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WBS Weekly: Splitsville

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A split in Charlotte and a split of weekend home games, plus a little help, leaves WBS 15 points away from clinching the playoffs.

WBS Penguins

MARCH 13: WBS 5 @ Charlotte 2

MARCH 14: WBS 1 @ Charlotte 3

March 13 lines and pairings:

Changes for the lines on March 14:

WBS started the week by traveling to Charlotte to finish off their season series with the Charlotte Checkers with two games in two nights. In the first game, WBS allowed the first goal of the game to the AHL’s leading goal scorer Valentin Zykov (his 31st of the year), but they then scored the next four through Zach Trotman (4), Tom Kostopoulos (3), Joseph Cramarossa (6), and Teddy Blueger (15). Trotman’s and Kostopoulos’s goals were 31 seconds apart in the first period, while Cramarossa’s and Blueger’s were 20 seconds apart. Even crazier, Blueger’s goal was a power play goal.

Andrew Poturalski scored a power play goal of his own at 16:58 of the second, but Charlotte could get no closer as Blueger scored his 16th of the year into an empty net with 1:31 to go to seal the win. WBS goalie Anthony Peters saved 29 of 31 Charlotte shots for the win.

In the rematch the next night, despite being bolstered by the return to WBS of forward Josh Jooris, only Big Tom Sestito could find the score sheet.

Charlotte rebounded nicely from the night before, as former WBS Penguin Greg McKegg, traded to Charlotte for Jooris a mere 16 days earlier, scored two goals against his former team to lead Charlotte to the 3-1 revenge win. Also scoring for Charlotte was Julien Gauthier, his 12th of the year.

Peters got the net for the second straight night, and he saved 27 of 30 Charlotte shots for the loss. His counterpart, Alex Nedeljkovic, saved 17 of 18 WBS shots for the win.

MARCH 17: Hartford 4 @ WBS 1

The return of Ryan Haggerty following a 17-game injury absence and the return of Josh Jooris led to the healthy scratching of Tom Sestito and...Christian Thomas? I don’t often get surprised at the scratch decisions before games, but when Thomas was announced as a scratch while not being announced as part of the injury list, my jaw dropped. Nothing that Thomas had done since returning from the Olympics warranted his removal from the lineup except possibly being the winger on Jean-Sebastien Dea’s line, which had been Haggerty’s slot.

This is an error in judgment that was corrected one day later, and I would implore the coaching staff not to repeat this mistake again. The easy answer is Thomas in and Lafferty out, but Lafferty has shown some fits and starts of real skill as well.

You’ll notice I’m not talking about the game itself, because really there was absolutely nothing positive to report out of the St. Patrick’s Day game. Hartford came flying out of the blocks and controlled play all night; despite WBS and Hartford each putting up 31 shots, it never felt like WBS took a solid foothold of the game at any point. Hartford was always pressing, always pushing the pace, and their tenacity out of the gates led to two goals in 34 seconds as Cole Schneider and Dan DeSalvo scored on Anthony Peters. Schneider’s goal was a bit unfortunate, as Peters got about 85% of Schneider’s shot, but the puck trickled in anyway, never even hitting the back of the cage.

Even while they outshot Hartford 18-3 in the second period (which, looking back on it, I’m still not sure how that happened), WBS got their first and only goal of the night from Daniel Sprong, assisted by Tom Kostopoulos who sprung Sprong on a 2 on 1, with 4:32 gone in the third. WBS continued to press, though, and they came close with about 5 minutes to go as Kevin Czuczman hit the corner of the post and crossbar with a shot, only to have the rebound go the other way on a Hartford rush and find it buried behind Peters off the unassisted stick of Steven Fogarty. Hartford answered all remaining questions just 54 seconds later, as Vinni Lettieri scored his 17th of the season to finish the scoring.

Peters finished with 27 saves on 31 shots, while his counterpart Chris Nell finished with 30 saves on 31 shots. The WBS power play received five opportunities and, frankly, looked downright abysmal all night.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, Daniel Sprong received third star honors for his goal. Dan DeSalvo got second star for his goal, and Chris Nell took top honors for his 30 save performance.

MARCH 18: Hershey 4 @ WBS 6

Sprong’s third star performance from the night before earned him a night in the press box as a healthy scratch, as Burton, Thomas, and Big Tom Sestito drew into the lineup alongside the returning Lukas Bengtsson. Forward Josh Jooris was recalled on emergency basis to Pittsburgh before the game began, leaving Pittsburgh with their two remaining healthy recalls.

None of it seemed to matter at first, as Hershey, playing their third game in 3 days (remember that, it’s going to be important later), stormed out of the gates to a 2-0 lead inside five minutes behind Liam O’Brien’s 16th of the season and Joe Whitney’s 13th. This was the end of the afternoon for Peters, as he was removed in favor of Etienne Marcoux, making his home debut in difficult circumstances.

WBS recovered their first goal of the afternoon at 11:51 of the first, as Jarrett Burton drove to the net for an attempt only to have it denied by the Hershey goaltender Copley and cleaned up by Joseph Cramarossa, his 7th of the season. That goal, unfortunately, was matched four minutes later by Jonas Siegenthaler dancing through the WBS defense and wiring a shot to the top corner for his 4th of the season. The period ended 3-1 to Hershey.

Things started to level out as the 2nd period progressed, but a funny thing happened at about the halfway mark. Hershey started to slow down, to run out of gas. Probably due to playing their third game in 48 hours, they started to hit the proverbial wall, and WBS started to take advantage.

First, noted Bear killer Big Tom Sestito scored his fifth of the season at 11:58 of the second by planting himself in front of Copley and deflecting home a centering pass by Gage Quinney. As noted by WBS radio analysis Nick Hart, the goal was Sestito’s seventh, and his 14th point, in 21 career games (including playoffs) against the Hershey Bears dating back to Big Tom’s first season with WBS in 2015-16. Then, in the dying seconds of the second period (literally), Thomas DiPauli scored his 11th of the season, assisted by Teddy Blueger and Tom Kostopoulos. The third period ended tied at 3.

WBS continued its momentum into the third period, as following a spirited TKO of O’Brien by Jarred Tinordi in a fight, Christian Thomas was able to corral a bouncing puck in the slot in front of Copley, fire a shot, have it saved, crash the net, have another shot saved, but poke home a third attempt to give WBS the 4-3 lead. Thomas has played some inspired, full-effort hockey since his bronze medal Olympics, and I truly hope he doesn’t see the press box at all again this season.

The line of Teddy Blueger, Tom Kostopoulos, and Thomas DiPauli electrified around 4 minutes later, as on a 3 on 2 rush, Blueger dished softly to Kostopoulos across the blue line, then the captain rifled a hard pass across center ice to DiPauli, who fired it first time past the moving Copley to extend the lead to 5-3.

At 10:14 of the third, Siegenthaler brought Hershey back to within 1 as, following a full extension keep-in at the blue line, he lost his footing as he skated in from the blue line for an attempt. Siegenthaler found his feet again in a prime scoring position, and when the puck found his stick, he wired his second of the night to the top of the net.

Despite the Bears’ exhaustive efforts, WBS was able to force a turnover in their defensive zone with less than 5 minutes to go, break away on a 2 on 1, and have Cramarossa center beautifully to Teddy Blueger for his 17th of the season. DiPauli had at least one good attempt at an empty Hershey net in the final minutes but was unable to finish the hat trick, but no matter...WBS 6, Hershey 4 is the final.

Marcoux finished with 17 saves on 19 shots in relief for his first victory for WBS on the season. Copley ended with 26 saves on 32 shots.

The line of Blueger, TK, and DiPauli swept the stars. Blueger took third, with a goal and an assist; Tom Kostopoulos took second, with three assists; DiPauli took top honors with two goals.

STANDINGS (through the games of March 18, as abstracted from theahl.com)

  • Atlantic Division: 1) Lehigh Valley 42-16-8, .697; 2) WBS 37-19-6, .645; 3) Providence 38-21-5, .633; 4) Charlotte 37-26-3, .583; 5) Bridgeport 31-25-8, .547; 6) Hartford 29-29-8, .500; 7) Hershey 27-30-9, .477; 8) Springfield 28-31-6, .477
  • North Division: 1) Toronto 44-17-2, .714 (clinched playoffs); 2) Syracuse 39-19-7, .654 (clinched playoffs); 3) Rochester 30-19-16, .585; 4) Utica 31-23-10, .563; 5) Laval 24-33-8, .431; 6) Belleville 24-36-5, .408; 7) Binghamton 21-33-10, .406
  • Central Division: 1) Manitoba 37-18-8, .651; 2) Chicago 34-20-9, .611; 3) Iowa 30-19-14, .587; 4) Grand Rapids 33-24-7, .570; 5) Rockford 32-24-8, .563; 6) Milwaukee 32-27-5, .539; 7) Cleveland 21-33-8, .403
  • Pacific Division: 1) Tucson 34-18-5, .640; 2) Ontario 32-20-6, .603; 3) San Diego 32-21-4, .596; 4) Texas 33-22-10, .585; 5) Stockton 29-22-6, .561; 6) San Antonio 30-25-10, .538; 7) San Jose 26-23-7, .527; 8) Bakersfield 25-22-10, .526

STATISTICS (through the games of March 18, as abstracted from theahl.com)

  • GOALS: Daniel Sprong - 22 (T-2nd among AHL rookies, T-15th in AHL); Teddy Blueger - 17; Ryan Haggerty - 16; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Garrett Wilson, Christian Thomas - 13; Thomas DiPauli - 12; Gage Quinney - 11; Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson - 9 (Aston-Reese on recall to Pittsburgh and injured)
  • ASSISTS: Daniel Sprong, Jean-Sebastien Dea - 25 (Sprong T-5th among AHL rookies); Kevin Czuczman - 24; Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger - 20; Adam Johnson, Garrett Wilson - 16; Ryan Haggerty, Gage Quinney - 15; Dominik Simon, Frank Corrado - 13 (Simon on recall to Pittsburgh, Corrado out for the season)
  • POINTS: Daniel Sprong - 47 (3rd among AHL rookies); Jean-Sebastien Dea - 38; Teddy Blueger - 37; Ryan Haggerty - 31; Garrett Wilson, Zach Aston-Reese - 29; Kevin Czuczman - 28; Gage Quinney - 26; Christian Thomas, Adam Johnson - 25
  • GOALIES (currently active): Anthony Peters 10-7-3, 2.78 GAA, .902 save percentage, one shutout; Etienne Marcoux 1-1-0, 2.10 GAA, .900 save percentage with WBS
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: Power play 13.0%, worst in AHL, 11 shorthanded goals allowed (tied for worst in AHL with Milwaukee and Providence); penalty kill 82.7%, T-18th in AHL, 8 shorthanded goals forced (T-12th in AHL with Stockton)

MAGIC NUMBER

WBS’s magic number was slashed by 8 this week, as WBS’s two victories on the week were paired with two regulation losses by Bridgeport, 3-2 to Hershey on Friday and 4-1 to Providence on Sunday. The magic number to clinch the playoffs is now 15 with 14 games to go.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Things were looking bleak as to whether or not there would even be a player of the week this week through the first period against Hershey. But then, the line of Blueger, Kostopoulos, and DiPauli woke up in the second period and accounted for three goals and five assists to fuel the WBS comeback on Sunday. So let’s take Blueger’s goal and two assists from Sunday, pair it with his two goals on Tuesday in Charlotte, and call Teddy the player of the week this week.

THE WEEK AHEAD

I still don’t yet know what to make of this team. I’ve seen the very best of them this week, and I’ve seen the very worst of them this week. How they are 2nd in their division, 4th in the conference, and 5th in the AHL despite having the league’s worst PP is beyond me.

They’ll have a prime opportunity this week to show me who they are, though, as they open the week by heading up to the North Division leaders, the Toronto Marlies, on Tuesday, March 20, at 7:00 pm EDT. WBS then contests a three-in-three over the weekend, with games in Utica on Friday, March 23, at 7:00 pm EDT; in Binghamton on Saturday, March 24, at 7:05 pm EDT; and home to Bridgeport on Sunday, March 25, at 3:05 pm EDT.