Over the course of the week, with junior and collegiate seasons ending, various draft picks and free agents are starting to sign with professional teams. The Pittsburgh/WBS organization was no different, as over the course of this week the Penguins signed Dane Birks to a two-year ELC starting next season plus an ATO for WBS this season, as well as Alex D’Orio, Jan Drozg, and Niclas Almari to ATOs for WBS this season. I don’t anticipate any of these four playing regularly during the conclusion of the season or the playoffs, but it’ll be nice for each to be around a true professional environment.
March 28: Providence 2 @ WBS 5
Starting Gs:#WBSPens - Tristan Jarry— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 28, 2018
(6-3-2, 3.15 AA, .900 sv%)
PRO - Zane McIntyre
(23-13-4, 2.49 GAA, .914 sv%,
Expected #WBSPens Lines— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 28, 2018
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 28, 2018
What better way to start the week than a midweek engagement against your likely first-round opponent, right?
After Jakub Zboril scored an unassisted power play goal late in the first to put Providence ahead 1-0 after 1, Daniel Sprong caught fire early in the second with his 25th and 26th goals of the season. Joseph Cramarossa, a true revelation since joining WBS, chipped in with his 9th of the season at 6:05 of the second, WBS’s third goal within 4:09, to put WBS ahead 3-1.
While Anton Bildh brought the Bruins back to 3-2 at 8:54 of the second, that was as close as they could get, as Teddy Blueger scored his 18th of the year at 10:03 of the third, then Jarred Tinordi finished the scoring with an empty netter 19 seconds from full time to give WBS a strong, convincing 5-2 victory.
Tristan Jarry ended with 27 saves for the win, while noted Penguins stopper Zane McIntyre stopped 27 of 31 shots in the losing effort. Joseph Cramarossa, Garrett Wilson (one assist), and Daniel Sprong swept the stars for WBS, but the Penguins did not escape this game unscathed, as defender Andrey Pedan was suspended two games as result of an interference incident on Providence’s Peter Cehlarik.
March 30: WBS 4 @ Hartford 3 (OT)
Starting Gs:#WBSPens - Michael Leighton— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 30, 2018
(7-4-4, 3.08 GAA, .879 sv%, 1 SO)
HFD - Alexandar Georgiev
(13-11-6, 2.96 GAA, .908 sv%,
Expected #WBSPens Lines— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 30, 2018
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 30, 2018
Friday’s game in Hartford was a reversal of fortunes at first from Wednesday’s game. WBS took the lead in this one through Christian Thomas’s 14th of the year at 9:16 of the first.
On this night, though, it was Hartford, fighting on the fringes of the playoff hunt, taking 3 straight goals in the 2nd to roar out to a 3-1 lead.
Unlike Wednesday, though, the Cardiac Penguins were able to concoct a comeback, with Zach Trotman scoring his 5th of the year at 16:53 of the second...
...then Thomas scoring his 2nd of the night and 15th of the year at 6:25 of the third to bring the Penguins level.
WBS was not able to close the deal in regular time despite an Adam Johnson penalty shot, and they had to survive a penalty kill in overtime after taking a bench minor for too many Penguins with just 5 seconds left in regulation. They survived it, though, and just 40 seconds before the shootout...
Great time for his 27th of the year, really, to clinch WBS’s 13th straight season with 40 wins, the active AHL record.
Goaltender Michael Leighton, playing his first game against someone other than Binghamton, ended with 30 saves on 33 shots for the win, while his counterpart Alexandar Georgiev saved 43 of 47 shots in the overtime loss. Even though Christian Thomas ended with two goals and an assist, all he could get was third star. Hartford’s Scott Kosmachuk scored a goal and an assist for second star, while Daniel Sprong stole top honors with the game-winner.
March 31: Providence 3 @ WBS 1
Starting Gs:#WBSPens - Tristan Jarry— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 31, 2018
(7-3-2, 3.06 GAA, .903 sv%)
PRO - Jordan Binnington
(15-8-1, 1.98 GAA, .928 sv%,
Expected #WBSPens Lines— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 31, 2018
Expected #WBSPens D-Pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) March 31, 2018
The return game to close out the week and season series between the Bruins and Penguins was a complete 180 from the game on Wednesday, with former Penguin Adam Payerl depositing a close range rebound into a wide-open net to open the scoring at 14:06, then Trent Frederic firing home his 2nd of the season to expand the lead to 2-0 just seconds after WBS failed to complete a defensive zone takeaway.
Jean-Sebastien Dea responded quickly with his 16th of the year to bring WBS back to 2-1, but that’s all they could do despite a total of 35 shots on goal. Whatever momentum the Penguins had left in the third was deflated when Daniel Sprong took a tripping penalty just after WBS forced a defensive zone turnover and started a breakout. Just 36 seconds into the power play, Jordan Szwarz finished a beautiful passing play from Austin Czarnik (his 41st assist of the season) and Tommy Cross to expand the lead to 3-1, which is where the game ended.
Tristan Jarry ended with 24 saves on 27 shots. Jordan Binnington ended with 34 saves on 35 shots for the win and second star. Dea took third star with his goal. Payerl took top honors with his goal and an assist.
Between WBS’s four points earned during the week and Bridgeport dropping a surprising decision on Friday to last-place Springfield 5-0, WBS chopped six off their magic number to sit a scant 3 points away from clinching their 16th straight playoff berth as the calendar finally flips to April.
So why do I feel so undecided and nervous about this team? Is it that, against the same team, they could go from a 5-2 win to a 3-1 loss within 72 hours? Is it the abhorrent power play, looking particularly hapless in 5 attempts against the Bruins on Saturday and continuing to flounder at the bottom of the league? Is it that once again, they are at less than their full capacity with Zach Aston-Reese, Josh Jooris, and Dominik Simon on the big club’s roster?
Maybe it’s a little bit of both, but this particular 40-win season seems very underwhelming, very ordinary compared to prior seasons.
We’ll just have to see what April brings, but time is running short to make an impression.
STANDINGS (through the games of March 31, as compiled from theahl.com)
- Atlantic Division: 1) Lehigh Valley 44-17-9, .693 (clinched playoffs); 2) WBS 40-21-8, .638; 3) Providence 41-23-5, .630; 4) Charlotte 40-26-4, .600; 5) Bridgeport 34-27-8, .551; 6) Hartford 31-31-9, .500; 7) Hershey 29-33-9, .472; 8) Springfield 29-34-7, .464
- North Division: 1) Toronto 50-18-2, .729 (clinched playoffs); 2) Syracuse 43-20-7, .664 (clinched playoffs); 3) Rochester 33-20-17, .593 (clinched playoffs); 4) Utica 36-24-10, .586 (clinched playoffs); 5) Binghamton 23-36-11, .407; 6) Belleville 26-39-5, .407; 7) Laval 24-38-9, .401
- Central Division: 1) Chicago 38-21-10, .623; 2) Manitoba 39-24-8, .606; 3) Grand Rapids 39-24-8, .606; 4) Rockford 37-25-8, .586; 5) Milwaukee 35-29-5, .543; 6) Iowa 30-25-15, .536; 7) Cleveland 22-37-10, .391
- Pacific Division: 1) Tucson 38-19-6, .651 (clinched playoffs); 2) Ontario 35-21-6, .613; 3) San Diego 35-23-4, .597; 4) Texas 35-24-11, .579; 5) Stockton 31-25-6, .548; 6) San Antonio 33-27-10, .543; 7) Bakersfield 28-24-10, .532; 8) San Jose 28-26-8, .516
STATISTICS (through the games of March 31, as compiled from theahl.com)
- GOALS: Daniel Sprong - 27 (T-8th in AHL, leads all AHL rookies); Teddy Blueger - 18; Jean-Sebastien Dea, Ryan Haggerty - 16; Garrett Wilson, Christian Thomas - 15; Gage Quinney (injured), Thomas DiPauli (also injured) - 12; Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson, Andrey Pedan, Joseph Cramarossa - 9
- ASSISTS: Jean-Sebastien Dea - 29; Daniel Sprong - 28 (T-4th among AHL rookies); Kevin Czuczman - 27 (11th in AHL among defenders); Teddy Blueger - 22; Garrett Wilson - 21; Zach Aston-Reese, Ryan Haggerty - 20; Adam Johnson - 18; Gage Quinney - 16; Christian Thomas - 14
- POINTS: Daniel Sprong - 55 (T-13th in AHL, 2nd among AHL rookies); Jean-Sebastien Dea - 45; Teddy Blueger - 40; Ryan Haggerty, Garrett Wilson - 36; Kevin Czuczman - 30; Christian Thomas, Zach Aston-Reese - 29; Gage Quinney - 28; Adam Johnson - 27
- GOALIES (active on roster): Tristan Jarry 7-4-2, 3.06 GAA, .902 save percentage; Michael Leighton 4-0-0, 2.79 GAA, .910 save percentage with WBS; Anthony Peters 10-7-3, 2.78 GAA, .902 save percentage, one shutout
- SPECIAL TEAMS (why): Power play 12.7% (30th in AHL), 11 shorthanded goals allowed; penalty kill 82.0%, 21st in AHL, 8 shorthanded goals forced
REMAINDER OF SEASON
Seven games to go:
Tuesday, April 3 vs. Hershey, 7:05 pm EDT
Friday, April 6 vs. Bridgeport, 7:05 pm EDT
Saturday, April 7 vs Binghamton, 7:05 pm EDT
Sunday, April 8 at Bridgeport, 3:00 pm EDT
Friday, April 13 at Springfield, 7:05 pm EDT
Saturday, April 14 at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 pm EDT
Sunday, April 15 at Hershey, 5:00 pm EDT
Three points to clinch the playoffs. Providence can max out at 101 points. WBS can max out at 102. It’s going to be a race to the finish to determine home ice in round 1.