JANUARY 16: WBS 1 @ Syracuse 4
After extending their winning streak to seven games with a 3-1 victory in Syracuse on January 14, the Penguins continued their road trip on Martin Luther King Day with an afternoon engagement against the Crunch missing one of their biggest stars, as Jake Guentzel was promoted to Pittsburgh alongside Chad Ruhwedel. Perhaps not surprisingly, the rematch did not go nearly as smoothly as the Saturday game, as Syracuse rode goals from Yanni Gourde, Daniel Walcott, and Slater Koekkoek (love that name) to establish a 3-0 lead in the second period. Cartery Rowney did his best to spark a WBS comeback with his eighth goal of the season at 14:27 of the second, but WBS could get no closer as Matthew Peca restored the lead to 3 at 17:05 of the third with an empty-netter to give the victory to the Crunch, 4-1. Tristan Jarry took the defeat, allowing 3 goals on 18 shots to see his personal seven-game winning streak come to an end.
JANUARY 18: WBS 5 @ Hershey 3
With the out-of-state portion of the road trip complete, and bolstered by the exchange of Cameron Gaunce for David Warsofsky, WBS stormed into GIANT Center in Hershey for the eighth of 12 meetings between the teams this season and the fifth of 6 in Hershey. Coming into the game, WBS was 3-1 at the home of the 11-time Calder Cup champions, and they extended that record to 4-1 on Wednesday night with a hard-fought 5-3 victory. The spotlight in this game perhaps shone brightest on the biggest and baddest Penguin on the roster, Tom Sestito, as he scored his sixth goal of the season and fifth in the month of January at 0:29 of the second period to tie the game 1-1, then assisted on the fourth goal of the season for Teddy Blueger at 4:55 of the second. WBS led 3-1 after 2 periods, but goals by Paul Carey and Darren Dietz brought Hershey level with 9:22 to play. The game would stay that way until the 18:00 mark of the third, as Rowney continued his hot streak after returning from injury with his ninth goal of the season to put WBS ahead 4-3. Sestito picked up the secondary assist on this goal to complete a three-point night worthy of second-star honors. Garrett Wilson put a cherry on top of the win with his tenth goal of the season into an empty net at 19:23 of the third. Tristan Jarry recovered from his outing in Syracuse to stop 28 of 31 shots for his 17th win of the season.
JANUARY 20: WBS 3 @ Lehigh Valley 5
With the Bears suffering through an awful month of January (just one win and two overtime losses in nine games, with three still to go as of this writing) and slipping to fifth in the division by percentage points at the end of this week, perhaps the biggest challenge standing in the way of the Penguins towards the division championship resides in Allentown. WBS closed out their seven-game road trip at PPL Center on Friday, playing only their 2nd game of the season against Lehigh Valley out of their scheduled 12, and the host Phantoms came out flying as Scott Laughton scored his seventh of the season just 39 seconds into the game. Lehigh Valley extended the lead to two through reigning Defender of the Year T.J. Brennan’s 12th of the season at 12:31 of the first, but WBS closed back to 1 with Jean-Sebastien Dea’s 10th of the year to end the first period 2-1 to the Phantoms. After Lehigh Valley restored the lead back to 2 just 25 seconds into the second thanks to Robert Hagg’s third of the year, WBS used two goals in 1:37 in the middle of the third period (Ryan Haggerty’s fourth, David Warsofsky’s eighth) to tie the game in the middle of the third period. Lehigh Valley would not be denied, however, as Taylor Leier scored his eighth of the season just one minute after Warsofsky’s equalizer, and the Phantoms closed out the win with Chris Conner’s tenth of the year into an empty net at 19:11 of the third. Tristan Jarry took the loss, allowing four goals on 33 shots, as WBS closed out its road trip with five wins in seven games.
JANUARY 21: Hershey 1 @ WBS 5
As I’ve alluded to not too long ago on this site, there once was a time where every single game WBS played at home was to a sold-out crowd. Those days were briefly revisited on Saturday, as the Penguins played their tenth game of 12 against the Hershey Bears this season in front of easily their biggest crowd of the season, a sellout gathering of 8,213, and my oh my, did the home team give its supporters a show. It started with the red-hot Carter Rowney scoring his tenth of the season on a power play, assisted by Tom Sestito and Tom Kostopoulos, at 15:49 of the first, which represented Rowney’s fifth goal in six games since returning from injury. The second period proceeded in a similar fashion, as Jean-Sebastien Dea scored his 11th of the season at 1:13 of the second, then Ryan Haggerty followed up with his fifth of the year just 1:30 later for a 3-0 lead. Haggerty then scored his second of the game and sixth of the year at 14:14 of the second to extend the lead to 4-0 and end opposing goaltender Vitek Vanecek’s night early. Hershey would spoil the shutout bid of Casey DeSmith at 3:46 of the third through Zach Sanford’s eighth of the season, but WBS would restore the four-goal lead at 7:08 of the third through Tom Kostopoulos’s 13th goal of the season and the 498th point of his AHL career, assisted by Garrett Wilson and Carter Rowney. Rowney, incidentally, has now recorded a point in each of the six games he has played since his return. Final score: WBS 5, Hershey 1, and a .500 week for (still) the league’s top team.
STATISTICS (through January 22)
GOALS: Jake Guentzel - 21 (2nd in AHL, currently on recall to Pittsburgh); Oskar Sundqvist - 14 (currently day-to-day with an injury, but aren’t we all); Tom Kostopoulos - 13; Jean-Sebastien Dea - 11; Garrett Wilson/Carter Rowney - 10 each
ASSISTS: David Warsofsky/Guentzel - 21 each; Sundqvist - 19; Kostopoulos/Dominik Simon - 18 (three assists this week for Simon); Kevin Porter/Wilson - 15 each
POINTS: Guentzel - 42 (2nd in AHL); Sundqvist - 33 (T-16th in AHL); Kostopoulos - 31; Warsofsky - 29; Wilson - 25
GOALIES: Tristan Jarry - 17-7-1, 2.24 GAA (6th in AHL), 91.8% save percentage (T-10th in AHL), one shutout; Casey DeSmith - 12-2-2, 2.28 GAA (9th in AHL), 91.2% save percentage (T-18th in AHL)
SPECIAL TEAMS: Power play 18.4% (10th in AHL), one shorthanded goal allowed; penalty kill 86.7% (leads AHL), four shorthanded goals scored
FIGHT TRACKER: I’ve completely lost the plot when it comes to tracking fights this season. I thought Garrett Wilson only had one fight on the season at the end of last week, but when he fought Liam O’Brien on Saturday, this tweet made me rethink things. Turns out that was Wilson’s FIFTH fight. So, for the rest of this season, I will defer to the professionals at HockeyFights.com, who do a great job of tracking fights. Here is the WBS fight card for 2016-17, which shows the following fights:
Patrick McGrath 5, Garrett Wilson 5, Cameron Gaunce 2, Tom Sestito 2, Ryan Haggerty 1, Josh Archibald 1, Carter Rowney 1, Tom Kostopoulos 1
Reminder that although Jean-Sebastien Dea shows up on the fight card, his opponent that night instigated the fight, so that fight does not count against Dea’s tracker for the season. Players start incurring suspensions after 9 fights.
STANDINGS: 1) WBS, 75.0% (leads AHL); 2) Lehigh Valley, 70.0%; 3) Providence, 65.5%; 4) Bridgeport, 59.0%; 5) Hershey, 57.3%; 6) Springfield, 47.5%; 7) Hartford, 40.5%
THE WEEK AHEAD
Wednesday, January 25: Syracuse at WBS, 7:05 pm
Friday, January 27: WBS at Utica, 7:00 pm
Saturday, January 28: WBS at Binghamton, 7:05 pm
Sunday, January 29: All-Star Skills Competition at Lehigh Valley, 7:30 pm
Monday, January 30: All-Star Challenge at Lehigh Valley, 7:00 pm
Please note the full TV broadcast schedule for the All-Star Classic here, featuring live broadcast of both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Challenge by Root Sports Pittsburgh on both nights.
I’ll be back here next Tuesday, the morning after the All-Star Challenge, to recap the entire week and look towards the future.