After closing out calendar year 2016 with two losses, the WBS Penguins retook the ice in earnest with four games last week looking to correct itself and surge forward towards the All-Star break.
JANUARY 3: Hartford 2 @ WBS 3
Far be it from me to suggest that seeing a particular opponent on the schedule is a relief, but come on...six out of seven teams in the Atlantic Division are above .500 as of January 9. The only one that’s not, Hartford, visited WBS last Tuesday to supply the first competition of calendar 2017, and through the first 42:42 of the game, things went as you might expect...goals by Teddy Blueger at 3:15 of the first, Josh Archibald at 13:03 of the first, and Chad Ruhwedel (finding himself back in the WB for a short time while Pittsburgh was on its bye week) at 2:42 of the third to put WBS ahead by 3. To their credit, Hartford fought back, with goals by Steven Fogarty and former Penguin Tanner Glass to bring the game within 1, but the WBS penalty kill stood tall with Derrick Pouliot in the box late to take the win 3-2. Also finding himself back in the WB during Pittsburgh’s bye week was goaltender Tristan Jarry, who took the win by stopping 25 of 27 Hartford shots. File this away for later in the article: David Warsofsky also recorded an assist, his 17th of the season.
JANUARY 6: Hershey 1 @ WBS 5
The second WBS game of the week brought their longtime rivals, the Hershey Bears, to town for a titanic clash between two of the Atlantic Division’s best. At least, that’s what the marquee said, as although WBS was without Ruhwedel and Atlantic Division All-Star selection Jarry (recalled to Pittsburgh), WBS laid waste to the Bears in front of 5,390 fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza by the score of 5-1. Leading the charge was the fourth line, featuring big Tom Sestito with two goals and an assist and Teddy Blueger with one goal and one assist. Also featuring on the scoresheet was Atlantic Division All-Star selection Jake Guentzel (naturally), with his 19th goal of the season, and the aforementioned Warsofsky, with two more assists. Starting Hershey goaltender Vitek Vanecek lasted only 23:16 into the game, stopping 8 of 11 WBS shots; his backup Joe Cannata mopped up the rest of the game, stopping 17 of 19 shots. WBS goaltender Casey DeSmith had no such troubles, stopping 26 of 27 shots for his 10th victory of the season.
JANUARY 7: Binghamton 4 @ WBS 5
The Penguins then welcomed the Binghamton Senators to town for their second annual Star Wars night. WBS came out of the gates flying through hyperspace, as goals by Tom Kostopoulos and Danny Kristo put the Penguins ahead 2-0 after just 2:32. Binghamton did their best to sabotage the hyperdrive, though, scoring the next three goals to take a 3-2 lead at 3:54 of the second. Fortunately, though he’s way too big to be an astromech, Tom Sestito did manage to repair the engines and set his team back on the path to the light side, scoring his third goal in two nights and his fourth on the season to tie the score 3-3 after 40 minutes. In the third, WBS struck two goals faster than you can fly the Kessel Run (OK, in 39 seconds, not 12 parsecs...work with me here), as Kristo scored his second of the night and Ryan Haggerty scored his third of the season. Haggerty’s proved to be the game-winner, as even though Casey Bailey scored his tenth of the season with 1:01 to go, WBS was able to lock down from there to dispatch the Senators 5-4 and give goaltender Doug Carr his first victory for WBS. Also of note on the scoresheet: three assists for Guentzel and two more assists for Warsofsky. Noticing a trend, you are?
JANUARY 8: WBS 6 @ Hershey 5 (OT)
The biggest and loudest fireworks of the week, though, were reserved for Sunday, amid another visit by WBS to the GIANT Center to take on the Bears. Hershey took the first period very easily, following goals by Stan Galiev and Zach Sanford. WBS took the second period, following goals by Tim Erixon and Kostopoulos. The third period, though, resembled the later rounds of a heavyweight prize fight, with both fighters throwing haymakers with all they had left just hoping to knock down the opponent. Hershey’s Galiev threw the first punch, with his second of the game at 7:26 of the third. WBS’s Derrick Pouliot answered with a dazzling haymaker at 8:35...
That’s...just not fair.
Hershey hung tough, though, as Christian Thomas scored his 16th of the season, a power play goal, at 11:40 of the third. WBS answered right back 1:08 later as David Warsofsky, having accumulated five assists on the week to this point, decided he’d like a goal of his own.
GOAL GIF: Warsofsky with a blast from the point to tie the game 4-4 pic.twitter.com/XJLGYkSsgj— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 9, 2017
So he took one.
Garrett Wilson looked to land the final body blow at 17:56...
...but unfortunately, WBS goaltender DeSmith could not see the game through to the end, as Hershey’s Sanford scored his second of the night with just 8 seconds left to tie the game at 5.
The game proceeded to overtime, and at 1:55, Warsofsky closed out an outstanding week in the most outstanding way possible...
...with the game-winner in overtime. WBS 6, Hershey 5, and 8 points out of 8 on the week.
Warsofsky closed out the week with two goals, giving him a career-high 7 on the season, and five assists, which the AHL recognized on Monday afternoon by honoring Warsofsky as the Player of the Week. Give it a couple of weeks, with callups, injuries, and the usual ebb and flow of the AHL, and I could see Warsofsky joining his teammates Jarry and Guentzel in Allentown for the All-Star festivities.
Statistics (through January 9)
GOALS - Jake Guentzel - 19 (leads AHL); Oskar Sundqvist - 14; Tom Kostopoulos - 11; Garrett Wilson - 9; Jean-Sebastien Dea - 8
ASSISTS - David Warsofsky - 21 (T-11th in AHL); Guentzel - 19; Sundqvist - 18; Kevin Porter/Dominik Simon/Wilson - 14 each; Kostopoulos - 13
POINTS - Guentzel - 38 (2nd in AHL behind former Penguins prospect Kenny Agostino of Chicago with 50 points; Agostino has 8 more games played than Guentzel); Sundqvist - 32; Warsofsky - 28 (only four behind his career high in points of 32, with 32 less games played to this point); Kostopoulos - 24; Wilson - 23
GOALIES - Tristan Jarry 14-5-1, 2.14 GAA (6th in AHL), 92.1% save pct (9th in AHL), 1 shutout; Casey DeSmith 10-2-2, 2.46 GAA (T-13th in AHL), 90.7% save pct (25th in AHL); Doug Carr 1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, 89.7% save pct
SPECIAL TEAMS - Power play 19.5% (10th in AHL); penalty kill 85.8% (T-2nd in AHL)
FIGHT TRACKER - Patrick McGrath 4 (fought Hubert Labrie of Hershey on Sunday), Cameron Gaunce 2, Josh Archibald 1, Ryan Haggerty 1, Garrett Wilson 1, Carter Rowney 1, Tom Kostopoulos 1, Tom Sestito 1 (fought Tyler Lewington of Hershey on Friday)
STANDINGS - 1) WBS, 75.7%; 2) Lehigh Valley, 70.6%; 3) Providence, 68.1%; 4) Hershey, 64.3%; 5) Bridgeport, 56.1%; 6) Springfield, 51.5%; 7) Hartford, 38.9%
THE WEEK AHEAD
Wednesday, January 11: WBS at Toronto
Friday, January 13: WBS at Rochester
Saturday, January 14: WBS at Syracuse
WBS now hits the road for a seven-game road trip, hoping the momentum it has built for itself through a 15-4 home record can sustain itself on the road, where WBS is 10-3-3 in 16 contests thus far.
Your WBS Penguins hold the best record in the league, the second-best home record in the league, and the best road record in the league, as well as two All-Stars, the reigning Rookie of the Month, the reigning Player of the Week, and the Atlantic Division’s coach in the All-Star Classic. Keep in mind, though...it’s only January.