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WBS Weekly: Penguins go 1-2 in tour of the Midwest

WBS can only manage one win in three games during their Midwest road trip.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Wednesday, February 6: WBS 1 @ Rockford 2

The WBS Penguins started their Midwest road trip behind the proverbial eight-ball on two fronts, with Jean-Sebastien Dea serving the second game of his suspension for leaving the bench to join in a fight last Friday against the Cleveland Monsters and Tristan Jarry recalled to Pittsburgh on an emergency basis the day of their first game against Rockford. It was therefore left to Anthony Peters to tend the net against Chicago’s top affiliate.

The fireworks started early in Rockford, with Josh McArdle scoring his first goal of the season just 1:42 into the game and Jarrett Burton answering just 1:03 later.

Rockford would strike again later in the first on the power play through Luke Johnson, his 8th of the season, to take a 2-1 lead. Despite WBS throwing 46 shots at Rockford starting goaltender Anton Forsberg, the above goal by Burton would be the only one Forsberg would concede on the evening as Rockford saw the 2-1 lead all the way through to full time to extend its winning streak to five games.

Peters finished with 25 saves on 27 shots in the losing effort. Johnson, McArdle, and Forsberg swept the stars for Rockford. WBS will play its rematch against Rockford on Sunday, February 24, at 3:05 p,m. EST.

Friday, February 8: WBS 5 @ Milwaukee 2

With Dea fresh off suspension, he replaced Linus Olund in the lineup as WBS took on the Milwaukee Admirals in the second game of their road trip. The first game of the season between the 2004 Calder Cup Final contenders this season went the way of Nashville’s affiliate, 5-3, on January 5, and the rematch was the first half of a double feature at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena as acclaimed rock band Styx played a concert after the game.

So, with that in mind...

The above lineup tweet turned out to be a grand illusion, as John Muse took the start in goal instead of Peters for only his fifth start of the season. Muse put in a blue-collar effort on short notice, stopping 33 of 35 shots. The WBS offense took 28 of its best shots against Milwaukee starter Troy Grosenick and didn’t blow many of them, with Sam Lafferty scoring twice on power plays (his sixth and seventh of the season), Jimmy Hayes scoring his sixth, Sam Miletic scoring a shorthanded goal for his fifth of the season, and Joseph Blandisi scoring his fourth goal for WBS and his 12th overall, as WBS sailed away to a 5-2 victory.

Muse took third star on the evening; Anthony Richard for Milwaukee took second star with his 18th goal of the season; Lafferty took top honors for his pair of goals.

Something, something Renegade.

Saturday, February 9: WBS 1 @ Grand Rapids 4

Despite the reassignment of Tristan Jarry back to WBS on Saturday, WBS still had one more game to go on its road trip, as it visited Detroit’s top affiliate in Grand Rapids to close out its road trip. The sixth overall draft pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, Filip Zadina, scored his 12th goal for Grand Rapids on a power play at 10:04 in the first to put the Griffins up 1-0. Sam Miletic matched that goal at 10:52 of the second, his sixth of the year, but unfortunately for WBS, the Griffins exploded in the third. Colin Campbell (his fourth), Libor Sulak (his second), and Matt Puempel (power play, his 18th) all scored in the third as Grand Rapids pulled away for a 4-1 victory.

Although Anthony Peters stared down the AHL’s joint-second leading goal scorer Chris Terry on a penalty shot and denied him, he only stopped 27 of Grand Rapids’ other 31 shots to take his second loss of the road trip. Griffins starter Patrik Rybar, one of the top-5 goalies in the league in terms of GAA, stopped 33 of 34 shots for the victory, his 11th of the season, as well as the evening’s top honors. Puempel (one goal, one assist) and Campbell (one goal) took the rest of the honors.

At road trip’s end, the WBS Penguins hold a record of 24-21-4-1 for 53 points and a .530 points percentage through 50 games. Ethan Prow added to his active team lead in points with three assists on the weekend, now at 37 points on the season through 49 games. Adam Johnson stays at 31 points through 50 games with a scoreless weekend, while Sam Lafferty jumps up to 26 points through 44 games with his two-goal game on Friday. Ryan Haggerty managed two assists to get to 24 points on the season through 44 games.

With Tristan Jarry inactive on the week, his number stay the same (15-9-3, 2.75 GAA, .912 save percentage). Anthony Peters’s numbers, though, drop to 6-10-2, 3.28 GAA, and a .890 save percentage. For his part, John Muse has a record of 3-2, a GAA of 2.00, and a save percentage of .936 in his five games at this level.

The WBS power play is up to 18th in the AHL now with a 17.6 percent conversion percentage. The penalty kill still falls short of 80 percent, ranking 25th in the AHL with a 79.5 percent kill percentage.

The tides are surely shifting in the Atlantic Division standings...

  1. Charlotte Checkers: 52 games played, 32-13-6-1, 71 points, .683 points percentage (best in AHL)
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 52 games played, 28-18-4-2, 62 points, .596 points percentage
  3. Providence Bruins: 50 games played, 26-17-6-1, 59 points, .590 points percentage
  4. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 50 games played, 26-19-3-2, 57 points, .570 points percentage
  5. Hershey Bears: 49 games played, 26-20-0-3, 55 points, .561 points percentage
  6. WBS Penguins: 50 games played, 24-21-4-1, 53 points, .530 points percentage
  7. Springfield Thunderbirds: 51 games played, 21-20-6-4, 52 points, .510 points percentage
  8. Hartford Wolf Pack: 51 games played, 20-25-3-3, 46 points, .451 points percentage

Charlotte still leads the way, Hartford still trails the way, but everything in the middle is shuffling like crazy, most notably the Hershey Bears, who beat Charlotte at home 2-1 on Sunday to improve to 11-0-0-1 in their last 12 games to surge ahead of WBS into fifth place. The league leaders Charlotte have stumbled a bit lately, with a record of 2-4-3-1 in their last 10. Also on fire lately is Providence, 8-1-0-1 in their last 10. For its part, WBS has held steady, 5-5 in their last 10, and four points behind the playoff cutoff line.

With 26 games to go, WBS has only one game left from the Western Conference, the aforementioned return game against Rockford. Of the other 25, six are against the North Division, leaving 19 critical games within the division to go. Of those 19 games, there are still three Hershey games to go, a remarkable six Lehigh Valley games to go, three against Providence, two against Bridgeport, three against Hartford, and two against Springfield.

Points are certainly becoming a premium now, and WBS has another six available this week as they visit the red-hot Hershey Bears on Wednesday, February 13, at 7:00 p.m. EST, then host the Utica Comets on Saturday, February 16, at 7:05 p.m., then head up to Hartford for a 3:00 p.m. start on Sunday, February 17.