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WBS Weekly: Merry Christmas

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WBS splits the weekend to enter the festive season straddling the playoff line.

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For those of you hoping the WBS Penguins would distract you or give you some hope from the extended doldrums of the Pittsburgh Penguins, I’d suggest not holding your breath. Sure, they enter the festive period having gained 5 out of every 8 points available to them through 28 games, but the Penguins sure have their own set of homework assignments ahead of them if they’re going to improve in the new year.

DECEMBER 22: Binghamton 3 @ WBS 4 (OT)

That’s right...the all-time leader in AHL shutouts, Michael Leighton, is now a WBS Penguin after the organization traded Josh Archibald and Sean Maguire to Arizona in midweek. The organizations also swapped 2019 draft picks.

Greg McKegg missed the two games this weekend tending to family matters. Christian Thomas also missed the two games this weekend having been summoned to Team Canada for the Spengler Cup.

WBS flew out of the gates against the Devils, scoring two goals in the first 8:20 of the game. First, Teddy Blueger finished off an extremely solid play by Adam Johnson, as Johnson chased a loose puck for icing the length of the ice, wrapped around the net, then fed Blueger for the Latvian’s 7th goal of the season. Then, roughly four minutes later, WBS executed a faceoff play brilliantly, as Kevin Czuczman ripped a one-timer that Jarrett Burton deflected home for his 2nd of the year.

For as good as the first eight minutes were, the final 12 were the opposite, as Binghamton ripped off three straight goals in the latter half of the period, including the eighth shorthanded goal scored against WBS this season, to take a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes. Binghamton would hold that lead through the second period, and it looked like they would hold it through the third period as well until lightning struck in the form of the flukiest goal I’ve seen in 19 years of WBS hockey.

The game, testy throughout, broke down in the final minutes, as Garrett Wilson put WBS down a player heading into OT by taking a very ill-advised charging penalty. WBS held on, though, and in the final minute, they recovered an own-zone turnover by Czuczman into an odd-player rush, and Jean-Sebastien Dea fed a charging Blueger beautifully for the game-winner to give WBS a second point they probably deserved after definitely not deserving the first one.

Michael Leighton finished his WBS debut with 28 saves on 31 shots for the victory and third star honors. Second star went to Jarrett Burton with two goals, while top honors deservedly went to Blueger for his two goals, including the game-winner.

DECEMBER 23: Lehigh Valley 3 @ WBS 2

If there is a spirit to the Seinfeld-created holiday Festivus, WBS attempted to conjure it against the Phantoms by featuring holiday jerseys in which the angry, muscular penguin that usually graces the jersey held a Festivus pole instead of a hockey stick.

WBS started this game off well also, with Teddy Blueger getting his third goal in two nights with a deflection of a Zach Aston-Reese shot. When former Penguin Chris Conner tied the game at 16:35 of the second, WBS responded within two minutes as a cycle by Chris Summers was picked up by Ryan Haggerty and stuffed home before Phantoms goalie Dustin Tokarski could react, and WBS took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

The ice-cold WBS power play, though, would prove to be the undoing of the Penguins, as following a failed PP on a Reece Wilcox hooking call, Phantoms winger Nic Aube-Kubel scored his 9th of the year at 9:50 of the third. That goal seemed to energize the Phantoms, as they would control the next five minutes and take the lead at 13:53 of the third through Oskar Lindblom’s 9th of the year.

Despite the best efforts of the WBS attack, finishing with 41 shots on goal for the night, they could not get anything else past Tokarski, and the game ended with many grievances as the Phantoms prevailed.

Blueger’s goal gave him third star honors. Second honors went to Conner, adding an assist to his goal; top honors deservedly went to Lindblom, who added two assists to his goal to round out a stellar game.

STANDINGS (through the games of December 23)

  • Atlantic Division: 1) Providence 19-8-2, .690; 2) Charlotte 20-10-1, .661; 3) Lehigh Valley 19-9-4, .656; 4) WBS 16-9-3, .625; 5) Bridgeport 14-12-3, .534; 6) Hartford 13-13-6, .500; 7) Hershey 14-15-3, .484; 8) Springfield 13-18-2, .424
  • North Division: 1) Toronto 22-8-0, .733; 2) Rochester 19-6-6, .710; 3) Syracuse 15-12-3, .550; 4) Utica 13-12-5, .517; 5) Laval 11-14-7, .453; 6) Belleville 11-16-3, .417; 7) Binghamton 9-15-5, .397
  • Central Division: 1) Manitoba 23-5-3, .790 (on a 15-0-0-1 streak); 2) Rockford 17-11-2, .600; 3) Iowa 14-9-8, .581; 4) Milwaukee 15-12-2, .552; 5) Chicago 12-12-6, .500; 6) Grand Rapids 11-15-5, .435; 7) Cleveland 9-13-5, .426
  • Pacific Division: 1) Stockton 16-8-3, .648; 2) Texas 18-11-2, .613; 3) Tucson 13-9-3, .580; 4) San Antonio 16-12-2, .567; 5) San Diego 14-11-1, .558; 6) San Jose 13-11-2, .538; 7) Ontario 13-12-2, .519; 8) Bakersfield 11-12-4, .481

STATISTICS (through the games of December 23)

  • GOALS: Daniel Sprong - 15; Ryan Haggerty - 11; Teddy Blueger, Thomas DiPauli - 9; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Christian Thomas - 6; Garrett Wilson, Gage Quinney - 5
  • ASSISTS: Kevin Czuczman - 15; Dominik Simon - 13 (currently promoted to WBS); Zach Aston-Reese - 11; Jean-Sebastien Dea - 10; Colin Smith, Lukas Bengtsson, Adam Johnson - 9; Andrey Pedan - 8
  • POINTS: Daniel Sprong - 22; Ryan Haggerty - 17; Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Dominik Simon - 16; Zach Aston-Reese - 14; Thomas DiPauli, Christian Thomas - 13; Garrett Wilson, Colin Smith - 12; Adam Johnson - 11
  • GOALIES (active on roster as of December 23): Michael Leighton 1-0-0, 2.80 GAA, .903 save percentage with WBS (5-4-4, 3.13 GAA, .872 save percentage, one shutout with all teams); Casey DeSmith 10-4-2, 2.63 GAA, .913 save percentage, one shutout
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: Power play 13.0%, 27th in AHL, eight shorthanded goals allowed (T-worst in AHL); penalty kill 82.0%, 17th in AHL, four shorthanded goals forced

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

If you asked me to name one player who could go up to Pittsburgh right now and possibly provide a spark to a lagging team, I’m probably looking at the speedy, tenacious Teddy Blueger; with three goals in two games, he again earns my plaudits for the best player of the week.

UP NEXT

The AHL is shut down for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and there is only one game on Boxing Day. The league kicks back into gear on Wednesday, December 27, with WBS hosting the Phantoms once again at 7:05 pm EST. WBS hosts Hartford on Friday, December 29, at 7:05 pm EST, then they visit Hershey for their final game of 2017 on Saturday, December 30, at 7:00 pm EST.

Merry Christmas!