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WBS Weekly: Boy Scouts and Jedi Knights

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WBS takes an overtime victory in Binghamton and a season sweep of the defending champions for a perfect weekend.

MARCH 9: WBS 3 @ Binghamton 2 (OT)

What a sight to see to start off the weekend...the AHL’s all-time shutout leader Michael Leighton returned to fitness to once again guard the cage for the WBS Penguins. His only game this year for WBS was a 4-3 overtime victory against the same Binghamton Devils that WBS visited on Friday; not long after, Leighton picked up an injury that kept him out for over two months.

Despite losing the recently-acquired Josh Jooris to emergency callup to Pittsburgh on Thursday in the aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, WBS wasted no time taking control of the proceedings in Binghamton.

WBS could not take the two-goal lead to the locker room, however, as Jacob MacDonald scored his 16th goal of the season for Binghamton just two seconds away from the horn to end the first. Binghamton would add a second at 18:19 of the second as Michael Latta scored his 7th of the year.

After a scoreless third period, the always-frenetic 3 on 3 OT commenced, and for the fourth time this season, Teddy Blueger ended OT.

I suppose a strong argument could be made for goaltender interference, as the Binghamton netmider Eddie Lack was unable to track behind the shot of Dea for Blueger’s finisher thanks to Lack and Dea bumping legs, but as they say in football, the penalty was not given. As a result, WBS were able to sneak away like thieves in the night with the extra point and their fourth win over the Devils in as many games.

Leighton finished with 27 saves on 29 shots for his second win in as many starts for WBS, while Lack finished with 29 saves on 32 shots in the hard-luck loss. Dea took third star honors with his goal and an assist on Blueger;s winner; Latta took second honors for his goal and the only assist on MacDona’d’s goal; Blueger, naturally, Blueger took top honors for the game-winner, his 14th goal of the season.

MARCH 10: Grand Rapids 1 @ WBS 2

You’ll see a new name on the forward lines for WBS’s second game of the weekend, as Pittsburgh’s fourth round pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft, Sam Lafferty, made his professional debut Saturday night. Lafferty signed a two-year entry-level contract starting in 2018-19 on Thursday of this week, which included an amateur tryout agreement with WBS for the remainder of this season.

Just 8 days after visiting the home of the defending champions and scoring three goals in the third period to win 4-2, WBS welcomed the Grand Rapids Griffins to WBS for the first time in roughly 9 years for Boy Scout night and Star Wars night, resulting in a sellout crowd of 8,159.

On the whole, Grand Rapids controlled the majority of this game, as reflected by the shot counter of 33-24 Griffins for the game. WBS did not have many truly dangerous opportunities throughout the course of the night, but they did take advantage of their best chance of the first period. With defender Chris Summers in the penalty box serving a tripping penalty, Joseph Cramarossa forced a turnover at the Grand Rapids blue line and found his penalty kill partner Adam Johnson breaking away. Johnson did very well to corral an exceedingly bouncy puck in stride to complete the breakaway, and his finish was just as beautiful, tucking a backhand past Griffins goalie Tom McCollum for a 1-0 lead.

WBS held that 1-0 lead through the rest of the first period and the second period, including a huge kill of a two-minute 5 on 3 power play midway through the second. The WBS lead came to an end at 7:58 of the third, as former WBS Penguin Ben Street scored his 12th of the season.

Only a few minutes later, a very fortunate non-call led to the game-winning goal. Christian Thomas, in his first home game since winning bronze for Canada at the Olympics, had his stick held twice after forcing a Grand Rapids turnover and subsequent rush to the net, but no penalty was given. Thomas was able to get his shot away, and the McCollum save dropped right to his feet where Jean-Sebastien Dea was standing. Dea sent the puck back to the point, where Kevin Czuczman was waiting, and he fired a low shot to the net that snuck past McCollum’s pads and into the net for a 2-1 lead that Grand Rapids was unable to recover.

McCollum ended with 22 saves on 24 shots, while his counterpart Anthony Peters put in perhaps the best performance of his WBS career with 32 saves on 33 shots. (Let’s just call Peters the Player of the Week this week; Peters stole this game, and he had to). Johnson’s shorthanded goal earned him third star honors; Peters took second star; Czuczman’s game-winner took top honors.

STANDINGS (through the games of March 11, as abstracted from theahl.com)

  • Atlantic Division: 1) Lehigh Valley 40-16-7, .690; 2) WBS 35-17-6, .655; 3) Providence 36-20-5, .631; 4) Charlotte 35-24-3, .589; 5) Bridgeport 30-23-8, .557; 6) Springfield 28-29-5, .492; 7) Hartford 26-29-8, .476; 8) Hershey 25-29-9, .468
  • North Division: 1) Toronto 41-16-2, .712 (clinched playoffs); 2) Syracuse 36-19-7, .637; 3) Rochester 30-16-16, .613; 4) Utica 30-21-10, .574; 5) Laval 23-30-8, .443; 6) Binghamton 20-31-10, .410; 7) Belleville 23-35-5, .405
  • Central Division: 1) Manitoba 36-17-8, .656; 2) Chicago 33-19-9, .615; 3) Iowa 28-18-13, .585; 4) Grand Rapids 32-22-7, .582; 5) Rockford 30-24-7, .549; 6) Milwaukee 31-25-5, .549; 7) Cleveland 20-32-7, .398
  • Pacific Division: 1) Tucson 31-18-5, .620; 2) San Diego 30-20-4, .593; 3) Texas 32-21-9, .589; 4) Stockton 29-20-5, .583; 5) Ontario 29-20-6, .582; 6) San Antonio 29-24-9, .540; 7) San jose 26-22-6, .537; 8) Bakersfield 23-22-9, .509

STATISTICS (through the games of March 11, as abstracted from theahl.com)

  • GOALS: Daniel Sprong - 21; Ryan Haggerty - 16; Teddy Blueger - 14; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Garrett Wilson - 13; Christian Thomas - 12; Gage Quinney - 11; Thomas DiPauli - 10; Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson - 9 (Aston-Reese currently injured during his recall to Pittsburgh)
  • ASSISTS: Jean-Sebastien Dea - 25; Daniel Sprong, Kevin Czuczman - 23; Zach Aston-Reese - 20; Teddy Blueger - 18; Adam Johnson - 16; Ryan Haggerty - 15; Garrett Wilson - 14; Dominik Simon, Frank Corrado, Gage Quinney - 13 (Simon currently on recall to Pittsburgh, Corrado reportedly out for the rest of the season, per Seth Rorabaugh of The Athletic)
  • POINTS: Daniel Sprong - 44; Jean-Sebastien Dea - 38; Teddy Blueger - 32; Ryan Haggerty - 31; Zach Aston-Reese - 29; Garrett Wilson, Kevin Czuczman - 27; Adam Johnson - 25; Christian Thomas, Gage Quinney - 24
  • GOALIES (active as of March 11): Anthony Peters 9-5-3, 2.63 GAA, .906 save percentage, one shutout; Michael Leighton 2-0-0, 2.34 GAA, .917 save percentage with WBS; 6-4-4, 3.03 GAA, .877 GAA, one shutout with all teams
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: Power play 13.4%, 30th in AHL, 11 shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 82.8%, 16th in AHL, 8 shorthanded goals forced

MAGIC NUMBER

WBS shaved six points off its magic number this week, going from 29 to 23. Each of its two wins were worth two points, while Bridgeport dropped two points to Lehigh Valley on Saturday night while going 2-1-0 on their weekend.

THE WEEK AHEAD

With five games in hand on the first-place Lehigh Valley Phantoms at week’s end and a deficit of 9 points to claw back for the division lead, WBS faces four games this week, as the Penguins take a midweek trip to Charlotte for its final two games of the regular season against the fourth-place Checkers. The two games are Tuesday, March 13 and Wednesday, March 14, both 7:00 pm EDT starts.

WBS then returns home for two game inside 24 hours, as it celebrates St. Patrick’s Day against the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday, March 17, at 7:05 pm EDT, then hosts the Hershey Bears on Sunday, March 18, at 3:05 pm EDT.

...wait. St. Patrick’s Day?

Never forget.