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WBS Weekly: Laying An Egg

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The WBS Penguins ran their winning streak to 6 games before laying a massive egg at home against the defending champions.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Owing to a massive backup of veterans on the WBS Penguins roster, and owing to AHL roster limitations that allow the Penguins to dress only 5 skaters who have played over 260 pro games in their pro career (and one who has played between 260 and 320) as of season’s end, the Penguins had been forced to scratch at least one veteran (some nights two) for the last several games. With forward Jamie Devane close to returning from his injuries, the glut of veterans was figuring to get worse, so in an attempt to alleviate this, the organization traded Joseph Cramarossa to the Chicago organization in exchange for forward Graham Knott. In 93 games over 3 seasons for WBS, Cramarossa scored 12 goals and 19 assists while also being penalized for 160 minutes.

Due to the long-term injury to Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh recalled Zach Trotman on Thursday, but thankfully the recall coincided precisely with Pierre-Olivier Joseph’s return to full health following a bout with mononucleosis.

Friday, November 22: WBS 4 @ Springfield 2

WBS rode the heat of their five-game winning streak into Springfield to open the weekend, and their momentum did not cease over the first half of the game as Andrew Agozzino scored twice (once on a power play) and Thomas DiPauli opened his account for the season to put WBS up 3-0 at the 6:14 mark of the second period.

(Sidebar: I don’t know what it is about the lighting in Springfield, but it looks like playing in a cave compared to the new digs in WBS.)

Springfield clawed back to 3-2 in the third period through goals by Blaine Byron at 7:15 of the second and Henrik Borgstrom at 5:21 of the third, but WBS was able to hold the lead through to full time as Stefan Noesen rejoined the scoresheet with his 12th of the year into an empty net at 19:10 of the third for the 4-2 victory.

Starting goaltender Casey DeSmith ran his personal winning streak to 4 games with 40 saves on 42 shots, which was far and away the superior goaltending effort as Springfield put 16 shots on net in each of the last two periods. It was not, however, a star-worthy effort, as Byron got third star for his goal, Borgstrom got second for his goal, and Noesen got first star for his empty-netter.

Certainly an odd set of star choices.

Saturday, November 23: Charlotte 1 @ WBS 0

Joseph Blandisi was returned to WBS on Saturday morning, and he slotted right into the second line for Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Checkers. The storylines going into this one were overflowing:

  • WBS head coach Mike Vellucci’s first game against the team he led to the Calder Cup last season.
  • Vellucci’s replacement as head coach, Ryan Warsofsky, being the older brother of WBS captain David Warsofsky.
  • Dustin Tokarski getting the start for WBS against his former goaltending teammate Alex Nedeljkovic.
  • The local NBC affiliate, WBRE-TV, picking up the broadcast of the game for WBS’s first local TV appearance of the season.

Everything appeared to line up to a marquee showdown, and the Penguins absolutely did NOT rise to the occasion at all. WBS only put eight shots on net through the first two periods combined compared to Charlotte’s 22, and while WBS won the shot board in the third 14-5, the Checkers got the only goal as Chase Priskie put a power play goal past Tokarski at 15:37 of the third to give Charlotte a 1-0 victory.

Tokarski stopped the other 26 shots he faced in the third-star losing effort; Charlotte goalie Nedelkjovic saved all 22 WBS shots for the shutout, his second of the season; Priskie’s goal was enough for top honors.

Vellucci did not hold back in his postgame remarks. Following are a collection of his quotes, as compiled by the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader:

“You win so many games in a row that you take things for granted.”

“We got what we deserved.”

On the Priskie goal:

““It was a decent shot, but it hit (Dustin Tokarski)’s glove and went off his mask...It was kind of, I don’t want to say a fluke, because it was a goal, but that’s not why we lost the game. We were terrible in the first two periods.”

“We had one scoring chance in two periods. It was flat as can be.”

“I just told them it was embarrassing and ‘we need some leadership to step up here...There was no life on the bench, nobody talking. It was very flat and disappointing with your own home crowd.”

“Hopefully, we learned our lesson...You get what you put into it and we didn’t put enough into it.”

“You can’t play just one period, no matter who you play.”

To be frank, that was the most encouraging part of the night. I watched the whole game on local TV and was thoroughly unimpressed by the effort, but I loved reading those quotes the next morning. I love having a coach who is that blunt, that willing to call something bad when it actually is bad.

We’ll see how the team responds going into the American Thanksgiving section of the calendar.

The Stat Board

Atlantic Division standings through the games of November 24, sorted by points:

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack: 20 games played, 11-4-5, 27 points, .675 points percentage
  2. Providence Bruins; 21 games played, 11-7-3, 25 points, .595 points percentage
  3. WBS Penguins: 19 games played, 11-6-2, 24 points, .632 points percentage
  4. Springfield Thunderbirds: 21 games played, 12-9-0, 24 points, .571 points percentage
  5. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 19 games played, 8-6-5, 21 points, .553 points percentage
  6. Hershey Bears: 20 games played, 8-8-4, 20 points, .500 points percentage
  7. Charlotte Checkers: 17 games played, 7-7-3, 17 points, .500 points percentage
  8. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 21 games played, 6-11-4, 16 points, .381 points percentage

Despite going 0-3 on the week, Hartford still holds the top spot in the division, but their lead has been obliterated. Providence went 2-0-1 on the week to surge ahead of the Penguins into second place, just two out of the lead. WBS and Springfield tie for third, with each team taking one win out of the weekend (WBS in two games, Springfield in three). Lehigh Valley ticked back ahead of Hershey by going 2-1-0 on the week, where Hershey lost both of its games in regulation. Charlotte went 1-1-1 to stay at .500 and seventh place, while Bridgeport went 2-1 on the week to close to within one point of emerging from the basement (despite playing four more games than the Checkers).

Reid Boucher of Utica still leads the AHL in goals with 13, but Stefan Noesen’s empty netter in Springfield brought him to within 1, tied with Nathan Walker and Mike Vecchione (both of San Antonio) for 2nd in the AHL. Noesen’s 18 points tie him for 14th in the AHL with 6 other players.

Just one point behind Noesen is Andrew Agozzino, now with 8 goals and 9 assists for 17 ponits in his 18 games. Captain David Warsofsky is still third with 2 goals and 12 assists; his 14 points tie for third in the AHL among defenders behind Alex Petrovic of Providence (2 goals, 13 assists) and former Penguins prospect Derrick Pouliot, who leads all AHL defenders with 4 goals and 14 assists for 18 points in 20 games.

Elsewhere in WBS, Sam Miletic still places fourth on the team with 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 points, and Adam Johnson is still looking for his first goal of the season, though he is fifth on WBS in scoring with 9 assists.

Casey DeSmith is still the only “qualified” goaltender for league rankings, having played at least 360 minutes; his record is 8-4-0 through 13 appearances, with a 2.48 GAA, a .920 save percentage, and two shutouts. DeSmith’s GAA has crept into the league’s top 20, putting him 19th; his GAA is also now top-20 in the league, clocking in at 16th. Dustin Tokarski is still short in minutes with 243 as of week’s end, but he has a record of 2-1-1, a GAA of 1.48, and a .942 save percentage in his appearances.

The WBS power play scored one goal in 9 chances this week to finish with a conversion percentage of 18.7%, good for 13th in the AHL, a drop of 3 league places and one percentage point over last week’s numbers. The penalty kill likewise suffered a bad week, conceding 3 goals in 11 opportunities to drop their kill percentage to 78.6%, a drop of 0.9% from last week, but staying 22nd in the AHL.

American Thanksgiving brings 3 games for WBS to play to close out November, hosting the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Wednesday, November 27 at 7:05 pm; then going back to Lehigh Valley on Black Friday, November 29, at 7:05 pm. WBS closes out November at home with its second “Hockey Fights Cancer” night, hosting the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday, November 30, at 7:05 pm. The Penguins will be wearing special lavender-trimmed jerseys for the game, which are currently being auctioned online; the auction ends at 9 pm EST Tuesday, November 26, with all winning bids also winning tickets to the game. Also, for donations of $10, fans will be allowed onto the ice after the game to paint a message of support onto the ice itself.

The Penguins are on notice after an awful performance on Saturday. The response to close November will say quite a bit about where this team is going.