This week in the history of the WBS Penguins started before any of their three games were played, as the American Hockey League announced its 2016-17 All-Rookie Team on Wednesday, as well as its 2016-17 First and Second All-Star teams on Thursday. WBS was heavily represented on the All-Rookie team, as forward Jake Guentzel and goaltender Casey DeSmith were honored. WBS defender David Warsofsky was also honored on the AHL’s Second All-Star Team.
Guentzel hasn’t played a game in the AHL since scoring a goal and an assist on January 14 at Syracuse, but his 21 goals and 21 assists for 42 points in his 33 games tie him for 13th in the AHL among rookies in points as of April 9, as well as tied for fifth in goals and tied for 19th in assists. Everyone else ahead of Guentzel in AHL rookie scoring this season has played anywhere from 17 (Kyle Connor of Manitoba, 42 points in 50 games) to 38 (four others) MORE games this season.
Despite being the second goalie behind Tristan Jarry in the WBS pairing, DeSmith has made the most of every start he’s been given, going 21-4-2 in his 27 starts through Sunday with a 2.05 GAA and a 92.5% save percentage. The GAA and save percentage are the best among all qualifying rookie goaltenders, while the GAA ranks third among all AHL goalies, and the save percentage ties for fifth best. DeSmith’s 21 wins rank fourth among AHL rookies behind Thatcher Demko of Utica (22), Charlie Lindgren of St. John’s (23), and Alex Lyon of Lehigh Valley (26).
In his sixth full professional season and his second stint with the Penguins organization, Warsofsky has tallied 16 goals and 31 assists for 47 points in 55 games for WBS. Warsofsky ranks third among AHL defenders in goals, ninth in assists, and sixth in points.
Dave Gove (1978-2017)
The happy start of the week quickly turned to tragedy on Thursday, as news started to spread of the death of former WBS Penguins captain and Wheeling Nailer coach Dave Gove. Gove played a total of 56 regular season games for WBS over two seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09, along with 23 games in WBS’s last Calder Cup Finals run. Gove scored a total of 18 goals and 7 assists in his regular season games before retiring due to injuries, but few will forget the Finals run in 2008 where he contributed 5 goals and 7 assists. There have been many words spoken about how positively Gove affected the lives of everyone he played with or coached, so allow me to say only that his positive influence stretched to the fans as well. I have heard many stories in the days following Gove’s death about the positive impact he had on the fans who interacted with him outside the rink. He will truly be missed by everyone who played with him, was coached by him, watched him play the game he loved, or just plain knew of him.
The Atlantic Division championship
Having successfully clinched the playoffs for the 15th straight season on Sunday, WBS continued along its road to those playoffs with three games in three different cities this weekend as the Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey Circus took its final curtain call in NEPA. Having lost Dominik Simon earlier in the week to callup to Pittsburgh, the WBS weekend began in Allentown on Friday, with WBS’s 11th game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season and last at PPL Center for the season (unless the two should meet in the playoffs). Oskar Sundqvist and Tristan Jarry shone brightest on this night, with Sundqvist scoring two goals and assisting on David Warsofsky’s 16th of the season and Jarry stopping all 21 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season, 3-0 over the Phantoms.
Following the win, Kevin Porter and Jarry were promoted to Pittsburgh to allow Pittsburgh to rest some of its stars in its final two games of the year. Undeterred, WBS hit the road to Connecticut for its final game of the year against the Hartford Wolf Pack joined by PTO signee from Wheeling Cody Wydo as well as goaltender Sean Maguire. WBS made it a perfect 8 for 8 against the Rangers affiliate 2-1, as Shavertown, PA native Patrick McGrath scored his first goal for WBS and Jean-Sebastien Dea scored his 17th of the season. Casey DeSmith took the win in net, stopping 34 of 35 Hartford shots.
Following that win, Dea, Sundqvist, and Derrick Pouliot were summoned by Pittsburgh to New York to play for the parent club in its regular season finale against the Rangers. Still undeterred, WBS took the players it had to Providence to face off with the second-place Bruins, eager to clinch a playoff berth for themselves and close the gap with the Penguins for the division championship. Despite outshooting WBS 34-29, they were unable to break down DeSmith more than once, as Wydo scored his first for WBS and Jarrett Burton scored his sixth of the season to give WBS a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
The win was WBS’s 50th on the season, the fourth time they have hit 50 wins in a season and the first since their Kilpatrick Trophy season of 2010-11 when they won 58. The win also clinched the regular season Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference championships, ensuring that if WBS progresses as far as the Eastern Conference final this spring, they will hold the home ice advantage.
Only the Kilpatrick Trophy remains to win in the regular season, and a very formidable opponent in the San Jose Barracuda stands in the way.
Statistics (through April 9)
Goals - Tom Kostopoulos 24 (T-16th in AHL), Jake Guentzel 21, Oskar Sundqvist 20, Jean-Sebastien Dea 17, David Warsofsky/Josh Archibald 16 each, Dominik Simon 14
Assists - Kevin Porter 35 (T-19th in AHL), Warsofsky/Simon 31 each, Kostopoulos 30, Sundqvist 25, Guentzel/Teddy Blueger 21 each
Points - Kostopoulos 54 (20th in AHL), Warsofsky 47, Porter 46, Sundqvist/Simon 45 each, Guentzel 42, Dea 32, Archibald/Garrett Wilson 29 each
Goalies - Tristan Jarry 28-15-2, 2.15 GAA, 92.5% save percentage, three shutouts; Casey DeSmith 21-4-2, 2.05 GAA, 92.5% save percentage, one shutout
Special Teams - Power play 17.4%, 16th in AHL, 4 shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 87.3%, 1st in AHL, 8 shorthanded goals forced
Fight Tracker - Patrick McGrath 9, Tom Sestito 5, Garrett Wilson 4, Cameron Gaunce 2, Ryan Haggerty 2, Josh Archibald 1, Carter Rowney 1, Tom Kostopoulos 1, Jarrett Burton 1, Kevin Porter 1
Magic Number to Clinch Kilpatrick Trophy: As mentioned above, the only thing left for WBS to clinch in the regular season is their second Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy for the AHL’s best regular season record. Through 73 games, WBS holds a record of 50-19-3-1, good for 104 points and a points percentage of 71.2%. They can max out at 110, which would give them a percentage of 72.4%. The only team that can match them now is the San Jose Barracuda, the Pacific division leaders, who have a record of 43-15-2-5 through 65 games, good for 93 points and a points percentage of 71.5% on their 68-game schedule. With three more wins, they can max out at 99 points and a percentage of 72.8%. Per my calculations, if San Jose were to drop one point in their final 3 games, then if WBS wins out, they would win the Kilpatrick. So let’s call their magic number 7.
Standings: 1) WBS, 71.2%; 2) Lehigh Valley, 65.1%; 3) Providence, 65.1% (LV holds the tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins); 4) Hershey, 62.8%; 5) Bridgeport, 62.2% (each has two games to go to secure the Atlantic’s fourth playoff spot); 6) Springfield, 47.3%; 7) Hartford, 37.0%
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, April 12: Lehigh Valley at WBS, 7:05 pm EDT
Friday, April 14: Hershey at WBS, 7:05 pm EDT
Saturday, April 15: Bridgeport at WBS, 7:05 pm EDT
Three divisional games to close out the year, the last two against the two teams fighting tooth and nail to get into the playoffs. Hang in there, folks...the fun’s just about to begin.