February 8th: St. John’s 4 @ WBS 0
The WBS Penguins opened up their latest four-game-in-six-day stretch with the final regular season game in their history against the St. John’s IceCaps, which will be moved to Laval, Quebec next season and be rebranded as the Rocket. Based on the outcome, I’ll be quite happy to not see them again, as the IceCaps embarrassed the Penguins with four goals in the second period, including two in 49 seconds, a third on a 5 on 3 PP, and the fourth shorthanded. St. John’s ended the season series with WBS 3-1-0-0. Goalie Casey DeSmith took the loss, saving only 22 of 26 STJ shots. Our colleague Scott Matla over at Eyes on the Prize has much more on this game.
February 10th: Hershey 3 @ WBS 4 (OT)
Despite the Hershey Bears falling to fifth in the Atlantic Division by week’s end, one should never underestimate a division rival as fierce as the 11-time Calder Cup champions. Truly, in games such as these, you throw out the records. WBS was at a further disadvantage coming into this one, losing star rookie Josh Archibald on recall to Pittsburgh mere minutes before warmups began.
In this game, the tenth between the two this season, the respective power plays dominated, as all six goals scored in regulation came as a result of numbers advantage. Hershey started the proceedings with Paul Carey’s 15th goal of the season at 7:20. WBS answered in the second period with Danny Kristo’s 6th of the season at 8:55 and David Warsofsky’s 10th of the season at 17:52 to give WBS a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. Hershey would not go away, however, as they would convert two consecutive minor penalties into goals, as Chandler Stephenson coverted a Sestito cross-checking call into the equalizer at 6:30 of the third, then Christian Thomas converted a hooking penalty by Kristo into the go-ahead goal at 9:54 of the third.
For a while, it looked as though Hershey would finally get one over on their in-state rivals, but then Carey and Hubert Labrie took penalties less than a minute away from each other. On the ensuing 5 on 3, Tom Kostopoulos got just enough of a one-time slapshot to beat Vitek Vanecek over the shoulder and tie the game at 3 with 3:55 to play, his 200th career AHL goal.
The game proceeded to overtime, where the assembled crowd of 5,669 was justifiably concerned as the Penguins were caught with too many players on the ice, giving Hershey an overtime power play. WBS was able to fend it off, however, and in the confusion of a 4 on 4 line change, Teddy Blueger was able to catch Kevin Porter on a breakaway, and just as Kostopoulos didn’t get all of his equalizer, Porter did not get all of his breakaway attempt...he got just enough for the game-winner in overtime, his 8th of the season.
Goalie Tristan Jarry took the victory, his 21st of the season (continuing to tie Jack Campbell of Ontario for the league lead), stopping 28 of 31 shots.
February 11th: Binghamton 2 @ WBS 4
The Penguins concluded their week with another farewell of sorts, playing their final regular season game against the Binghamton Senators before they depart for Belleville next season. The Penguins came flying out of the gates on their annual Military Appreciation Night, as Warsofsky continued his hot streak with his second goal in as many games just 2:26 into the first, then Sahir Gill scored his third of the season just 2:02 later. The second goal proved to be starting goalie Matt O’Connor’s undoing, as he was removed from the game after just 6:45 of action, stopping only 3 of 5 shots he faced; backup Chris Driedger finished the game with 22 saves on 24 shots.
Dreidger kept WBS scoreless through the rest of the first, but within 34 seconds in the second period, he allowed two more goals, as Gill scored his second of the night at 1:22, then Dominik Simon fired home an absolutely wicked wrist shot for his 7th of the season at 1:56. That would be all the Penguins needed; despite goals by Casey Bailey at 7:33 and Kyle Flanagan at 16:02 of the second, Binghamton could get no closer in the third, as WBS slammed the door to win 4-2. Casey DeSmith recovered from his rough outing earlier in the week to stop 30 of 32 shots for his 14th win of the season.
Let’s just take a moment to stand back and admire yet another piece of jersey handiwork by the Penguins. That’s one of the slickest military-themed jerseys I’ve seen yet from this franchise.
STATISTICS (through February 12)
Goals: Jake Guentzel 21 (still on recall to Pittsburgh); Tom Kostopoulos 18, Oskar Sundqvist 14, Jean-Sebastien Dea 12, David Warsofsky/Garrett Wilson/Josh Archibald 11 each (Archibald now on recall to Pittsburgh)
Assists: Warsofksy 25 (T-3rd among AHL defenders), Kevin Porter 24, Guentzel/Kostopoulos 21 each, Dominik Simon 20, Sundqvist 19
Points: Guentzel 42 (T-7th in AHL), Kostopoulos 39 (T-14th in AHL), Warsofsky 36 (4th among AHL defenders), Sundqvist 33, Porter 32, Wilson 29, Simon 27, Archibald 22
Goalies: Tristan Jarry 21-8-1, 2.26 GAA (8th in AHL), 92.0% save percentage (9th in AHL), one shutout; Casey DeSmith 14-3-2, 2.34 GAA (9th in AHL), 91.1% save percentage (T-18th in AHL), no shutouts
Special Teams: Power play 17.8% (T-14th in AHL), 2 shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 86.0% (2nd in AHL behind San Jose’s 86.3%), 5 shorthanded goals scored
Fight Tracker (courtesy of HockeyFights.com): Patrick McGrath 7, Tom Sestito 5 (fought Jeremy Gregoire of St. John’s on Wednesday), Garrett Wilson 4, Cameron Gaunce 2, Ryan Haggerty 1, Josh Archibald 1, Carter Rowney 1, Tom Kostopoulos 1
Standings: 1) WBS, 75.0% (the only team above 70% in points); 2) Lehigh Valley, 68.8% (would lead any other division in the AHL); 3) Providence, 65.0%; 4) Bridgeport, 64.6% (9-1-0-0 in their last 10 to sneak into the final divisional playoff spot); 5) Hershey, 61.0%; 6) Springfield, 43.9%; 7) Hartford, 41.8%
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, February 14 vs. Lehigh Valley, 7:05 pm
Friday, February 17 at Albany, 7:00 pm
Saturday, February 18 at Springfield, 7:05 pm
Sunday, February 19 at Providence, 3:00 pm
WBS closes their four-game-in-six-day stretch with their final home game of the month against the dangerous Phantoms, then they go on the road for a three-game-in-three-city tour culminating in an afternoon tilt against the equally-as-dangerous Providence Bruins.
The grind just never stops. As I write this, WBS is without three of its promising young forwards on recall to the parent franchise, forced to recall Jarrett Burton from a Wheeling road trip to Idaho just to fill out the roster. Burton paid dividends with an assist, speaking volumes to the depth of the organization now, but that depth will continue to be tested as February rolls into the trading deadline, March, then the playoffs.