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WBS Weekly: Splitting with the Checkers, Update On Team’s Future

WBS splits their annual visit to Charlotte with the league leaders, plus an update on the future.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Before we get into the recap of the week’s activities for the WBS Penguins, I feel compelled to share the following with you.

You may remember my update just before Christmas sharing the experiences of my Pittsburgh trip and the conclusions I drew from them, particularly as they relate to the future of the WBS Penguins. I would like to share with you now some updates from the WBS side of things, as reported by the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader’s Tom Venesky on Tuesday, January 8 (bolded emphasis is mine):

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CEO Jeff Barrett said talks between the Pittsburgh organization and the Luzerne County Convention Center Authority to keep the team at the Mohegan Sun Arena are taking place daily. The current contract between Pittsburgh and the authority expires on June 30 of this year.

Barrett said the priority is to keep the team in Wilkes-Barre as long as it’s financial feasible for all sides.

“We’re working with the arena authority to look at all the options for both us. We’re trying to negotiate a deal that works for both sides. I’m cautiously optimistic something could happen,” Barrett said, adding a decision will be reached before the end of the season.

Frankly, these were things I as a half-season ticket holder needed to hear based on what I saw and heard out of Pittsburgh last month. Regardless of whether or not these things were said of a perfunctory nature or if they reflect actual thoughts, feelings, and progress, to have the CEO of the WBS Penguins come out and say that the priority is to stay in WBS, finances pending, is comforting.

It is also encouraging to hear the CEO say that this will be settled before season’s end, because to be completely blunt, it would be disingenuous on the part of the WBS Penguins to ask for renewals of season ticket memberships from its fanbase for next season before a decision on the future is taken and announced. You better tell me whether or not there will be a team in Northeastern Pennsylvania next season before you ask me for my money.

Full credit and thanks to Tom for getting this information and sharing it.

Now...on with the games.

Friday, January 11: WBS 5 @ Charlotte 1

As I said last week, two games at the league leaders was probably the worst possible way for WBS to open the second half of its schedule, but the Penguins responded with possibly the most complete 60 minutes they’ve played this season to run the Checkers out of their own building on Friday by a 5-1 score. Jarrett Burton, Linus Olund (shorthanded), and Anthony Angello all scored in the first period against Charlotte starting goaltender Scott Darling, who was removed from the game after Angello’s goal at 16:27 of the first after saving just 9 of 12 shots. His replacement, Charlotte’s unquestioned top choice Alex Nedeljkovic, stopped 18 of 20 shots in relief, allowing Teddy Blueger’s 17th of the season 39 seconds into the second period and Jean-Sebastien Dea’s power play goal, his 4th of the year, at 14:02 of the third.

On the flip side, Charlotte managed 29 shots on Tristan Jarry, but Jarry stood up to the challenge and stopped 28 of those shots, allowing only Andrew Poturalski’s 16th of the season at 11:01 of the second period to beat him. The WBS power play converted on one of its 6 opportunities, while the penalty kill repelled all four of Charlotte’s power plays.

Angello added an assist to Blueger’s goal to earn third star honors. Jarry’s 28 saves on 29 shots earned him second star honors. Blueger added an assist to Angello’s goal to earn top honors.

Saturday, January 12: WBS 3 @ Charlotte 5

True to their standing as the league’s best team, Charlotte did not take the pounding they got on Friday lightly, as they flipped the tables on WBS during the Saturday rematch by scoring 3 goals within the first 8:18 of the game through Julien Gauthier, Morgan Geekie, and Zach Nastasiuk (power play).

This is a resilient batch of Penguins, though. WBS crawled back to 3-2 in the second period as Cameron Brown scored his very first goal for the WBS Penguins at 12:40 of the second, then Ethan Prow continued his All-Star-worthy campaign by firing home his 11th goal of the season on a power play at 15:52.

WBS could get no closer, though, as Nicolas Roy scored his 12th of the season at 18:27 to restore the two-goal lead. WBS scratched back to within one again through Jeff Taylor’s 2nd of the year at 12:40 of the third, but once again Roy expanded the lead to two with an empty-netter at 18:37 of the third, and that’s how it ended.

Alex Nedeljkovic, getting the start in this rematch, stopped 32 of 35 shots to take the win, his 18th of the year to lead all AHL goaltenders. Jarry finished with 22 saves on 26 shots in the losing effort. The WBS power play converted on one of its five opportunities, while its penalty kill stopped 5 of 6 Charlotte advantages.

Charlotte took all 3 stars, with Nastasiuk third (one goal), Roy second (two goals, one assist), and Gauthier first (one goal, two assists).

The split in Charlotte leaves WBS with a record of 19-16-4-1, good for 43 points and a points percentage of 53.8% after 40 games. Teddy Blueger continues to lead WBS with 31 points through 40 games, as well as leading in goals with 17, a total that ranks Blueger tied for 10th in the AHL. Trailing Blueger is Ethan Prow, with 11 goals and 16 assists in 39 games; Prow is second in the AHL in goals among defenders, and he ranks fifth in the AHL in points among defenders. Next on the list is rookie Sam Lafferty, with 19 assists and 24 points in 40 games. Adam Johnson ranks fourth with 9 goals and 13 assists in 40 games, despite a recent dry spell that has seen Johnson come up empty on several excellent scoring chances. Rookie Anthony Angello is fifth on the team with 21 points in 38 games, but his 12 goals rank second on the team and ties for fifth among the AHL’s rookies.

Between the pipes, Tristan Jarry holds a record of 11-7-3 through 21 appearances, with a 2.77 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Anthony Peters’s stats remain unchanged with no appearances this past week: 6-7-2, 3.19 GAA, .892 save percentage.

The power play has converted on 16.6% of its opportunities, ranking 23rd in the AHL; the penalty kill has improved to 79.9%, also 23rd in the AHL.

Full division standings through the games of January 13 are as follows:

  1. Charlotte Checkers: 28-9-3-0, 59 points, .738 through 40 games (only AHL team above .700, leading league)
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 22-12-4-2, 50 points, .625 through 40 games
  3. Springfield Thunderbirds: 18-13-5-3, 44 points, .564 through 39 games (when sorted by percentage, Springfield would be fourth)
  4. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 20-15-1-2, 43 points, .566 through 38 games (when sorted by percentage, Lehigh Valley would be third)
  5. WBS Penguins: 19-16-4-1, 43 points, .538 through 40 games (loses regulation or overtime wins tiebreaker to LV 19-15, putting WBS in fifth)
  6. Providence Bruins: 18-16-6-0, 42 points, .525 through 40 games
  7. Hartford Wolf Pack: 18-17-2-2, 40 points, .513 through 39 games
  8. Hershey Bears: 17-20-0-2, 36 points, .462 through 39 games

It’s become an awfully tight race around the playoff line, with only four points separating third place from seventh, and WBS is right in the thick of it, but currently just on the outside.

WBS gets this week to recover and recuperate as much as it can before it launches into a stretch of four games in the span of six days, starting Friday, January 18 when the Rochester Americans come to town at 7:05 pm. The next night, Saturday, January 19, Hershey comes in for a 7:05 pm start. Following that is a very rare Monday game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21, at an even more rare 1:05 pm start time, against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Closing this stretch of four games in six days is a 10:30 am game on Wednesday, January 23, against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Lastly of note: On Sunday, January 13, WBS announced the signing of two Wheeling players to AHL contracts for the rest of this season. Yushiroh Hirano ranks seventh on Wheeling with 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) as of his signing, while Cedric Lacroix leads Wheeling with 108 penalty minutes. Should Hirano be called up to WBS, he would be the very first player of Japanese descent to suit up for WBS in its 20-year history and, according to The Score, only the second in AHL history, behind former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji. Coach Clark Donatelli made note of Hirano and his impressive slap shot during WBS training camp back in September, telling Tyler Piccotti of the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice:

“When you tell him something, he does it...You tell him to go to the line, he goes to the line and doesn’t cheat. You could see he’s from a disciplined environment. He just works hard.”

I’d love to see it happen.