In the shadow of looming uncertainty regarding the future of the WBS Penguins, fans were greeted this past Friday night by one fan standing outside the ticket booths with a handwritten sign saying simply:
Friday, January 18: Rochester 5 @ WBS 4
Pay no attention to the return of Zach Trotman to the lineup, as originally reported by the team during warmups. As it turned out, Trotman was not quite ready to return for this weekend’s games, so with Chris Summers still out and Will O’Neill also out, Jeff Taylor took Trotman’s place on defense.
WBS started its four-game-in-six-day stretch with the only visit by the Rochester Americans of the season and the return of former Penguins Scott Wilson and Kevin Porter. WBS came out of the gates well enough, with Anthony Angello scoring his 13th of the season at 3:29 of the first.
Rochester equalized quickly, however, as the league leader in goals by a defender, Zach Redmond, scored his 17th of the year just 1:13 after Angello opened the scoring. WBS came right back at 9:46 of the first through Jimmy Hayes and his 5th of the year.
WBS saw the 2-1 lead through to the first intermission, but they could not sustain their momentum following the break, as Rochester completely took over the game starting in the 2nd period. Goals by Danny O’Regan at 7:48 of the second and Redmond on the power play at 12:28 of the second put Rochester ahead 3-2. It was only the stellar efforts of Adam Johnson, who finally broke his goal-scoring drought at 14:27 of the second with an outstanding individual effort, that leveled the proceedings after 40 minutes.
Despite the tweet text, the goal was 4 on 4, not shorthanded.
Rochester did not concede the momentum in the third period, getting two goals from Victor Olofsson, his 12th and 13th of the season, to take a 5-3 lead. WBS managed to claw back to 5-4 through Angello’s 2nd of the night and 14th of the season, but they could do no more.
In addition to the loss, the already-depleted WBS blue line suffered two more losses as Jeff Taylor and Matt Abt picked up separate injuries. Both missed Saturday’s game, with Abt being characterized as “day to day” and Taylor “week to week”. Also injured was Sam Lafferty, also characterized as “week to week”.
Starting goaltender Tristan Jarry stopped 33 of 38 Rochester shots in the losing effort, while his counterpart Scott Wedgewood stopped 19 of 23 in the winning effort. Angello managed to get third star honors with his two gaols, while Olofsson took second star with his two goals and Redmond top honors with his two goals and two assists.
#WBSPens Postgame Video : The Penguins get a pair of goals from @Anthony_Angello and tallies from Adam Johnson and @Jimmy10Hayes, but fall to the @AmerksHockey 5-4 on Friday night. pic.twitter.com/K3IenunVfS— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 19, 2019
Saturday, January 19: Hershey 5 @ WBS 3
Now down 5 defenders to injury (Summers, Trotman, O’Neill, Taylor, and Abt), WBS signed Wheeling’s Dan Fick to a PTO on Saturday afternoon and inserted him directly into the starting lineup against Hershey.
Out of respect for an incoming snowstorm that necessitated a shutdown of Pennsylvania’s major highways to commercial vehicles that was being thoroughly ignored as I traveled to the arena on Saturday, the Penguins moved up the start time of Saturday’s game to 3:05 pm, while also allowing fans who could not attend the game to exchange their tickets. For those who did attend the game, starting at the 3rd period the Penguins handed out vouchers to the departing fans redeemable for a ticket to either the Wednesday, March 6 home game versus Lehigh Valley or the Wednesday, March 27 home game versus Providence.
In the presence of uncertain weather, the Penguins did the best job they could to put on the game. Unfortunately, the team did not reciprocate against the Atlantic Division’s bottom-place team, conceding three power play goals and a shorthanded goal to fall 5-3 to Hershey.
For Hershey, Mike Sgarbossa, Jayson Megna, and Riley Barber scored the power play goals, while Megna also added the shorthanded goal with 3:58 to play in the third that sent fans scrambling for the exits a bit early (including me). Shane Gersich scored the Bears’ only even-strength goal at 17:26 of the first to extend a Hershey lead to 2-0 in the first period.
The WBS power play finished 2 for 8 on the afternoon, getting conversions from Adam Johnson in the 2nd period and Teddy Blueger in the third. Johnson added a second goal with 1:34 to play to make the final margin 2 goals, a goal that I missed entirely except for hearing the goal horn in the parking lot.
Anthony Peters took the start in net for WBS and finished with 25 saves on 30 shots in the losing effort. His counterpart for Hershey was Ilya Samsonov, who finished with 22 saves on 25 shots for the victory. Adam Johnson took third star for his pair of goals, ending with 3 in 24 hours after going for so many games without one despite several grade-A chances; Mike Sgarbossa added two assists to his goal for second star; former Penguin Jayson Megna took top honors with his two goals and an assist.
The two losses in 24 hours, combined with other results, dropped WBS to sixth in the Atlantic Division with a record of 19-18-4-1, 43 points, and a points percentage of .512. The power play hums along at a conversion percentage of 16.7%, 23rd in the AHL, with four shorthanded goals allowed; the penalty kill, after getting so close to 80% on the season last week, regressed slightly to 78.8%, 26th in the AHL, with 5 shorthanded goals forced.
Teddy Blueger continues to lead WBS in goals (18, T-9th in AHL) and points (34), with Ethan Prow still close behind with 11 goals (T-2nd among AHL defenders) and 29 points (T-5th among AHL defenders). Adam Johnson climbed to third with his 3-goal weekend, closing with 12 goals and 13 assists, while rookies Anthony Angello and Sam Lafferty tied for fourth with 24 points each (Angello 14 goals, Lafferty 19 assists). Not to be overlooked is Jean-Sebastien Dea, who since his return to WBS has been a point per game player with 4 goals and 11 assists in his 15 games.
Tristan Jarry ends the week with a record of 11-8-3, a GAA of 2.88, and a save percentage of .908. Anthony Peters ends the week at 6-8-2, 3.31 GAA, and .888 save percentage.
The Atlantic Standings at Week’s End:
- Charlotte Checkers: 30-10-4-0, 64 points, .727 points percentage (leads AHL)
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 23-14-4-2, 52 points, .605
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 22-15-2-2, 48 points, .585
- Springfield Thunderbirds: 19-14-5-4, 47 points, .560
- Providence Bruins: 19-16-6-1, 45 points, .536
- WBS Penguins: 19-18-4-1, 43 points, .512
- Hartford Wolf Pack: 19-18-2-2, 42 points, .512
- Hershey Bears: 19-20-0-2, 40 points, .488
The Penguins will play three games this upcoming week, beginning today, Martin Luther King Day, as they host the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for a 1:05 pm start. Whereas gates usually open one hour before game start, on Monday doors open two hours before the game starts. In order to support federal employees affected by the partial shutdown of the government, WBS had been collecting canned goods for employees of the WBS International Airport prior to the two games this weekend, and they will do so again today. Furthermore, announced yesterday, all federal employees showing government ID to the team offices before 11 am today or at the arena box office before game start today will be admitted to the game for free.
WBS then hits the icy roads for two road games this week heading into the All-Star festivities, as they head up to Bridgeport for a school day game with the Sound Tigers on Wednesday, January 23, at 10:30 am EST, then head up to Binghamton on Saturday night, January 26, for a 7:05 pm engagement with the Devils.
WBS looks to be bolstered a bit at forward going into this week, as the newly acquired Joseph Blandisi (coming in from Anaheim in exchange for Derek Grant) was sent to WBS on Sunday. That said, I am not particularly encouraged by how the middle of this season has been going for WBS. In fact, I am starting to face the very real possibility that this team, talented as they are on the forward lines, might be looking at missing the playoffs.
Injuries take a toll, for sure, especially when you have almost an entire defensive group unavailable to you, but the team on the other side doesn’t particularly care who you put out against them; they’re going to want to beat you all the same. Whoever goes into the lineup on any given day has to be ready and motivated to play their best.
I really want to see more of that as we hit the unofficial second half of the season post-All Stars. I could see this team going either way...catching a hot streak and flying into the playoffs, or continuing to flounder around and find themselves on the wrong side of the cutoff in April.