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WBS Weekly: Wilkes-Barre blows two late leads, salvages one shootout win

Despite taking three out of four total points in the standings, I’m not convinced it was a good weekend.

NHL: OCT 23 Penguins at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last weekend for the WBS Penguins can be summarized thusly: The Penguins won a shootout in Lehigh Valley and lost a shootout in Springfield to take 3 out of 4 points on the weekend.

That summary can also be summarized further to say: I don’t think it was a very good weekend.

Scroll down to find out why.

Friday, November 1: WBS 4 @ Lehigh Valley 3 (SO)

With Pittsburgh returning to health, that logically means a return to full strength for the WBS Penguins, as the injury callups of Adam Johnson, Joseph Blandisi, and Sam Lafferty were returned to WBS in time for the weekend pair of games. Also, Friday marked the debut of Andreas Martinsen for WBS, acquired in the salary dump of Erik Gudbranson to Anaheim. The defense also got a boost with Zach Trotman’s season debut, and Dustin Tokarski, WBS’s big offseason acquisition, finally recovered from his injuries to dress as the backup to Casey DeSmith.

Countering all this, though, was the bad news broken during the Friday night game that forward prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist had to undergo knee surgery during the week, and he will be out approximately six months.

This game was truly a tale of two halves, with WBS dominating the front end of the game and Lehigh Valley dominating the back end of the game. WBS took control first, as Sam Lafferty wasted no time upon his return to the AHL by finishing a Jordy Bellerive attempt for his 1st of the season for WBS, a power play goal at 14:18 of the first. You might want to keep your computer muted for this video, as the audio is kinda broken:

WBS extended the lead in the final minute of the first period, as the scorching hot Stefan Noesen (who else?) took a breakaway pass from Sam Miletic and finished beautifully for his 10th goal in as many games and a 2-0 WBS lead. You may want to keep your computers muted, as this audio is kinda broken too:

WBS expanded the lead again to 3-0 through Anthony Angello, who scored his third of the season on a 2 on 1. More broken audio follows:

Things went sideways from there, though. Just as Angello exited the penalty box from serving a holding penalty, the Phantoms broke the clean sheet of Casey DeSmith through David Kase’s first of the season.

At the end of the second period, David Warsofsky took a slashing penalty, putting Lehigh Valley on a power play to start the third period, and they did not waste it as Andy Andreoff scored his 3rd of the year.

LV spent the remainder of the third period trying to get the equalizer, but they didn’t find it until 2:01 left in the third as Greg Carey, the so-called “Hamilton Howitzer” due to the power of his shot and the fact that PPL Center in Allentown is on Hamilton Street, redirected a power pass from TJ Brennan past DeSmith.

(I wish I was creative enough to come up with something like Hamilton Howitzer. I feel like Stefan Noesen is getting close to earning a nickname like that.)

Despite the returning Trotman taking a roughing penalty in overtime, Lehigh Valley could not break the shaky WBS PK again, so a shootout was required. DeSmith allowed Lehigh Valley’s first shooter, Morgan Frost, to beat him, but he then stopped Mikhail Vorobyev and Maksim Sushko while Noesen and Joseph Blandisi scored for WBS to give the Penguins the extra point, 4-3.

DeSmith finished with 25 saves on 28 shots for the win, while his counterpart Alex Lyon settled down from a harsh first half to finish with 20 saves on 23 shots.

Lehigh Valley’s Kase took third star for his goal; Greg Carey added an assist to his equalizer for second star; Joseph Blandisi needed only to score in the shootout to take top honors on the night, which appears to happen a lot in this league, and I’m not entirely sure why.

Saturday, November 2: WBS 3 @ Springfield 4 (SO)

Martinsen out and Cramarossa in, Lizotte out and Kim in, and the season debut for Dustin Tokarski, which started off on a horrible note as he allowed a goal on his first shot faced, to Springfield’s Daniel Audette just 1:52 into the proceedings.

Happily, this game had a much more back-and-forth feel than the previous night’s game, as Blandisi scored his 3rd actual goal of the season on a power play deflection from Warsofsky.

The game stayed at 1-1 through the rest of the first period and most of the second, with the tie broken by former Charlotte Checker Aleksi Saarela against his former coach to put Springfield up 2-1 after 40 minutes.

WBS used its very dangerous PP to great effect at the start of the third period, as Sam Miletic tipped home another Warsofsky shot to level the proceedings.

On the play following that goal, WBS forced a turnover at neutral ice and spun a 3 on 1 the other way, with Blandisi and Johnson going back and forth on a gorgeous play that Blandisi finished for his second of the night and a 3-2 WBS lead.

(I’d suggest that line of Johnson/Blandisi/Lafferty never get broken up, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)

Unfortunately, for the second night in a row, WBS could not see a third-period lead through to full-time, as Owen Tippett scored his sixth for Springfield at 13:28 of the third to tie the proceedings.

Just as the previous night, overtime could not settle matters, so a shootout was needed once again. Tokarski conceded to Springfield’s first shooter, Henrik Borgstrom; the goal was matched by Stefan Noesen for a 1-1 tie after one round. From there, Tokarski stopped Audette, Saarela, Kevin Roy, and Anthony Greco before conceding again to Owen Tippett; his counterpart Philippe Desrosiers stopped five straight WBS shooters (Blandisi, Cramarossa, Lafferty, Oula Palve, and Angello) to clinch the bonus point for the Thunderbirds.

Tokarski finished with 19 saves on 22 shots in his debut effort, taking the shootout loss. Desrosiers finished with 41 saves on 44 shots, plus the 5 straight saves in the shootout for top honors on the evening. Owen Tippett’s equalizer in the third and the clinching shootout goal gave him second honors; Springfield forward Aleksi Heponiemi took third honors with two assists.

So, the reason why I don’t think it was a good weekend, even though WBS took 3 out of 4 points? They gave up 3rd period leads in both games. Friday, they gave up all of a 3-0 lead before taking a shootout victory, and Saturday, they flashed ahead to a 3-2 lead, but couldn’t see it through to full time before dropping a point in the shootout.

This has to change. Good teams, championship teams, figure out how to close out those 3rd period leads into regulation victories.

The Stat Board

League standings after the games of November 3 (sorted by points):

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack - 12 games played, 8-1-3, 19 points, .792 points percentage
  2. Springfield Thunderbirds - 12 games played, 8-4-0, 16 points, .667 points percentage
  3. Providence Bruins - 13 games played, 7-4-2, 16 points, .615 points percentage
  4. Hershey Bears - 12 games played, 6-4-2, 14 points, .583 points percentage
  5. Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 10 games played, 4-2-4, 12 points, .600 points percentage
  6. WBS Penguins - 11 games played, 5-4-2, 12 points, .545 points percentage
  7. Charlotte Checkers - 10 games played, 4-5-1, 9 points, .450 points percentage
  8. Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 12 games played, 2-7-3, 7 points, .292 points percentage

No fluctuation in the standings whatsoever from last week to this week, though Hartford did retreat to the pack a bit with a winless weekend (0-1-2).

Stefan Noesen continues to lead WBS with 10 goals in 11 games, still tied with Utica’s Reid Boucher for the league lead in goals and now tied for fifth in the league in overall scoring (13 points). Chris Terry of Grand Rapids (7 goals, 11 assists) shares the league lead in points with rookie Lucas Elvenes of Chicago with 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists).

Andrew Agozzino still ranks second on WBS in points, with 3 goals and 8 assists in 11 games. David Warsofsky is still third with 1 goal and 8 assists. Sam Miletic (2 goals, 4 assists) and Jon Lizotte (6 assists) tie for fourth with six points each.

Dustin Tokarski’s one start of the season left him with a record of 0-0-1, a save percentage of ,864, and a GAA of 2.77, which technically is the best on WBS, though Tokarski hasn’t yet played the 180 minutes required to qualify for league rankings. Casey DeSmith has, though, and he sits at 4-3-0 with a 3.36 GAA and a .882 save percentage in 8 appearances. Emil Larmi’s numbers stay unchanged after an activity-free weekend: 1-1-1, 4.05 GAA, .882.

Over the two games this weekend, the WBS power play went 3 for 10 to improve its percentage to 23.9%, ranking 6th in the AHL at week’s end (the league leaders, San Antonio, hold a 30.2% conversion percentage); the penalty kill went 6 for 8 to improve its percentage to 71.4%, which still ranks 2nd worst in the league ahead of only the 66.7% kill percentage of Grand Rapids.

As WBS embarks on 3 games in 4 days this week, I would anticipate at least one recall at some point today to cover for the injury to Patric Hornqvist (my money’s on Sam Lafferty). WBS opens the week by heading back down to Lehigh Valley for their 3rd game of the season against the Phantoms on Wednesday, November 6 at 7:05 pm EST. Friday night, November 8, WBS heads up to Utica for its only visit to the Comets, start time 7:00 pm EST.

Saturday night, November 9, is advertised as “Stranger Things” night at Mohegan Sun Arena, where fans are encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters from the popular Netflix series and enjoy a general 80s theme throughout the night. The guests of honor are the Syracuse Crunch, with game time 7:05 pm EST.