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WBS Weekly: Penguins earn 2-0 shutout over Syracuse for second win in as many nights

Under super-bright, flashy new lights, WBS earned a 2-0 shutout over Syracuse for their second win in as many nights to close out a three-game week.

Wednesday, November 6: WBS 2 @ Lehigh Valley 4

Two matters of housekeeping before we start the recaps: During the week, Sam Miletic’s from last Saturday night at Springfield was changed to Stefan Noesen, giving Noesen 11 on the season entering the week. Also, probably on account of Patric Hornqvist’s extended absence due to injury, Sam Lafferty was recalled to Pittsburgh.

The Lafferty recall, combined with a handful of other injuries to the WBS forwards (Thomas DiPauli, Ben Sexton, Justin Almeida), put WBS short of forwards as they traveled down to Lehigh Valley to start their three-game week, so they dressed 11 forwards and 7 defenders for this showcase game simulcast on the NHL Network. WBS came out strong again to start in Allentown, as Jake Lucchini scored his 3rd of the season, unassisted, just 2:21 into the proceedings.

Unlike the previous night, though, Lehigh Valley didn’t wait until the second half of the game to respond, getting a near-immediate equalizer from Andy Welinski at 3:59 of the first.

In the second period, the roles were reversed, as Greg Carey showed off some pretty good moves to beat goalie Casey DeSmith and put Lehigh Valley up 2-1.

WBS turned right around and responded two and a half minutes later, as Ryan Haggerty scored his 2nd of the season off a sweet backhand sequence to tie the game at 2.

Lehigh Valley struck back less than 2 minutes from the end of the second period, as Kyle Criscuolo scored his 2nd for Lehigh Valley at 18:20 of the second.

Unfortunately, despite getting two power play opportunities in the third period, WBS had no further response, generating only 6 shots on goal in the final frame. Criscuolo put a bow on it at 19:35 of the third period with an empty netter, and Lehigh Valley opened the week with a 4-2 decision.

DeSmith finished with 27 saves on 30 shots for the loss, while Lehigh Valley’s J-F Berube stopped 22 saves on 24 shots for the victory. Lehigh Valley defender T.J. Brennan assisted on the Welinski and Carey goals to take third honors on the evening; Greg Carey added an assist on Criscuolo’s game-winner to his goal for second honors; Criscuolo’s pair of goals, plus a secondary assist on Welinski’s goal, were enough for top honors on the evening.

Friday, November 8: WBS 2 @ Utica 1

With Justin Almeida’s return to health, WBS were able to dress a more traditional 12 and 6 lineup, with Dustin Tokarski taking the net against a Utica side that in no way resembled the squad that ruined WBS’s home opener, with star forward Reid Boucher forced to don the street clothes of injury to accept his award for AHL Player of the Month for October in a pregame ceremony.

It didn’t seem to matter much off the face-off, as Utica’s Mitch Eliot deflected a seeing-eye puck past Tokarski with the first shot of the game to give the Comets a 1-0 lead on a power play goal.

On further review, it looks to me like WBS defender Macoy Erkamps flubbed a clearing attempt past Tokarski, but a goal’s a goal.

The score stayed 1-0 through the end of the first, all of the second, and most of the third, until Utica’s Josh Teves took a holding penalty at 13:40 of the third. It was WBS’s fourth power play of the game, and Zach Trotman picked an excellent time to convert it with his first goal of the season.

Before Utica could respond, Trotman sent another shot on net, but this time Jordy Bellerive deflected it home for his second of the year and a sudden WBS lead.

The more I look at that, the more incredulous I am that Bellerive got a stick to that puck.

That goal was enough, as WBS took advantage of a late penalty given to Zack MacEwen for running into Tokarski to run out the clock for a 2-1 win and a split of the season series with Utica. Fortunately, the officials missed WBS defender Erkamps taking a woodchopper’s hack to MacEwen’s legs, or else this game might have ended very differently.

To Tokarski’s credit, he buckled down extremely well after that unfortunate bounce to stop all 22 remaining shots Utica would put on him for his first win in a WBS uniform. Utica goalie Michael DiPietro (no relation to Rick, before you ask) ended with 29 save on 31 shots for an unlucky loss; for a long while, it looked like he was destined for a shutout before Trotman broke the ice.

Mitch Eliot took third honors for Utica with his first professional goal; Trotman took second honors for a goal and an assist; Bellerive took top honors for his game-winner.

Saturday, November 9: Syracuse 0 @ WBS 2

If you’ll remember, as part of the lease extension keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the next 10 years, a handful of arena improvements were announced. The first to be completed was locker room improvements, as those were finished in the offseason. The second was a ribbon board, which was debuted for the San Antonio homestand. The third, and the one I was the most excited about, debuted on Saturday night against Syracuse, as the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza debuted its new LED lighting system.

Here’s what the arena looked like pregame before the preseason game against Hershey, back in late September. This is under the old lighting system.

Old lights.
Photo taken by me

Here’s how the arena looked before warmups on Saturday, under the new lights.

New lights.
Picture taken by me.

The lights are more vibrant, certainly brighter, and they allow for more tricks and effects, such as circling the arena in alternating red and yellow lights, draping half the arena in red and half in blue for the national anthem, and goal effects.

WBS wasted little time in demonstrating the goal effects, as Andrew Agozzino scored his 4th goal of the year just 3:53 into the first period against the Crunch. In 13 games thus far for WBS, Agozzino has points in 9 of them, and this goal, plus an assist later, was good enough for second honors on the night.

WBS did well for themselves over the first half of the game, but the game took a scary turn at the 8:25 mark of the second, as Crunch forward Dominik Masin was given a match penalty for boarding Sam Miletic into the glass near the scorer’s table. In an attempt to “respond”, Stefan Noesen instigated a fight against Masin, taking himself out of the game for 17 minutes. Miletic didn’t play the rest of the night, and I hope he is OK, but postgame reports indicated he might have to go through concussion protocol.

WBS got insurance from Zach Trotman, who scored his second in as many nights at 12:35 of the third to clinch third star honors for himself:

The WBS defense had to hang on down the stretch, as they conceded four power plays in the third period, but Casey DeSmith played perhaps his strongest game of the season, stopping all 35 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season, top honors on the night, and a 2-0 WBS victory.

DeSmith credited the new lights in the postgame wrap-up:

The Stat Board

League standings after the games of November 10 (sorted by points)

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack: 15 games played, 10-1-4, 24 points, .800 points percentage
  2. Providence Bruins: 15 games played, 8-5-2, 18 points, .600 points percentage
  3. Springfield Thunderbirds: 15 games played, 9-6-0, 18 points, .600 points percentage
  4. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 13 games played, 6-2-5, 17 points, .654 points percentage
  5. Hershey Bears: 15 games played, 7-5-3, 17 points, .567 points percentage
  6. WBS Penguins: 14 games played, 7-5-2, 16 points, .571 points percentage
  7. Charlotte Checkers: 12 games played, 5-5-2, 12 points, .500 points percentage
  8. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 15 games played, 3-9-3, 9 points, .300 points percentage

Hartford still holds court in the Atlantic after a 2-0-1 week, with the best record in the AHL. Providence’s 1-1 week matched Springfield’s 1-2 week to keep them tied for second. Lehigh Valley snagged 5 out of 6 points on the week, dropping only a shootout loss at Hershey on Sunday, to surge ahead of the Bears into fourth place, where Hershey went 1-1-1 to drop into fifth.

After getting Miletic’s Springfield goal reassigned to him, Stefan Noesen assumed the team and AHL lead with 11 goals. Despite a goalless week that culminated in him taking 21 minutes worth of penalties against Syracuse, Noesen maintains that league lead in goals, and his 15 points tie him for fifth in the AHL with Lane Pederson of Tucson and Brett Seney of Binghamton.

His teammate Andrew Agozzino, ranked second on WBS in scoring, is now among the top 20 in AHL scoring, tying for 10th with 9 other players with 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists). David Warsofsky is still third after a week without points, stuck on 1 goal and 8 assists. Jake Lucchini’s goal brought him up to 6 points to tie with Sam Miletic and Jon Lizotte for fourth on the team.

The AHL’s cutoff for qualifying goaltenders is 240 minutes after the week of November 10, which still leaves Dustin Tokarski (125 minutes) off the list. But his performance on Friday night brought his stats to 1-0-1, a 1.92 GAA, and a .911 save percentage. Casey DeSmith is among the league-qualified goaltenders, and he also posted significant improvement with his Saturday night shutout; his numbers now stand at 5-4-0, a 2.97 GAA, and a .899 save percentage.

Over the last week, the WBS power play recorded only one goal on 9 opportunities, with Zach Trotman doing the honors on Friday in Utica; the power play now has a conversion percentage of 21.8%, still 6th in the AHL despite dropping two percentage points on the week. The penalty kill was much improved this week, conceding only one goal in 12 opportunities (Mitch Eliot for Utica), including a perfect 6 for 6 on Saturday night against Syracuse. The penalty kill now stands at 75.4%, an increase of four percentage points and an increase in league ranking to 26th from 30th.

WBS gets to stay home all week this upcoming week, with three home games in four days. First up is Hershey on Wednesday night, November 13; second up in Springfield on Friday night, November 15; last is Lehigh Valley on Saturday night, November 16, all 7:05 pm EST starts.