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WBS Weekly: a winning weekend

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Four points in two games, but it was far from easy.

WBS Penguins

October 20th: Laval Rocket 5 @ WBS Penguins 6 (OT)

If one were to think about it, last weekend’s games may have been a strong predictor of how the first game of this weekend, the first visit to WBS by the Laval Rocket, would have gone. On Friday, October 13, WBS dispatched its rivals from Lehigh Valley 5-0, while Laval took an absolutely wild 8-7 overtime victory over Binghamton. One expected fireworks, and one certainly got them.

In respect of the tradition of pictures speaking more words than, well, words, I’m going to defer to the outstanding GIF work of my colleague Scott Matla from Eyes on the Prize to tell the story of this game.

WBS’s wunderkind, Daniel Sprong, opened the festivities with his fifth goal in as many games to start the year, tying Tomas Surovy in 2003 for the team record for goal streaks to start the season.

Laval’s Chris Terry answered less than three minutes later.

About four minutes later, Tom Parisi gave Laval its first lead of the night.

About two minutes after that, Sprong answered in kind with his second goal, eerily reminiscent of his first.

At 17:53 of the first, Laval’s David Broll got behind the WBS defense...

As if that wasn’t enough action for 20 minutes, the captain of the Penguins opened his account in the final minute.

That’s 3-3 after 20 minutes.

The action continued hot and heavy into the second, as Eric Gelinas scored his first of the year with some serious malice behind it.

That lead lasted all of 14 seconds, as Gage Quinney scored his second goal in as many pro games.

The game started to settle in from there at 4-4, but at 18:20 of the second, Laval struck even more brilliance at the expense of the WBS defense.

That’s big Michael McCarron’s second of the year, but Nikita Scherbak’s seventh assist on a...questionable effort by the pairing of Bengtsson and Pedan. The second period ended 5-4 to Laval.

It took a while for WBS to equalize in the third, but Daniel Sprong would just not be denied his hat trick on this night.

I feel bad for that puck.

Regulation ended 5-5, and WBS went for the jugular in overtime, starting a full forward line of Sprong, Garrett Wilson, and Gage Quinney. It almost backfired, as it took a nifty pokecheck by goalie Tristan Jarry to save a dangerous Laval chance in OT with Sprong the last player back, but...

...as they say, all’s well that ends well. Final score: WBS 6, Laval 5, in one of the best games I’ve seen in many years at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.

Despite what the box score on TheAHL.com says, the house awarded third star to Michael McCarron, with a goal and an assist; not Tom Sestito, who celebrated his 500th pro game on this night. Second star was given to Teddy Blueger for his OT winner, but Daniel Sprong was the clear top star on this night, with three goals and an assist.

Huge thanks to Scott for his exemplary work in getting all of these GIFs together.

October 21: Hartford Wolf Pack 2 @ WBS Penguins 3 (SO)

If the Friday game against Laval was the type of game that could convert a new fan into a fan for life, then Saturday’s game was the kind of game that would show that new fan what they would be in for in this crazy business of hockey.

Zach Aston-Reese returned to the lineup on Saturday following his scratches on Sunday and Friday; local media had reported that ZAR had his wisdom teeth removed early in the week. Switch in Jarrett Burton as well, taking Adam Johnson’s spot in the lineup.

On defense, Dylan Zink switched out for the AHL debut of Kevin Spinozzi.

Something of a rough start for the WBS penalty kill in this game, as they took two penalties in the first ten minutes and allowed power play goals on both, first to Scott Kosmachuk at 2:59 of the first despite a partial shot block from Frank Corrado, then to Vinni Lettieri at 11:17 of the first.

Credit to WBS for not backing down, though, as Quinney extended his goal-scoring streak to 3 games with his third of the season at 11:51 of the first. The first period ended 2-1 to Hartford.

It took a while for WBS to equalize, but they did so at 15:44 of the second through Jarrett Burton’s first of the year, taking full advantage of his spot in the lineup. The second period ended 2-2, and despite WBS outshooting Hartford 16-9 in the final 20 minutes, they were unable to prevent overtime for a second straight night.

WBS dominated the extra session, outshooting the Wolf Pack 5-0, but Hartford goalie Alexandar Georgiev stopped them all on the way to 41 saves on 43 shots and a well-earned third star on the night.

In the shootout, Dominik Simon and Kosmachuk were unable to score in round 1. In round 2, Jean-Sebastien Dea scored to set off the horn, while DeSmith denied Joe Whitney to...set off the horn again. After the premature horn-age was cut off, Daniel Sprong did not score in round 3, but DeSmith denied Adam Tambellini to finish off the perfect weekend for the Penguins and improve them to 4-2-0-0 on the season.

Burton’s equalizer earned him second star honors, while top honors went to Dea’s shootout winner.

DeSmith continued his outstanding start to the season, settling down after the two PP goals allowed in the first to end with 26 saves on 28 shots. It should also be noted that, through DeSmith’s first three starts of the season, he has not conceded a goal at even-strength or shorthanded. All three of his goals allowed so far have been against power plays.

Hey, Pittsburgh...if you’re finally sick of Antti Niemi as your backup, you might want to consider DeSmith as your second. By his performance early on this season, he’s certainly earned a look.

Standings (through the games of October 22nd)

  • Atlantic Division: Providence 5-1-0, .833; Lehigh Valley 5-1-1, .786; Charlotte 5-2-0, .714; WBS 4-2-0, .667; Hartford 3-3-1, .500; Bridgeport 2-4-0, .333; Hershey 1-4-1, .250; Springfield 1-6-0, .143
  • North Division: Toronto 5-2-0, .714; Binghamton 3-1-1, .700; Laval 4-2-1, .643; Utica 3-2-0, .600; Rochester 2-3-0, .400; Syracuse 2-4-1, .357; Belleville 2-4-1, .357
  • Central Division: Rockford 5-1-0, .833; Milwaukee 4-1-0, .800; Manitoba 3-3-0, .500; Cleveland 2-2-1, .500; Grand Rapids 2-3-1, .417; Chicago 1-2-1, .375; Iowa 2-4-0, .333
  • Pacific Division: San Antonio 5-1-0, .833; Stockton 4-2-0, .667; Tucson 2-1-0, .667; Bakersfield 3-2-0, .600; San Jose 3-3-0, .500; Texas 3-3-1, .500; San Diego 2-3-0, .400; Ontario 0-5-0, .000

Statistics (through the games of October 22nd)

  • GOALS: Daniel Sprong - 7 (T-1st in AHL, T-1st among rookies); Gage Quinney - 3; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas DiPauli, Garrett Wilson - 2
  • ASSISTS: Lukas Bengtsson, Kevin Czuczman - 5 (T-14th in AHL); Dominik Simon - 4; Daniel Sprong - 3; Gage Quinney, Zach Trotman, Adam Johnson, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Tom Kostopoulos, Tom Sestito, Christan Thomas - 2
  • POINTS: Daniel Sprong - 10 (T-3rd in AHL, leads all rookies); Gage Quinney, Dominik Simon, Lukas Bengtsson, Kevin Czuczman - 5; Jean-Sebastien Dea - 4
  • GOALIES: Casey DeSmith 3-0-0, 0.98 GAA, 96.5% save percentage, one shutout; Tristan Jarry 1-2-0, 3.96 GAA, 88.3% save percentage
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: Power Play 7 of 33 for 21.2%, 9th in AHL, two shorthanded goals allowed; Penalty Kill 27 of 33 for 81.8%, tied for 19th in AHL, one shorthanded goal forced

Player of the Week

A suggestion was passed along to me by one of the readers of this space that I include a section to highlight a particular player as a “player of the week”. And so I shall.

Easy choice this week, really.

I’ve been a season ticket holder for the Penguins for 17 years now, starting back in 2001-02 following WBS’s first trip to the Calder Cup Finals. I’ve seen a lot of players come through the Northeastern Pennsylvania Civic Arena and Convention Center / First Union Arena at Casey Plaza / Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza / Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza; I’ve seen some of them get promoted to Pittsburgh, others traded, others demoted, others retire or fade away.

But there is a very short list of players in the history of WBS who make you sit up a little straighter and narrow your focus a little bit, because there’s a better chance than normal that you’re going to see something special. The most recent example of that was probably the AHL half of Jake Guentzel’s season last season, when he scored 21 goals and 21 assists in 33 WBS games prior to his promotion. Going back in time, maybe this list includes the sniping ability of Chris Minard, the amazing talent of Rob Schremp, maybe Janne Pesonen, or the time-bomb slapshot of John Slaney, just to name a few.

Daniel Sprong, though? Another class entirely.

I’m not much for scouting reports or detailed analysis; all I know is that the power of Sprong’s shots, the willingness to let them fly whenever he can, the skating ability and drive he demonstrated on a few occasions on Saturday to get around defenders to drive to the net...all of it wraps together into a package that makes him a must-watch player anytime his line is called.

As far as away from the puck, as was also questioned in the comments of last week’s recap? Here’s coach Clark Donatelli on Sprong’s Saturday game, in which Sprong went pointless:

With seven goals in his first five games this season, I recognize that his time at this level may be short, but I’m going to enjoy it all I can regardless.

The Week Ahead

Another two game weekend for WBS awaits, kicking off with their first of 12 games against the Hershey Bears on Friday, October 27, at 7:05 pm in Wilkes-Barre Twp. Following that, the Penguins head up to Bridgeport to face the Sound Tigers on Saturday, October 28, at 7:00 pm.