Sestito's goal would prove to be the game-winner, as Springfield's Paul Carey scored at 19:05 of the third to make the endgame a little bit more interesting than it needed to be, but WBS saw their lead through to the end to win 4-3.  Combined with Hartford's 3-0 loss to Albany the same night and combined with the clinching of tiebreakers over the Wolf Pack, WBS's magic number to clinch the playoffs dropped from 9 to 4.

Tristan Jarry, continuing to get all of the minutes in net for WBS, saved 28 of 31 Springfield shots for the win, while Marek Langhamer stopped 27 of 31 WBS shots for the loss.  WBS defenseman Will O'Neill took third star honors with two assists; Dominik Simon took second honors with a goal and an assist; Dustin Jeffrey took top honors with a goal and two assists.

BRIDGEPORT SOUND TIGERS AT WBS PENGUINS, APRIL 2

The Penguins continued their week on Star Wars night against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, one of the potential first-round opponents for WBS should they qualify for the post season, but the one against which the Penguins have had the least success, winning only one of five previous meetings.  On this night, the Force was definitely not with WBS, as Bridgeport rode a natural hat trick from Alan Quine and goals from Connor Jones and James Wright to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins.  Despite WBS outshooting Bridgeport 40-24, the shot advantage could have been a lot wider if not for Bridgeport's affinity for shot blocking and their commitment to defense from their forwards.  WBS could only manage Dominik Simon's 22nd of the year on a rebound at 0:32 of the third and Matthias Plachta's 4th of the year on a nasty wrist shot at 16:01 of the third.  Everything else fell Springfield's way...even a wild bounce off the glass that caught backup goalie Brian Foster, pressed into service after Jarry was pulled after the second period, well out of position and led to Wright's goal.

Jarry stopped only 13 of 17 shots that he faced, while his backup Foster played the third period and saved 6 of 7 shots.  Christopher Gibson for Bridgeport stopped 38 of 40 WBS attempts for the win.  Jones took third star with a goal and an assist; Wright took second star with a goal and two assists; Quine's natural hat trick was more than enough for top honors.

The only thing that went right for the Penguins on this night was Hartford falling at home to Portland 4-1, narrowing the WBS number to clinch down to 2.

PORTLAND PIRATES AT WBS PENGUINS, APRIL 3

The Penguins closed the week with a golden chance to clinch the playoffs at home, facing the 5th place team in the Atlantic, Portland.  The Pirates are no doubt desperate to get out of the fifth position, as they sit in the crossover playoff spot and would have to play the league's best team, Toronto, in the first round of the playoffs, so Portland would be no pushover.

WBS opened the game with a bang, as Jake Guentzel recorded his first professional goal at 1:24 of the first.  Dustin Jeffrey expanded the lead to two with his 19th goal of the season at 10:48 of the first, but from there, it was all Portland.

Dylan Olsen began the comeback at 17:44 with a power play goal, followed by Connor Brickley also scoring on the power play at 5:10 of the second, the only two power plays the Pirates would receive from the Penguins. Though Jean-Sebastien Dea's 19th of the season 1:41 later restored the WBS lead, it was short-lived, as Olson tallied his second of the game at 9:16 of the second to tie the game once again.  Logan Shaw would give Portland its first lead of the game at 18:30 of the second, but despite WBS having nearly a full power play to start the third, Portland was able to repel it and salt the game away with Shane Harper's 11th of the season at 2:44 of the third to win 5-3 and deny WBS a clinch at home.

Tristan Jarry was only able to save 17 of 22 Portland shots, while Portland's Sam Brittain stopped 30 of 33 WBS shots for the win. Shaw's game-winning goal was good enough for third star honors; Dea's goal and an assist were good for second star honors; Brickley's goal and two assists won the night for top star honors.

With Hartford idle, WBS's number to clinch stayed put at 2.

STATISTICS (as of April 3, 2016)

Individual Leaders

  • Goals - Scott Wilson and Dominik Simon tied for first with 22 each; Carter Rowney second with 21; Dominik Simon third with 20; Tom Kostopoulos, Dustin Jeffrey, and Jean-Sebastien Dea tied for fourth with 19 each
  • Assists - Dustin Jeffrey first with 41; Will O'Neill ranks second with 37; Carter Rowney third with 31Conor Sheary and Tom Kostopoulos tied for fourth with 29 each
  • Points - Dustin Jeffrey leads the team with 60 points; Carter Rowney second with 52, Tom Kostopoulos third with 48 points; Will O'Neill fourth with 45 points; Dominik Simon and Kael Mouillierat tied for fifth with 44 points each
  • Rookies - Simon's 44 points are good for 9th in the AHL among rookies.
  • Goalies
    • 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 - 17-12-3, 2.64 GAA (T-22nd in AHL), 90.8% save pct (T-29th in AHL), five shutouts
    • Brian Foster - 2-3-1, 3.58 GAA, 85.5% 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

Team Statistics

  • Special Teams
    • Power Play - 21.1% home (6th in AHL), 18.2% away (4th), 19.7% overall (T-6th)
    • Penalty Kill - 83.8% home (19th), 82.4% away (13th), 83.1% overall (T-15th)
  • Team Record: 20-12-2-1 home, 21-12-2-0 away, 40-22-4-1 overall, 87 points
  • Team Points Percentage: 62.1%; 2nd in division, 4th in conference, 8th in league
  • Magic Number to Clinch Playoffs: 2, a drop of 7 over last week.  One WBS win, as detailed above, boosted by two Hartford losses and the clinching of a tiebreaker.
THE WEEK AHEAD

Friday, April 8 vs. Lehigh Valley, 7:05 pm
Saturday, April 9 at Hershey, 7:00 pm
Sunday, April 10 vs. Hershey, 4:05 pm

The WBS Penguins will close the season with two straight three-in-three weekends. The first brings the rival Phantoms to town, followed by a home and home against Hershey which will likely go a very long way towards deciding whether or not, despite all that WBS has gone through this season, a division title is in the cards.

But after this past weekend, I'm not convinced. In fact, I'm worried that a season that once looked like it could be one of the more dominant seasons in team history as well as a legitimate chance at the league championship could now, inexplicably flame out in the first round with the wrong matchup.  I hope I'm wrong.