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WBS Weekly: Division Messes

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WBS suffers through a four-goal collapse, a laid egg at home, and a combined 110 penalty minutes in Allentown, but the Penguins stay in fifth place in the Atlantic on the doorstep of 2019.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Wednesday, December 26: Lehigh Valley 5 @ WBS 3

The WBS Penguins emerged from the Christmas break in their black jerseys, per the current AHL custom of switching home and road jerseys after the festive break, to play host to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Boxing Day. The first period belonged to the newly acquired Ben Sexton, who scored his first goal for WBS at 14:45 of the first period.

Sexton doubled his goal total in the final seconds of the first period as he threw a puck at Lehigh Valley goaltender Alex Lyon from behind the goal line, but got it through into the net anyway.

Lehigh Valley drew one of those goals back at 17:58 of the second through Tyrell Goulbourne, but in the dying seconds of the second period, the long-dormant Zamboni Corner Assist made an appearance.

Several times over the 20 years of WBS Penguins hockey in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a dump-in along the glass on the club seat side of the arena would carom off the Zamboni doors in the far corner of the ice and into a dangerous position, usually catching the goaltender out of position. It happened again on this night, and Teddy Blueger took the goal to make it 3-1 WBS after 40 minutes.

It all went backwards from there.

Taylor Leier started the downhill plunge at 2:38 of the third period with a deflection of a Phillippe Myers shot. That first goal set momentum firmly in the hands of the Phantoms, who controlled play throughout the period and equalized on a Connor Bunnaman breakaway goal with 6:37 to play, also assisted by Myers. Goulbourne capitalized on a net front scrum with 1:02 to play to put the Phantoms ahead 4-3, then off the ensuing faceoff, Phil Samuelsson fired a shot from center ice on goalie Tristan Jarry, which bounced past the WBS goaltender to make the final score 5-3.

Four goals conceded at home against a division rival. The supportive cheers for the road team echoing throughout the arena. All in all, a shocking collapse, and a loss that will stick with me for far longer than most other losses.

Jarry finished with 27 saves on 32 shots. Lyon finished with 29 saves on 32 shots. The three stars were awarded to Adam Johnson (two assists), Ben Sexton (two goals), and Tyrell Goulbourne (two goals).

Friday, December 28: Hershey 5 @ WBS 1

Two new additions on defense for this game, as WBS called up the ECHL’s leading goal scorer among defenders Kevin Spinozzi from Wheeling as well as accepted Pittsburgh’s reassignment of Chad Ruhwedel to WBS for conditioning.

What followed, unfortunately, was a complete dud of a game, as Hershey scored four unanswered goals over the first 28:17 of the game to eventually cruise to a 5-1 win. Only Joseph Cramarossa solved Vitek Vanecek on this night, as he stopped 22 of 23 WBS shots and added an assist for himself as well. Five different Bears (Nathan Walker, Grant Besse, Steve Whitney, Mike Sgarbossa, Garrett Pilon), beat goalie Anthony Peters, who ended with only 16 saves on 21 shots.

Aaron Ness took third star with two assists. Grant Besse’s goal, which eventually stood as the game-winner, was enough for second honors. Nathan Walker added an assist to his goal just 16 seconds into the game for top honors.

Saturday, December 29: WBS 7 @ Lehigh Valley 3

Following the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Bears, coach Clark Donatelli placed responsibility for turning around the team’s winless streak solely on the team leaders. Per the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader’s Tom Venesky:

“It’s up to the leadership group in the room. Those are the guys playing the game...We can only control their ice time. That’s it. It has to come from within.”

The response from the team leaders appeared to be a return to the bad old days of WBS Penguins hockey, as WBS and Lehigh Valley combined for 110 penalty minutes in the Saturday rematch in Allentown, punctuated by a secondary altercation between captain Garrett Wilson and Tyrell Goulbourne that sent both to the showers early on game misconduct penalties and capped by Joseph Cramarossa instigating a fight with 45 seconds to go, all but ensuring that he will miss the New Year’s Eve game in Binghamton on suspension. In total, the game featured four misconducts, three game misconducts, and six fighting majors.

As for the scoring, Greg Carey opened the scoreboard at 1:34 of the second period with a power play goal, his 16th of the year, but against everything that had transpired earlier in the week, WBS took over from there, putting five goals past Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon and two more into an empty net to overwhelm Lehigh Valley to the tune of a 7-3 final. Ben Sexton and Teddy Blueger led the charge with two goals each, while Jimmy Hayes, Adam Johnson, and Chad Ruhwedel also scored. Reece Willcox and T.J. Brennan scored in the third period for the Phantoms, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Starting goalie Tristan Jarry saved 32 of 35 shots for the win, while Lyon stopped 25 of 30 WBS shots. Jimmy Hayes added an assist to his goal for third star; Sexton’s two goals earned second star; Blueger’s two goals were good enough for top honors.

Despite only taking two out of six potential points in the week, WBS stayed in fifth place in the Atlantic Division at week’s end with a record of 16-14-5 and a points percentage of .529. Teddy Blueger leads the Penguins in goals (13) and points (25), while Sam Lafferty leads the team in assists (19) and checks in second place in team points with 24. Also of note is Ethan Prow’s 10 goals and 21 points on defense; Adam Johnson and Anthony Angello’s 9 goals each; and the seven goals each of Garrett Wilson and Thomas DiPauli.

Tristan Jarry holds a record of 8-6-3, a GAA of 2.90, and a save percentage of .909, while Anthony Peters is at 6-6-2 with a 3.07 GAA and a .896 save percentage. That will be the goalie tandem for WBS for the foreseeable future, as WBS sent John Muse to Wheeling on Sunday along with Troy Josephs while recalling Cam Brown.

The WBS power play stands at 24 goals in 139 opportunities for a conversion percentage of 17.3 percent, which was 21st in the AHL at the time of this writing. The power play has also conceded two shorthanded goals so far. The penalty kill has allowed 33 goals in 150 opportunities for a kill percentage of 78 percent, which has improved to 27th in the AHL. The kill has also struck for four shorthanded goals.

Around the Atlantic Division:

  1. Charlotte Checkers: 24-8-2, .735 (2nd overall in AHL behind San Jose’s .741); Andrew Poturalski leads the team with 13 goals and 31 points, followed by Janne Kuokkanen’s 11 goals and 16 assists, Aleksi Saarela’s 9 and 14, then Martin Necas’s 7 and 15 (Kuokkanen and Necas on recall to Carolina)
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 21-9-5, .671; Michael Dal Colle leads the Sound Tigers with 16 goals and 28 points, but is currently on recall to the New York Islanders. Behind him is Sebastian Aho with 3 goals and 20 assists, Chris Bourque’s 7 and 15, and Josh Ho-Sang’s 2 and 20 (Ho-Sang is on NYI recall as well).
  3. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 19-10-3, .641; Lehigh Valley is out its leading scorer at the time of his recall Phil Varone as well as goalie Carter Hart, but still have some dangerous threats with Greg Carey leading all Phantoms with 16 goals and 34 points. T.J. Brennan leads from the blue line with 7 goals and 30 points. Also contributing from the blue line is Phillippe Myers, with 6 and 16. Former WBS Penguin Chris Conner is also excelling with 10 goals and 15 assists.
  4. Springfield Thunderbirds: 15-11-7, .561; Jayce Hawryluk leads the Thunderbirds with 21 assists and 28 points, despite his promotion to Florida. Among active players, Anthony Greco leads with 15 goals and 27 points, followed by former WBS Penguin Paul Thompson with 14 goals and 10 assists, then Joel Lowry at 7 and 17, then Harry Zolnierczyk at 6 and 18.
  5. WBS Penguins: 16-14-5, .529; see above
  6. Hartford Wolf Pack: 15-15-4, .500; Peter Holland leads with 20 assists and 30 points, followed by Cole Schneider’s 11 goals and 23 points. Also featuring are John Gilmour’s 9 and 14; Ville Meskanen’s 8 and 14; and Steven Fogarty’s 8 and 13.
  7. Providence Bruins: 14-15-5, .485; Ryan Fitzgerald’s 19 assists and 26 points lead the Bruins, followed by Peter Cehlarik’s 5 goals and 17 assists, then Cameron Hughes at 9 and 10, Colby Cave at 6 and 12 (Cave on recall to Boston), then Mark McNeill at 4 and 13.
  8. Hershey Bears: 14-18-2, .441; Mike Sgarbossa leads the Bears with 15 goals and 25 points, followed by Riley Barber at 11 goals and 24 points; Aaron Ness with 17 assists and 19 points; Liam O’Brien with 12 goals and 16 points; then Jayson Megna at 7 goals and 8 assists.

WBS will officially close out 2018 with their 7th game in 13 calendar days, visiting the Binghamton Devils tonight, New Year’s Eve, at 6:05 pm EST. WBS will then open 2019 with a pair of visits from Central Division opponents, hosting Grand Rapids on Friday, January 4, at 7:05 pm EST, then Milwaukee on Saturday, January 5, at 7:05 pm EST.

Happy new year, everyone! May your 2019 be happier, healthier, and more successful than your 2018.