On the heels of the first goalie goal in WBS Penguins history and the 14th in the history of the American Hockey League, the Penguins returned home to face their sternest examination of the young season...two games at home against the best team in the AHL thus far, the Charlotte Checkers.
I felt that the two games this weekend were probably the two best games WBS has played this season in terms of entertainment value, quality, and strength of opponent. But all that matters in this business is results.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16: Charlotte 2 @ WBS 1
Here's a look at the probable #WBSPens line combos and defensive pairings for tonight's game against the @CheckersHockey - #WBS20 pic.twitter.com/G4ZTyBApPO— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 16, 2018
WBS welcomed Joseph Cramarossa (and his hair) back to the lineup this weekend, while they are still missing Sam Miletic to injury.
The first period ended scoreless, with Charlotte unable to convert on two power plays it received (though not for lack of opportunities) and WBS unable to convert its lone chance. The second period, though, started out much, much better for the home side.
That’s a gorgeous 2 on 1 with Tobias Lindberg feeding Thomas DiPauli for his 2nd of the season and a well-earned 1-0 lead for WBS.
Unfortunately, that’s all they could muster on Friday against Alex Nedeljkovic, who stopped everything else he faced on the evening. The Charlotte power play came alive in the second, converting a 5 on 3 in the second period through the dangerous Janne Kuokkanen to tie it...
Not. Stopping. That. pic.twitter.com/nOkriE4luV— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) November 17, 2018
...then again late in the third, as Andrew Poturalski scored his 6th of the season with 3:36 to play in the game and Adam Johnson in the box for holding.
C L U T C H pic.twitter.com/R4ji5rUzrO— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) November 17, 2018
WBS attempted a comeback late, but were cut short by a hooking call on Teddy Blueger with 1:31 to go and thus fell short. Starting goalie Tristan Jarry stopped 26 of 28 shots in a stellar outing, while Nedeljkovic finished with 27 saves on 28 shots for the win.
For my money, except for the seven power plays it granted Charlotte through the course of the game, this was probably WBS’s most complete 60 minutes of the season. But that’s how it goes sometimes...you play an excellent 60 minutes, but the other team is just that much better.
Kuokkanen got third star for his goal; DiPauli second star for his goal; Poturalski top honors with his goal and an assist on Kuokkanen’s tally.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17: Charlotte 6 @ WBS 5 (OT)
Check out tonight's #WBSPens line combinations and defensive pairings for our return match against the @CheckersHockey - #WBS20 pic.twitter.com/05V5Qf6aHl— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 17, 2018
Despite the reassignment of WBS captain Garrett Wilson to WBS prior to the game, he was not included in the lineup for the rematch on Saturday. Furthermore, on account of a match penalty for crosschecking against Cramarossa the night before, Charlotte forward Valentin Zykov was suspended for the rematch. Lastly, despite two solid outings in a row (Springfield on Wednesday and the previous night), Tristan Jarry was replaced by Anthony Peters for the rematch.
Cramarossa started the rematch in something of a feisty mood, as he fought Charlotte’s Dan Renouf 36 seconds into the game on Saturday. WBS answered his feistiness by answering Aleksi Saarela’s game opening goal at 5:35 of the first with three of their own to chase the returning starter Nedeljkovic from the game after 14:17.
GOAL Adam Johnson answers back with a power play goal! #WBS20 pic.twitter.com/kmMSHgI8xp— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 18, 2018
#WBSPens GOAL GIF - Stefan Elliott puts the Pens in front. pic.twitter.com/4Hv7DkC02o— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 18, 2018
Nothing else you can say for that one except soft.
#WBSPens GOAL GIF #3 - Thomas Di Pauli with his second goal in as many games, and stretches his point streak to five games (3+3=6) pic.twitter.com/N75p24hl4m— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 18, 2018
Adam Johnson extended the lead to 4-1 just 2:57 into the second period, and WBS was riding high.
GOAL Johnson scores his 2nd goal of the game to put the Pens up 4-1! pic.twitter.com/LU4NAtbqV2— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 18, 2018
Against pretty much any other team, 4-1 might have been enough. But this is Charlotte we’re talking about.
Over the course of the next 25 minutes of game time, the Checkers methodically worked their way back into the game with goals by Cliff Pu at 11:30 of the second, Martin Necas at 13:26 of the second, Renouf at 11:02 of the third, then former Penguin Greg McKegg on a power play at 12:01 of the third to pull themselves ahead 5-4.
Then came one of the smartest goals I’ve seen at the arena in many years.
Angello gloves it out of the air to put home his seventh goal of the season. It's 5-5 later in regulation. #WBSPens #WBS20 pic.twitter.com/hM7tJs5lxd— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 18, 2018
How many rookies do you know of would have the presence of mind, hand-eye coordination, skill, and strength to take that puck, glove it down right in front of the net, and tap it in from close range like that? Thankfully, WBS has one such individual, and Anthony Angello’s 7th of the year drew WBS level 5-5 to get the game to overtime.
That would be the last time WBS would touch the puck, however, as Charlotte won the opening faceoff of overtime and were able to wait out the WBS defense enough to do this.
Don't count us out. pic.twitter.com/zbdAkNLVdX— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) November 18, 2018
Is there an argument there for goaltender interference? Sure there is, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s severe enough or intentional enough to merit a reversal of the goal.
In any event, that was Saarela’s second of the game and enough to give Charlotte full points out of its road visit to WBS this season. Nedeljkovic finished with 7 saves on 10 shots prior to his removal, while Charlotte’s relief goaltender Callum Booth finished with 21 saves on 23 shots for the win. WBS goalie Peters finished with 27 saves on 33 shots in the loss. Angello’s equalizing goal was enough for third star honors; Adam Johnson took second honors with his two goals; Saarela took top honors with his two goals, including the game-winner.
Despite giving the league’s best everything they could handle on two straight nights, WBS could only manage one point out of the two games, which in a results-based business like this can only be called a failed test. WBS will return to Charlotte on January 11 and 12 for its makeup test.
WBS ends the week at 8-6-3 for a .559 points percentage, which is good for 5th in the Atlantic Division. The WBS power play finishes the week with 11 goals in 73 chances for a 15.1% conversion percentage, last in the Atlantic and 23rd in the 31-team AHL; its penalty kill finishes with a stunning 19 goals conceded on 79 chances for a kill percentage of 75.9%, also last in the Atlantic and tied for 28th in the AHL. Rookie Sam Lafferty leads the Penguins with 4 goals and 10 assists in 17 games, while Teddy Blueger ranks second with 5 goals and 6 assists. Rookie Anthony Angello’s equalizing goal on Saturday gave him 7 on the year, which now leads all WBS players. Don’t overlook defender Ethan Prow, either, who has 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points through 17 games.
Around the Atlantic:
- The Atlantic-leading Charlotte Checkers dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to Lehigh Valley on Wednesday before taking both games from WBS this weekend to finish 13-3-1 and .794 to continue to lead the AHL. Janne Kuokkanen and Andrew Poturalski tie for the points lead on the Checkers (Kuokkanen 8 goals and 11 assists, Poturalski 6 and 13). Defender Trevor Carrick is not far behind, with 3 goals and 12 assists.
- The Bridgeport Sound Tigers end the week in second place, with a record of 11-5-2 and a percentage of .667, following a 4-3 overtime loss at Hartford on Wednesday, a 2-1 shootout victory over Laval on Friday, and a 2-1 victory at Belleville on Saturday. Defender Devon Toews took over the scoring lead from Josh Ho-Sang during the week, ending with 5 goals and 12 assists against Ho-Sang’s 1 goal and 15 assists. Bridgeport also had to endure the callup of Michael Dal Colle on Thursday of this week.
- Springfield finishes the week in third place, recovering from its midweek daytime defeat to WBS on Wednesday by destroying Rochester 9-4 on Friday and defeating Lehigh Valley 3-2 on Saturday to finish 9-4-2 and .667. Two former Penguins lead the Thunderbirds in scoring, as captain Paul Thompson’s 10 goals and 6 assists pull him ahead of Harry Zolnierczyk’s 4 and 11. Rookie Henrik Borgstrom and forward Joel Lowry each have 4 goals and 10 assists.
- Lehigh Valley holds the final playoff spot in the Atlantic in fourth place with a record of 9-5-2 and .625 following its overtime defeat of Charlotte, a 5-4 loss in Providence on Friday, then a 3-2 loss at Springfield on Saturday. The usual suspects lead the Phantoms in scoring: T.J. Brennan and Phil Varone with 6 goals and 14 assists each; Greg Carey with 9 and 9; Chris Conner with 7 and 4; and Mike Vecchione with 4 and 7.
- Just behind WBS in the standings is Hershey in sixth place, with a record of 8-9-1 and a percentage of .472 following a split of a two-game road visit to Cleveland: 6-1 victory on Friday, 5-2 loss on Saturday. Riley Barber leads the Bears with 7 goals and 7 assists for 14 points, just ahead of Mike Sgarbossa’s 8 and 5. Liam O’Brien is not far behind with 7 goals and 3 assists, tied with defender Connor Hobbs’s 1 goal and 9 assists.
- Hartford has climbed out of the basement to finish in 7th place with a record of 7-9-3 and a .447 percentage with a 4-3 overtime victory over Bridgeport on Wedneday, a 6-3 win over Utica on Saturday, then a 4-3 defeat to Rochester on Sunday. Peter Holland’s 2 goals and 14 assists lead the Wolf Pack, followed by Steven Fogarty’s 7 goals and 7 assists, then Cole Schneider’s 6 and 5, John Gilmour’s 5 and 7, then Tim Geittinger’s 7 and 4.
- Finding itself in the basement at week’s end is Providence at 6-8-2 and .438 with a 5-4 loss to Lehigh Valley on Friday and a 3-2 overtime victory over Rochester on Saturday. Colby Cave continues to pace the Bruins with 6 goals and 12 assists, but not far behind is rookie Cameron Hughes at 6 and 5.
The Weekly returns in two weeks, as I go away on a vacation. Between now and then, though, WBS’s schedule is as follows:
- November 23 at Springfield, 7:05 pm EST
- November 24 vs. Hershey, 7:05 pm EST
- November 25 vs. Providence, 3:05 pm EST
- November 28 at Hershey, 7:00 pm EST
- November 30 at Rochester, 7:05 pm EST
- December 1 at Toronto, 4:00 pm EST