Don’t look now, but after a December in which the WBS Penguins have gone 3-4-2 to date, their once-comfortable lead in the Atlantic Division has vanished, and WBS all of a sudden finds itself in the thick of the playoff forest, looking only to stay above the cutoff line. This past week didn’t do much to help matters, as WBS earned only 3 out of a possible 6 points against three teams currently situated below them in the standings.
DECEMBER 13: Springfield 3 @ WBS 6
Starting Gs:#WBSPens - Casey DeSmith— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 13, 2017
(9-2-1, 2.29, .924 sv%,1 SO)
SPR - Samuel Montembault
(4-10-1, 3.15 GAA, .899 sv%)
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 13, 2017
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 13, 2017
With Matt Murray restored to full health in Pittsburgh, the Penguins returned Casey DeSmith to WBS to replace PTO signing Anthony Peters. DeSmith was shaky at first, allowing two Springfield goals in 8 shots in the first period, then Chase Balisy’s 5th of the year at 8:43 of the second to put the last-place Thunderbirds up 3-1 on WBS in the second period, but he slammed the door from there to finish with 24 saves on 27 shots. WBS also roared to life in the second period, erasing the 3-1 deficit through Greg McKegg’s first goal for WBS this season, two straight from Daniel Sprong to boost the rookie to 14 on the season, Ryan Haggerty’s 10th of the year at 8:24 of the third to provide some insurance, then Patrick McGrath’s first goal in front of his hometown fans at 18:53 of the third into an empty net to provide the final margin of victory.
Zach Aston-Reese took home third star honors with three assists on the evening; Andrey Pedan added an assist to his first period goal for the second star; Daniel Sprong’s two goals earned top honors.
DECEMBER 15: WBS 3 @ Hartford 7
Starting Gs:#WBSPens - Casey DeSmith— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 15, 2017
(10-2-1, 2.35 GAA, .922, 1 SO)
HFD - Marek Mazanec
(1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .850 sv%)
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 15, 2017
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 15, 2017
DeSmith’s return to WBS hit a brick wall at the XL Center in Hartford on Friday night, as he was unceremoniously yanked after allowing four goals on 11 shots in the first 23:37 of the game. Sean Maguire came in to replace DeSmith for the rest of the game, and unfortunately, he didn’t fare much better, stopping 24 of 27 shots through the rest of the game. WBS could only get goals from Thomas DiPauli in the first, Teddy Blueger in the second, and Daniel Sprong in the third as they watched Hartford put up the first 7 on the board against them in almost 6 years.
GOAL GIF: Blueger knocks in the odd angle shot to make it 5-2 pic.twitter.com/75bQ8FFJOH— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 16, 2017
Scott Kosmachuk of Hartford took third star honors, with a goal and two assists. Gabriel Fontaine of Hartford scored two goals for second star honors. Top honors on the night went to Hartford defender John Gilmour, who added an assist to his third and fourth goals of the season.
DECEMBER 16: WBS 2 @ Bridgeport 3 (OT)
Starting Gs:#WBSPens - Casey DeSmith— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 16, 2017
(10-3-1, 2.57 GAA, .914 sv%, 1 SO)
BRI - Kristers Gudlevskis
(4-5-2, 2.82 GAA, .894 sv%, 1 SO)
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 16, 2017
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) December 16, 2017
Greg McKegg opened the scoring at 6:56 of the first with his second goal for WBS in five games since his demotion from Pittsburgh.
Devon Toews for Bridgeport equalized at 18:46 of the second with his 7th of the year to put the score 1-1 after 40 minutes.
Bridgeport was able to take the lead at 13:46 of the third through Scott Eansor’s 12th goal of the year, assisted by Casey Bailey and the 20th assist of the season for Tanner Fritz, putting him tied for fifth in the AHL in assists as of the close of play Saturday. Less than two minutes later, Zach Aston-Reese scored his third goal of the season, assisted by Christian Thomas, to tie at 2-2 and send the game to overtime.
Aston-Reese GOAL!!! We're tied, 2-2, with four minutes to play in the third. pic.twitter.com/WNrghyC2nQ— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 17, 2017
The final blow of the night, though would be struck by Bridgeport’s Sebastian Aho (the one from Sweden, not the one from Finland), his eighth of the season, just 26 seconds into overtime, giving WBS only its third consolation point of the season.
Casey DeSmith stopped 30 of 33 shots, taking the loss in overtime. Bridgeport starter Kristers Gudlevskis saved 7 of 8 shots before exiting the game 2:29 into the second period; his replacement, Chris Gibson, stopped 14 of 15 shots to take the win.
Devon Toews assisted on Aho’s goal in overtime; his goal and assist were good for third star honors. Eansor’s goal to put Bridgeport temporarily ahead in the third period were good for second honors. Aho’s goal in overtime rightly gave him the top honors.
STANDINGS (through the games of December 17)
- Atlantic Division: 1) Providence 18-7-2, .704; 2) Charlotte 19-9-1, .672; 3) Lehigh Valley 18-9-3, .650; 4) WBS 15-8-3, .635; 5) Bridgeport 13-11-3, .537; 6) Hartford 11-12-6, .483; 7) Hershey 12-14-3, .466; 8) Springfield 12-18-1, .403
- North Division: 1) Toronto 21-7-0, .750; 2) Rochester 16-6-6, .679; 3) Syracuse 14-10-3, .574; 4) Utica 11-11-5; .500; 5) Laval 10-13-6, .448; 6) Belleville 11-14-3, .446; 7) Binghamton 9-14-4, .407
- Central Division: 1) Manitoba 21-5-3, .776; 2) Rockford 15-11-2, .571; 3) Iowa 13-9-6, .571; 4) Milwaukee 13-12-2, .519; 5) Chicago 11-12-5, .482; 6) Cleveland 8-10-5, .457; 7) Grand Rapids 10-14-4, .429
- Pacific Division: 1) Tucson 13-7-3, .630; 2) Texas 17-10-1, .625; 3) Stockton 14-8-3, .620; 4) San Antonio 16-10-2, .607; 5) Ontario 12-11-1, .521; 6) San Jose 12-11-1, .521; 7) San Diego 12-11-1, .521; 8) Bakersfield 10-12-3, .460
STATISTICS (through the games of December 17)
- Goals: Daniel Sprong - 15 (T-3rd in AHL, leads all rookies); Ryan Haggerty - 10; Thomas DiPauli - 9; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Christian Thomas, Teddy Blueger - 6; Garrett Wilson, Gage Quinney - 5
- Assists: Dominik Simon, Kevin Czuczman (both promoted to Pittsburgh) - 13 (Czuczman T-9th among defenders); Zach Aston-Reese - 10; Lukas Bengtsson - 9; Colin Smith, Adam Johnson, Jean-Sebastien Dea - 8
- Points: Daniel Sprong - 22 (6th among AHL rookies); Ryan Haggerty, Dominik Simon - 16; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Kevin Czuczman - 14; Thomas DiPauli, Christian Thomas, Teddy Blueger, Zach Aston-Reese - 13, Garrett Wilson - 12
- Goalies (active on roster as of December 17): Casey DeSmith 10-3-2, 2.60 GAA, .914 save percentage, one shutout; Sean Maguire 1-1-0, 2.19 GAA, .924 save percentage
- Special Teams: Power play 13.9%, 27th in AHL, seven shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 82.1%, 19th in AHL, four shorthanded goals forced
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
I suppose it’s hard to ignore Daniel Sprong’s three goal week, so let’s give him the honors this week. Sprong’s rookie season to this point has been quite the roller coaster...goals in five straight games to start the year, including a hat trick in the fifth game, then a stretch of 12 games where he only scored two goals, then a healthy scratch on December 1, then six goals in the eight games following that healthy scratch. Hopefully, this new hot streak of his will continue through the festive season and into 2018.
WBS enters the holiday break with two home games this weekend: Friday, December 22 vs. Binghamton at 7:05 pm EST, then a special 5:05 pm EST start on Saturday, December 23 vs. Lehigh Valley. Per the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice’s Tyler Piccotti, WBS will devote its Festivus game to fundraising efforts benefitting a Scranton man battling acute myeloid leukemia.