If there is a theme to be had over the first three months of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins season, it’s that WBS has been at its best when one forward has been fueling the offense. Through the end of November, that forward was the now-departed Stefan Noesen; through most of December, that forward has been Anthony Angello. As of the end of last week’s games, he was the only player on the team to score a non-empty-net goal in their last five, as WBS stumbled through a 2-6-1 month leading up to the holidays.
That would soon partially change, with Angello helping fuel a turnaround this week.
Friday, December 27: Lehigh Valley 2 @ WBS 4
Remember before the holiday break, when the Pittsburgh Penguins sent Joseph Blandisi, Thomas Di Pauli, and Kevin Czuczman back to WBS for the holidays? Yeah, forget all that...first thing Friday morning, Pittsburgh took the trio back.
The first game back from the holidays began with a louder splat than the last one ended, if that’s possible, with Lehigh Valley’s Gerry Fitzgerald scoring 31 seconds into the game to put the Phantoms up 1-0.
The Phantoms held the lead through all of the first period, but the aforementioned Angello leveled the game at 3:31 of the second with this, his 10th of the season.
What a shot that was. Good positioning by Angello, finding the perfect spot to fire the wrister.
Casey DeSmith started the game and stopped 20 of 21 Lehigh Valley shots over the first 40 minutes, but he was replaced in net by Dustin Tokarski for the third period; we found out later that DeSmith had fallen ill between periods and could not continue. Remember that, we’ll get back to it in a moment.
WBS stormed out of the locker room in the third period, as Angello scored his second of the night at 1:26 of the third for his 11th of the season, then despite Andreas Martinsen taking a high sticking penalty just 10 seconds later, Jake Lucchini broke the team-wide slump of Not Anthony Angello scoring by firing home a rebound of a Pierre-Olivier Joseph shot for his first career shorthanded goal at 2:06 of the third. The goal would prove to be the game-winner, as Matthew Strome’s 2nd of the season at 3:31 of the third was not enough. Angello finished his hat trick with an empty-netter at 19:08 of the third to give WBS a 4-2 victory.
Tokarski stopped 7 of 8 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes to take the victory, while Lehigh Valley starter Alex Lyon stopped 23 of 26 WBS shots in the loss.
Penguins forward Andrew Agozzino recorded the primary assist on all three of Angello’s goals to take third star honors. Lucchini’s game-winning shorty won him second honors, while Angello was clearly the night’s best player with his hat trick.
POSTGAME HIGHLIGHTS - @Anthony_Angello led the attack with his first career hat trick, as the #WBSPens downed the @LVPhantoms, 4-2, on Friday night. @JakeLucchini picked up his first career shorthanded goal (the GWG), and @aggz09 notched three assists for the Penguins. pic.twitter.com/Q1ssUFZU02— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 28, 2019
Saturday, December 28: WBS 2 @ Hershey 1
Yes, you saw that right. Sebastien Caron as backup to Dustin Tokarski.
It’s really lucky for WBS that Caron lives close enough to the Penguins to be able to sign PTOs in an emergency, even emergencies as blatantly self-created as the one WBS created for itself on Saturday by sending Emil Larmi to Wheeling at 10:43 am, then learning afterwards that DeSmith was still too sick to play.
At least Thomas Di Pauli came back, with Patric Hornqvist returning to health for the parent team.
WBS faced a tough, tough test on Saturday night, having to go to a sold-out GIANT Center to face the Hershey Bears, winners of their previous nine games. But if anyone was going to shut down the streak, it was going to be Tokarski in net.
Hershey thought they had scored the first goal of the game on a power play late in the first, but Matt Moulson was judged to have interfered with Tokarski to negate the goal.
You be the judge: is this goaltender interference? pic.twitter.com/yrE6QtQm9J— Chocolate Hockey (@ChocHockey) December 29, 2019
You decide. Based on that camera view, which puts Tokarski and Moulson off-screen as the point shot is released, it’s too hard for me to tell whether or not the call was correct, but I’ll take it.
The first period ended scoreless.
In the second period, the red-hot Angello struck again with his 13th goal of the season to put the Penguins ahead.
Angello keeps finding those prime scoring areas. If he can keep doing that, who knows...maybe he’ll be the next one to get called up.
Hershey’s ringer, Moulson, matched the Angello goal with his 12th of the season on a two-player advantage at 13:41 of the second. 1-1 after 40 minutes.
The good luck continued for WBS in the third, as a point shot by Oula Palve on a power play deflected off Thomas Di Pauli in front, just over Hershey goalie Vitek Vanecek, off Vanecek’s back, and into the net for Di Pauli’s 5th of the season at 3:15 of the third. Hershey pushed from there, outshooting the Penguins 14-8 in the third and getting two power plays, but the WBS defense and goaltending was able to stand tall to seal the 2-1 victory and break Hershey’s winning streak at 9.
Tokarski finished with 29 saves on 30 shots for his 6th win of the season, while Vanecek finished with 22 saves on 24 shots in the loss.
Angello’s goal was good enough for third star honors. Moulson took second honors with his goal. Di Pauli’s game winner took top honors.
The Stat Board
Atlantic Division standings after the games of December 29 (sorted by points):
- Hartford Wolf Pack - 33 games played, 18-8-7, 43 points, .652 points percentage
- Providence Bruins - 35 games played, 20-12-3, 43 points, .614 points percentage
- Hershey Bears - 33 games played, 18-10-5, 41 points, .621 points percentage
- WBS Penguins - 33 games played, 17-12-4, 38 points, .576 points percentage
- Springfield Thunderbirds - 35 games played, 17-16-2, 36 points, .514 points percentage
- Charlotte Checkers - 31 games played, 15-13-3, 33 points, .532 points percentage
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 34 games played, 13-16-5, 31 points, .456 points percentage
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 33 games played, 12-16-5, 29 points, .439 points percentage
Hartford and Providence both went 1-1 this week to stay locked in a tie for the division lead. Hershey’s winning streak ended at 9 at the hands of WBS, but they shut out Lehigh Valley 3-0 on Sunday to take full advantage of their game in hand over Hartford and close within two points of the division leaders. WBS’s pair of wins broke a tie with Springfield for the last playoff position, with Springfield splitting their two games this week. Charlotte only played once this past week, getting a 5-1 win in Cleveland on Saturday to solidify their sixth place position. Bridgeport took three out of a possible four points to jump over Lehigh Valley into seventh, while the Phantoms suffered an 0-3 weekend to drop into the basement.
Anthony Angello’s four-goal weekend propelled him to 13 goals on the season, the new active goal leader for WBS, and into a seven-way tie for 19th in the AHL. Andrew Agozzino’s three assists give him 17 on the season, which combined with his own 11 goals gives him 28 points in 32 games to tie for 14th in the AHL. Agozzino sits 12 points behind the league leader Drake Batherson of Belleville, who ends the week one point ahead of Reid Boucher of Utica to lead the league in scoring; Batherson leads the league with 28 assists as part of his 40 points, Boucher is the first to 20 goals in the AHL to lead the league. Sam Miletic added two assists to his ledger to end the week at 6 goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 32 games.
As far as the goalies are concerned, Casey DeSmith was able to trim his numbers slightly with his 40 minutes of action, lowering his GAA to 2.77 and increasing his save percentage to .911 while holding his 10-8-1 record. Dustin Tokarski is 84:06 away from qualifying among the goaltender leaders (600 minutes required, Tokarski is at 515:54 at week’s end), but Tokarski’s numbers are still stellar at 6-2-1, a 1.28 GAA, and a .951 save percentage. Once again, if Tokarski played enough minutes to qualify among the league leaders, he would lead the league in GAA by 0.70 of a goal, and his save percentage would also lead the league by 1% over anyone else.
The WBS power play converted one out of six opportunities over the two games, scoring once against Hershey in four chances and losing out on both chances against the Phantoms. The power play has converted 23 out of 127 chances so far this season for a 18.1% conversion percentage that ties for 14th in the AHL as of this writing, with San Jose hosting Bakersfield late on Sunday. The penalty kill conceded in each of their games this weekend, one in four chances to Lehigh Valley on Friday and one in five chances to Hershey on Saturday. The overall kill percentage regressed as a result, with 28 goals conceded in 141 chances for a kill percentage of 80.1% that ranks 21st in the AHL.
In an odd bit of scheduling, WBS will close calendar 2019 with a Tuesday afternoon engagement with the Springfield Thunderbirds, New Year’s Eve at 3:05 pm EST in a game that could very well mark the return of former Penguin Ryan Haggerty to the WB. New Year’s Eve kicks off a six-game homestand for WBS, as they will host Hershey on Friday, January 3, at 7:05 pm EST to open calendar year 2020, then welcome Springfield back to town on Saturday, January 4, at 7:05 pm EST to close the week.
Please be safe celebrating the New Year, no matter what you do. See you in 2020.