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WBS Weekly: Wilkes-Barre Penguins struggle through goal scoring drought

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Three games this week, just one goal scored by WBS as they say farewell to two of their forwards and arrive at the Christmas break with a thud.

@wbspenguins

As you will recall, on December 2nd the Pittsburgh Penguins signed red-hot forward Stefan Noesen to an NHL contract. At the time, Noesen (on an AHL contract with the WBS Penguins) had scored 14 goals and 8 assists in 22 games for the minor league franchise. He did that despite signing for the team on the first day of the league calendar, one day before WBS’s season opener.

Noesen scored in his first game for Pittsburgh, part of a 3-0 shutout of the defending league champion St. Louis Blues, but in his next five games in the lineup he didn’t factor into the scoring at all, recording a meaningless minus December 14 against Los Angeles and averaging just over nine minutes of ice time across those five games.

Noesen was scratched from the December 17 game in Calgary, then placed on waivers December 18 apparently for the purpose of sending him back to WBS, who could sorely use his return, but thanks to the San Jose Sharks, Noesen would never make it back to the WB. Instead, on December 19, San Jose claimed him off waivers, and Noesen scored in his debut for San Jose on Saturday night against (who else?) St. Louis as part of a 5-2 loss to the Blues.

To recap: From a point per game player in the AHL at the end of November to out of the organization entirely in a span of less than 3 weeks.

To say I’m displeased with these circumstances is a gross understatement.

In other roster moves, long-tenured forward Ryan Haggerty was traded to the Florida organization on Tuesday in exchange for Kevin Roy, possibly to further alleviate the crowd of veterans accumulating on the WBS roster. Also, goaltender Emil Larmi was sent to Wheeling on Thursday, ostensibly to get the young rookie some playing time.

Wednesday, December 18: Providence 6 @ WBS 0

Do I have to?

Say this for WBS’s first of two meetings with the Providence Bruins this week...at least they kept the first period scoreless. Boring, too, as a matter of fact, with Providence only getting five shots against WBS’s four.

Providence made up for it in the second, though, as they outshot WBS 19-14 and put four past starting goalie Casey DeSmith through Pavel Shen (his second of the year), Robert Lantosi (his 8th), Tommy Marchin (his first), and Peter Cehlarik (his ninth, on a power play). Providence put two more on the board at the start of the third, with Jack Studnicka scoring his 13th and Marchin potting his second to chase DeSmith from the proceedings after 44:17. Dustin Tokarski mopped up with the last three saves, as Providence goaltender Max Lagace fended off a 20-shot WBS rally in the third to finish a 38-save shutout, his fifth clean sheet of the season to lead all AHL goaltenders.

Lantosi, Marchin, and Lagace were the stars of the game.

Friday, December 20: Providence 0 @ WBS 1

If possible, things were looking worse going into Friday’s rematch than they did on Wednesday. Wilkes-Barre had to deal with Adam Johnson being a late scratch due to injury, David Warsofsky and Zach Trotman also out injured, Thomas DiPauli and Kevin Czuczman called up to Pittsburgh for the end of their Western Canada trip (neither played), and dressing four rookies on defense.

The only saving grace — if there was one — was Tokarski getting the net. He had been stellar in his limited activity for WBS, allowing only one goal in each of his last four starts. Tokarski was at his best on Friday, stopping all 23 shots he faced from the Bruins, including several post to post saves and a handful of breakaways.

Only Anthony Angello managed to score, during a power play in the second period. Angello took a pass at the goal line from Oula Palve and tried to center it to a streaking Kevin Roy but instead hitting Providence defender Jeremy Lauzon for a deflection into the net. It was Angello’s ninth of the season, and it was all that WBS needed as they scrapped out a tough 1-0 victory to split the home series with the Bruins.

The deflection was the only puck to beat Providence goaltender Dan Vladar, who stopped all 19 other shots he faced.

Defender Pierre-Olivier Joseph took third star honors, taking the top defense pairing alongside Jon Lizotte and leading the shutout effort. Angello took second star, and Tokarski was first star after his 27th career AHL shutout.

Saturday, December 21: WBS 0 @ Bridgeport 3

If the Penguins were hoping to take some good vibes from the 1-0 shutout up to Bridgeport to close the pre-Christmas part of their schedule by visiting the last-place Sound Tigers, they failed in the worst way. Kieffer Bellows beat Dustin Tokarski just 1:11 into the proceedings for his ninth of the season off a bad bounce turnover, and the Sound Tigers didn't look back, getting a power play goal from Travis St. Denis at 12:22 of the second and an empty netter from St. Denis at 13:52 of the third (you read that right) for a 3-0 shutout of the Penguins.

Tokarski finished with 26 saves on 28 shots in the losing effort, while his counterpart Jakub Skarek earned his first clean sheet of the season with 30 saves.

Bellows took third star with his goal, St. Denis second star with his pair, Skarek top honors for his shutout.

To sum up where WBS stands at the Christmas break:

You can upgrade that to five games after Saturday’s shutout.

The Stat Board

Atlantic Division standings at the Christmas break (sorted by points):

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack - 31 games played, 17-7-7, 41 points, .661 points percentage
  2. Providence Bruins - 33 games played, 19-11-3, 41 points, .621 points percentage
  3. Hershey Bears - 30 games played, 16-9-5, 37 points, .617 points percentage
  4. WBS Penguins - 31 games played, 15-12-4, 34 points, .548 points percentage
  5. Springfield Thunderbirds - 33 games played, 16-15-2, 34 points, .515 points percentage
  6. Charlotte Checkers - 30 games played, 14-13-3, 31 points, .517 points percentage
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 30 games played, 12-13-5, 29 points, .483 points percentage
  8. Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 32 games played, 12-16-4, 28 points, .438 points percentage

Hartford and Providence remain tied atop the Atlantic standings, with both teams taking a bit of a step back with identical 1-2 weeks. Hershey added two wins to its ledger to run its winning streak to eight, closing to within four of the division leaders. WBS’s 1-2 week and a 2-6-1 month of December keep them seven back of the division leaders, but Springfield’s 1-1-1 week has tied the Thunderbirds with WBS for the last playoff spot. Charlotte went 3-1 this week to jump to sixth over the Phantoms, who went 1-2, with Bridgeport still one point stuck in the basement despite a 2-1 week.

There’s less to talk about this week on the scoreboard than there was last week, with only Anthony Angello’s goal on Friday assisted by Oula Palve and Andrew Agozzino scored in 3 games. Agozzino has 11 goals and 14 assists to continue to pace WBS, though he is now out of the league’s top 20 in goals, assists, and points. Agozzino’s 25 points are 12 behind the co-league leaders, Reid Boucher of Utica (20 goals, 17 assists) and Drake Batherson of Belleville (12 goals, 25 assists). Sam Miletic is still second among active WBS players with 6 goals and 13 assists, followed by David Warsofsky at 3 and 14, Adam Johnson at 3 and 13, Anthony Angello at 9 and 2, Thomas Di Pauli at 4 and 5, then Jake Lucchini at 3 and 6.

Casey DeSmith’s numbers continue to slide as a result of the 6-goal allowance on Wednesday; he now stands at 10-8-1 with a 2.82 GAA and a .909 save percentage with two shutouts. Dustin Tokarski needs another 104 minutes to join the league rankings (540 required, 436:21 played through December 22), but the 4-2-1 goalie would lead the league with a 1.24 GAA and a .952 save percentage should he qualify. I think he needs to play a lot, lot more going forward.

The WBS power play ranks 13th in the AHL at the holiday break, with 22 goals scored in 121 chances for a 18.2% conversion percentage. The penalty kill ranks 22nd, with 26 goals conceded in 132 opportunities for an 80.3% kill percentage.

It’s unclear at this point whether or not the return of Joseph Blandisi, Di Pauli, and Czuczman to WBS as of December 22 will be more permanent reassignments or holiday reassignments to be reversed once the holiday break ends, but WBS could use a significant infusion of talent to its roster on the back end of the holidays. The festive season features three games for WBS, as they host Lehigh Valley on Friday, December 27 at 7:05 pm EST, visit Hershey on Saturday, December 28 at 7:00 pm EST, then close out calendar 2019 by hosting Springfield on Tuesday, December 31 at 3:05 pm EST.

May you and yours have a happy and healthy holiday season, no matter how you celebrate the season. Here’s to 2020.