The WBS defense got a huge boost early this past week, with Kevin Czuczman clearing waivers on Monday and being returned to the farm. Czuczman had missed all of the season to that point following offseason surgery, and he found himself slotted right into the lineup as WBS opened its first three-game-in-three-day stretch of the season on Friday against the Hartford Wolf Pack.
WBS was forced to contest this weekend’s games without rookie forward Sam Miletic, who took an upper body injury in the second period of last Saturday’s game in Hershey and is currently described as “week-to-week.”
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2: Hartford 3 @ WBS 5
Some fresh faces in the lineup tonight, with Kevin Czuczman and Jarrett Burton making their 2018-19 debuts. Take a look at tonight's probable #WBSPens line combinations. #WBS20 pic.twitter.com/xEHDw9fkoR— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 2, 2018
The Wolf Pack power play was very proficient on this night, scoring all three of their goals on player advantages. Hartford kicked off the proceedings with Lias Andersson scoring his fourth of the year at 3:48 of the first, answered roughly three minutes later by Tobias Lindberg.
Just 1:26 later, the captain, Garrett Wilson put the Penguins ahead.
Undeterred, John Gilmour for Hartford posted his third of the season at 10:50 of the first to end the first period 2-2. Shots favored WBS 15-8.
The second period came and went without incident, as each side put up 12 shots to no avail. The third period would proceed in no such fashion.
Put that one on the season highlight reel. Slick, slick moves by Lafferty for his second of the season.
Just under three minutes later, WBS expanded its lead.
It took Prow until March 20, 2018, and his 37th game of the 2017-18 season, to get his fourth goal of that season. Prow matched that in only nine games this season, and a timely goal it was to put WBS up two in the third.
The Wolf Pack did not go away, though, as Cole Schneider brought Hartford back within one at 13:46 of the third, but Anthony Angello ended all questions with 3:04 to go.
Starting goalie Tristan Jarry finished with 30 saves on 33 shots for the victory and very nearly a goal of his own, as with opposing number Dustin Tokarski vacating the ice, Jarry took a shot at the empty net. He missed wide, but Tokarski threw his stick back at the empty net to stop the puck should it have gotten closer than it did, and the officials originally awarded a goal to Jarry before withdrawing it. Tokarski finished with 37 saves on 42 shots in the losing effort.
Zach Aston-Reese took third star honors with two assists, Prow added two assists to his goal for second honors, and Lafferty added an assist to his goal for top honors.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 3: Hartford 3 @ WBS 2
Curiously enough, coach Clark Donatelli went right back to Jarry on Saturday night for his 100th game with the WBS Penguins, while Hartford switched to Marek Mazanec in net.
As they did the night before, Hartford opened the proceedings with a power play goal, this time off the stick of Steven Fogarty, his sixth of the season, at 2:15 of the first. It took a while longer for WBS to match this one, but Sam Lafferty did the trick at 11:17 of the first.
The goal was originally given to Ryan Haggerty, which would have been his first of the season, but it was changed to Lafferty later on. The score stayed at 1-1 through the end of the first.
The Wolf Pack used a two-goal burst in the second to pull away, as Fogarty scored his second of the game at 11:02 of the second, then Bobby Butler scored his third of the season at 13:26 of the second.
Zach Trotman did well to pull WBS within one with his first of the season at 14:50 of the second. Just watch this slapper, if you can...
PEN'S GOAL Trotman responds to make it a 3-2 game. Pens still trail by 1. pic.twitter.com/pteNhcgs14— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) November 4, 2018
WBS tried to complete the comeback in the third. Oh, they tried. Perhaps a bit too hard, as they took two really stupid tripping calls in the offensive zone to negate their own momentum on two different occasions, and Hartford was able to see the lead through to full time for a split of the home series.
Jarry finished with 21 saves on 24 shots in the loss, while Mazanec stopped 35 of 37 WBS shots for the victory. He did not get a star though, as Brandon Crawley (two assists), Ryan Haggerty (originally thought to have the first goal), and Fogarty (two goals) took the honors.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 4: WBS 5 @ Bridgeport 8
Alright, look. I know the final score for this game says 8-5 Bridgeport, but don’t let this fool you. The first 49 minutes of this game were thoroughly and completely dominated by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Bridgeport put four past starting goalie Anthony Peters in the first frame through Devon Toews, Kieffer Bellows, Michael Dal Colle, and Otto Koivula. Peters was withdrawn after the first period for Jarry, who conceded to Dal Colle and Chris Bourque (remember him?) in the second period, then Parker Wotherspoon and Bellows in the third to round off their eight-spot.
Despite conceding eight, the WBS power play went three-for-seven on the afternoon, with Zach Aston-Reese scoring two of them. The WBS special teams also forced a shorthanded goal with 35 seconds to go through the same Aston-Reese for a hat trick, his first as a professional.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention the two goals by Garrett Wilson in the third to attempt to drag his team back in the last period of a three-game-in-48-hour stretch.
So, what you have here in total is a hat trick by the likely first callup to Pittsburgh should they want it and a 3 for 7 performance by the power play that is all thrown away by an 8-spot by the Sound Tigers to conclude the weekend with only two out of a possible 6 points.
Aston-Reese’s hat trick earned him third star honors on the evening. Josh Ho-Sang tallied four assists for second star honors, continuing to make me question why exactly he is still toiling away in the minors. Dal Colle added an assist to his two goals for top honors.
The Penguins thus end the weekend 6-4-1, with 13 points in 11 games and a .591 points percentage, to drop back to fourth place in the Atlantic Division. Captain Garrett Wilson paces the offense with 6 goals and 5 assists for 11 points; just behind him is rookie Sam Lafferty with 3 and 7, then Zach Aston-Reese with 6 and 3, Ethan Prow with 4 and 5; rookie Anthony Angello with 4 and 2, Teddy Blueger’s 4 and 2, rookie Sam Miletic’s 3 and 3, and Chris Summers’s 6 assists. Among the goalies, Tristan Jarry stands 3-3-1 through 7 games, taking the loss in relief of Anthony Peters on Sunday; Jarry holds a 3.14 GAA and a .897 save percentage. Anthony Peters, meanwhile, has seen his GAA balloon to 2.96 through 5 appearances, with a 3-1 record and a .907 save percentage.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic Division
- The Charlotte Checkers continue to distinguish themselves as the class of the AHL, taking two games from the visiting Providence Bruins this weekend (4-3 on Friday, 3-2 on Saturday) to close the weekend at 10-1 and a .909 points percentage, tops in the division, the conference, and the AHL. Charlotte’s center corps of Janne Kuikkanen (five goals, seven assists), Andrew Poturalski (three goals, nine assists), rookie Morgan Geekie (five goals, three assists), and Greg McKegg (one goal, seven assists) continue to pace the Checkers.
- Bringing up second place in the Atlantic are the Springfield Thunderbirds (7-1-2, .800) after splitting a home and home series with the Sound Tigers (3-2 to the Thunderbirds in Springfield on Friday, 5-2 to the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport on Saturday). Harry Zolnierczyk continues to lead the Thunderbirds with four goals and eight assists, followed closely by five other forwards with 10 or more points: rookie Henrik Borgstrom (four goals, seven assists), Anthony Greco (four goals, seven assists), Joel Lowry (three goals, eight assists), Paul Thompson (six goals, four assists), and Jayce Hawryluk (one goal, nine assists).
- Third place belongs to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (6-3-2, .636) following a home-and-home split with the Binghamton Devils (4-3 Devils in Binghamton Friday, 3-2 Phantoms in Lehigh Valley Saturday). The usual suspects lead the Phantoms: Phil Varone’s four goals and 11 assists (tying Varone for second in the league in assists), T.J. Brennan’s four goals and 10 assists, Greg Carey’s five goals and seven assists. Sneaking in there also is rookie center German Rubtsov with five goals and three assists.
- Bridgeport’s split with Springfield and its pasting of WBS on Sunday land it fifth in the Atlantic, with a 6-5-1 record and a .542 points percentage. Michael Dal Colle leads the Sound Tigers with six goals and seven assists, followed by Josh Ho-Sang’s one goal and 11 assists (tying him with Varone for second in the league in assists), Devon Toews’s three goals and seven assists, Parker Wotherspoon’s two goals and seven assists, Steve Bernier’s five goals and three assists, and Travis St. Denis’s four goals and four assists.
- The Hershey Bears check in at sixth place with a record of 6-7-1 and a percentage of .464 following a home and home split with the Rochester Americans (4-2 Hershey in Rochester on Friday, 4-1 Rochester in Hershey on Saturday), then a 2-1 shootout victory over Hartford on Sunday. Liam O’Brien continues to lead the Bears with seven goals and one assist, but Mike Sgarbossa (five goals, three assists) and Connor Hobbs (one goal, seven assists) join him for the team lead in points. Not far behind is Riley Barber with three goals and four assists.
- Hartford’s split with WBS and its shootout loss to Hershey keep the Wolf Pack in seventh place with a 5-7-2 record and a .429 percentage. Steven Fogarty leads the Pack with seven goals and six assists, followed by fellow centers Lias Andersson (four goals, eight assists) and Peter Holland (one goal, nine assists), with rookie Tim Gettinger (four goals, three assists) and rugged AHL veterans Cole Schneider (four goals, five assists) and Bobby Butler (three goals, four assists) not far behind.
- Bringing up the rear in the Atlantic is Providence, with a 3-7-1 record and a .318 points percentage following their pointless weekend in Charlotte. Center Colby Cave leads the Bruins with five goals and six assists, followed by rookie Cameron Hughes (four goals, five assists) and wingers Anton Blidh (two goals, four assists) and Peter Cehlarik (one goal, five assists).
With John Fogerty taking up residence this Friday night at the arena, WBS will hit the road to the New England states for three games in three days. WBS opens in Providence on Friday, November 9, at 7:05 p.m. EST before heading to Hartford on Saturday, November 10 at 7:00 p.m. EST. WBS closes the weekend by heading back to Providence on Sunday, November 11 at 3:00 p.m. EST.