Wednesday, October 23: WBS 1 @ Binghamton 4
Here are your line combos, defensive pairings and goaltenders for tonight's game against the @BingDevils pic.twitter.com/ho1ykoaK8z— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 23, 2019
The WBS Penguins had a rough start to the week before it even began, as they learned that they would be without forward Kasper Bjorkqvist for a time due to injury, as well as defensive prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph due to mono. To compensate, WBS recalled defender Macoy Erkamps from Wheeling, though he did not feature in Wednesday’s game at Binghamton.
Just like they did in their previous meeting this season, and just like they had done in each of the previous six games, WBS conceded the first goal on Wednesday night to the Binghamton Devils, this time to Brett Seney, who was able to slam home a second chance on Casey DeSmith 39 seconds into the game after an initial shot was saved. Unlike their meeting at the Mohegan Sun Arena on October 16, where WBS was able to turn the early deficit into a 5-3 victory, WBS could not turn this around into a win, as the Devils tacked on 3 more goals and conceded only Andrew Agozzino’s 2nd of the season at 4:42 of the third to clinch their first win against WBS since moving from Albany to Binghamton.
DeSmith finished the game with 22 saves on 25 shots in the losing effort, while Binghamton’s Gilles Senn stopped 20 of 21 WBS shots for the win, his first of the season.
Friday, October 25: San Antonio 5 @ WBS 3
Here are your #WBSPens line combos, defensive pairings, and goaltenders for tonight's tilt against the #SanAntonioRampage pic.twitter.com/sKg7mesDFv— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 25, 2019
In order to further shore up the defense, the WBS Penguins once again reached into their past, signing former defender Reid McNeil to a PTO on Friday. McNeil did not factor into the lineup on Friday, but callup Macoy Erkamps did, and he acquitted himself extremely well, recording two assists. In other roster moves, the trade of Erik Gudbranson to Anaheim brought forward Andreas Martinsen to the Penguins organization, and Martinsen was promptly assigned to WBS. Also, defender Zach Trotman, who had previously been assigned to WBS on conditioning, was formally waived on Friday, cleared waivers Saturday, and was also assigned to WBS on Saturday.
Finally, you’ll notice in the above defense pairings the absence of Kevin Czuczman; during the game in Binghamton, he took a clear-in attempt off his face, and he was absent the rest of the weekend due to this.
In town this weekend were the top affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, the San Antonio Rampage, visiting northeastern Pennsylvania for the first time in over a decade. (No, Gloria was not played once in two nights.) On display this weekend was the first stage of the upgrades to the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza agreed to as part of the lease extension, as the new ribbon board was debuted.
WBS opened the weekend by doing something they had not done yet this season by scoring first, as the white-hot Stefan Noesen deked through the Rampage defense and scored his 7th of the season at 3:14 of the first.
#WBSPens Goal Video - @stefannoesen dangles three defenders for his seventh goal of the season pic.twitter.com/85QZeA9huG— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 25, 2019
Joseph Cramarossa followed it up with his 1st of the season at 7:48 of the first.
It’s @Cramberry92 with the tally to make it 2-0 pic.twitter.com/45tIJOyNTV— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 25, 2019
After former Hershey Bear Nathan Walker cut the lead to 1 at 9:22 of the first with his 5th of the year, Agozzino responded with his 3rd of the year at 11:08 to put WBS up 2.
That’s three goals on the season for @aggz09 pic.twitter.com/DFFXokTesT— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 25, 2019
The first 15 minutes against San Antonio on Friday were possibly the strongest opening 15 minutes of the season for WBS, but unfortunately they were not able to sustain the momentum, as the Rampage scored the game’s last four goals, including three on power plays, to storm ahead and take a 5-3 win. Walker added a second goal, St. Louis Blues first round pick Klim Kostin (the guy drafted in the spot previously owned by the Penguins, which they sent away during the 2017 draft along with Oskar Sundqvist to get Ryan Reaves) scored his first of the season, and Mitch Reinke and Nick Lappin closed out the scoring.
The weak penalty kill was a mark of frustration for coach Mike Vellucci afterwards:
Vellucci was pretty blunt afterward: "Out penalty kill stinks. We were on our heels. We showed (our guys) what they were going to do, and they did it and we didn't pay attention. That's the frustrating part of it."— Tyler Piccotti (@CVPiccotti) October 26, 2019
Starting goalie Emil Larmi saved 25 of 29 shots before departing after the second period; postgame reports attributed the departure to illness rather than performance. DeSmith came in for the third period and stopped 5 of 6 shots. For the Rampage, their goalie Ville Husso settled down after a rough first period and stopped 22 of 25 shots for the win.
Saturday, October 26: San Antonio 4 @ WBS 5 (OT)
Here's a look at the line combos, defensive pairings, and goaltenders for tonight's game against the @sarampage pic.twitter.com/q7N8G3JtrG— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 26, 2019
Yup. Take a closer look at the roster for Saturday’s rematch, and you’ll see Sebastien Caron as the backup. Caron, at age 39, was signed to a PTO two hours before the game, with Larmi’s illness serious enough to keep him out of uniform and WBS’s top free agent acquisition this offseason Dustin Tokarski still not ready to play. It was revealed after the game on Saturday that Tokarski was suffering from concussion symptoms and had not yet been cleared for activities.
As they did the night before, WBS opened the scoring once again, this time through Ryan Haggerty as he finished a sweet centering pass from Joseph Cramarossa, who had done extremely well to hold possession during a line change.
A great play by @Cramberry92 to set up Ryan Haggerty for his first goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/rTssUrELys— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 26, 2019
San Antonio was in a great position to respond, though, as the officials granted the Rampage five consecutive power plays in the first period. The Rampage converted on two of those, with Lappin and Walker scoring again, to give San Antonio a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
In the second period, the white-hot Stefan Noesen continued his torrid start, scoring his 8th and 9th goals of the season to put WBS ahead 3-2. Rampage forward Mike Vecchione, formerly of Lehigh Valley during the last two seasons, scored his 3rd and 4th goals of the season to put San Antonio ahead 4-3 early in the third.
WBS punched back, as with Walker in the box for slashing, Jordy Bellerive picked a fine time to open his AHL account.
Here’s a look at the first AHL goal for @jordybellerive pic.twitter.com/J1txU9Erqk— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 27, 2019
The third period finished 4-4, despite WBS getting a 5 on 3 in the third period, and in overtime, the birthday-celebrating Joseph Cramarossa finished off a brilliant 3-player overtime play to give WBS the extra point.
Here’s the OT winner from @Cramberry92 pic.twitter.com/oBwPaJcvtt— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) October 27, 2019
This is an outstanding full-ice view of the goal, as it was 100% Jon Lizotte’s breakout pass that sprung Sam Miletic and Cramarossa on that 2 on 0 in overtime, and Cramarossa did very well to finish for the win.
Casey DeSmith finished with 31 saves on 35 shots for the win, while Adam Wilcox stopped 28 of 33 shots in the losing effort.
The Stat Board
Now that we are one full month into the 2019-2020 AHL season, I feel it’s a good time to start taking a look at the big picture, to see where WBS finds itself in comparison to its Atlantic Division counterparts and the AHL at large. Full Atlantic Division standings through the games of October 27 are as follows, sorted by points:
- Hartford Wolf Pack: 9 games played, 8-0-1, 17 points, .944 points percentage (second only to the perfect 7-0 start of the Utica Comets in the AHL)
- Springfield Thunderbirds: 10 games played 6-4-0, 12 points, .600 points percentage
- Providence Bruins: 10 games played, 5-3-2, 12 points, .600 points percentage
- Hershey Bears: 9 games played, 4-3-2, 10 points, .556 points percentage
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 7 games played, 3-1-3, 9 points, .643 points percentage (would be second in the division if sorted by points percentage)
- WBS Penguins: 9 games played, 4-4-1, 9 points, .500 points percentage
- Charlotte Checkers: 8 games played, 4-4-0, 8 points, .500 points percentage
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 9 games played, 1-5-3, 5 points, .278 points percentage
The biggest surprise of the season thus far for WBS, for my money, has got to be Stefan Noesen. I’m in utter amazement that a player signed the day before WBS played its first game of the season would now, at the end of October, not only be leading WBS in goals and points (9 goals, 3 assists for 12 points in 9 games), but to be only one point away from the AHL scoring lead and tied with Reid Boucher of Utica for the league lead in goals. Both Noesen and Boucher trail rookie Lucas Elvenes of Chicago, who has 3 goals and 10 assists for 13 points in 8 games.
Second to Noesen on WBS is Andrew Agozzino, with 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points in 8 games following his brief promotion to and return from Pittsburgh. Third is captan David Warsofsky, with one goal and 6 assists for 7 points in 9 games. Jake Lucchini, Sam Miletic, Jon Lizotte, and Oula Palve tie for fourth with 4 points each (Lucchini 2 goals and 2 assists, Miletic 1 goal and 3 assists, Lizotte and Palve 4 assists each).
The goalies have had a rough start to the season while the team waits for Dustin Tokarski to return to full health. Casey DeSmith has a slight edge with the numbers, holding a 3-3-0 record, a 3.46 GAA, and a .880 save percentage in 7 appearances; Emil Larmi is 1-1-1 with a 4.05 GAA and a .882 save percentage in 3 appearances.
The WBS special teams is truly a tale of two sides of a coin. Coming up heads is the power play, with 8 conversions in 36 attempts (including 3 against San Antonio on Saturday) for a 22.2% percentage that ranks 8th in the AHL. Coming up tails is the penalty kill, with 12 goals allowed in 41 chances (including 6 this past week, with 5 of those at the hands of San Antonio, who now lead the AHL with a 31.7% power play conversion percentage) for a kill percentage of only 70.7%, dead last in the AHL.
Needless to say, the penalty kill has got to improve, the goaltending has got to improve, and I could stand to see some more diversity in the goal sourcing, rather than just relying on the white-hot Noesen to score everything.
November will open with WBS on the road, at Lehigh Valley on Friday, November 1 at 7:05 pm EDT, then at Springfield on Saturday, November 2 at 7:05 pm EDT.