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WBS Weekly: Penguins split weekend series with Hershey, Rockford

Another split of games this weekend. Also, my thoughts on a really cold Stadium Series game.

Photo by WBS Penguins

Friday, February 22: Hershey 4 @ WBS 2

The WBS Penguins opened the week as the Facebook Live AHL Game of the Week, hosting the red-hot Hershey Bears, who were looking to set a franchise record with their 16th-straight game without a regulation loss. After a scoreless first period, WBS put itself behind a considerably large 8-ball when Zach Trotman and Joseph Blandisi took penalties 30 seconds apart early in the second, giving Hershey a 5-on-3 power play, which they promptly converted through Riley Barber’s 22nd goal of the year.

WBS recovered a few minutes later, as Ryan Haggerty scored his 14th and 15th goals of the year, which were also his fourth and fifth goals in the last four games, to put WBS up 2-1 after 40 minutes.

This being not only the Hershey Bears, but the on-form Hershey Bears, they tied the game very quickly in the third period as former Penguin Jayson Megna scored his 13th of the year just 55 seconds into the final frame. The two teams went back and forth over the next 15 minutes, but it was Barber who broke the tie at 16:19 of the third with his second of the night and 23rd of the year. To add insult to injury, with Tristan Jarry pulled in the final seconds, Barber cleared out a puck from in front of Hershey goalie Vitek Vanecek’s net, and from 175 to 180 feet away, Barber hit the empty net to complete his hat trick. Hershey 4, WBS 2, Hershey’s 10th-straight win, 16th game without a regulation loss for its franchise record.

Jarry finished with 26 saves on 29 shots in the losing effort, while Vanecek finished with 30 saves on 32 shots for the win. Bears forward Mike Sgarbossa took third star for assisting on two of Barber’s three goals; Haggerty took second honors with his two goals; Barber’s hat trick was clearly the top performance on the night.

2019 NHL Stadium Series: Pittsburgh 3 @ Philadelphia 4 (OT)

Far be it from me to recap what has already been recapped on this site for the Stadium Series, but since I had the good fortune to be in attendance for this game, allow me to share my own thoughts.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the NHL’s pre-game entertainment area, which was open for a remarkable eight hours before game start. There were a few freebie snacks to be had, if you knew where to look, which were a better proposition than the concessions for sale; I was unimpressed with the $8 chicken fingers and fries, and I thought $6 for a 20-ounce soda was outlandish. The souvenir shop was satisfactory, if a bit low on selection; there were other stands closer to the stadium and inside the stadium itself that had much wider selections of items.

There were four different games available for fans to shoot pucks at various targets, be it a radar gun, corner targets, a bulls-eye, or even a washing machine and dryer set, a callback to Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby’s well-documented choice of targets as he was growing up. I tried my hand at three of the games, registering a 29 mph slap shot, hitting one of the four corner targets in five chances, but not hitting the bulls-eye in five chances. Hey...it’s harder than you think to lift a puck when you’ve never played organized hockey of any kind, much less held a stick on the ice. I wanted to beat up the appliances, too, but by the time I got into line for that, rain started to fall, so I felt it best to retreat to my car and prepare for the game.

Lincoln Financial Field is an absolutely gorgeous football stadium. You’d never know it was more than 15-years-old. My seats were nearly at the top of the stadium, well under cover, so although it rained before the game and during the third period, I did not have to deal with water at all. I even had a behind the scenes look at Gritty, who scampered across a catwalk above my seats as the Flyers mascot prepared for a very Shawn Michaels-esque entrance looking for all the world like one of Gru’s Minions.

The Penguins and Flyers take warmups before the Stadium Series.
The atmosphere builds just before the teams enter for the game.

The game was what it was. When Pittsburgh plays in Philadelphia, there are a few things you have to expect and accept going in:

  1. Sidney Crosby’s going to be hated.
  2. Evgeni Malkin’s going to be hated. (Much more so today than in the past, owing to his backhanded swipe at Michael Raffl’s head a couple of weeks ago that, in my opinion, should have earned him a LOT more than just one game in the press box.)
  3. Pittsburgh fans visiting Philadelphia are going to start out at a base level of “you’re not wanted here.”

I personally hardly ever have problems with the Philly fans whenever I visit, because I don’t instigate trouble against them or taunt them in any way. With Pittsburgh up 3-1 in the closing minutes, there were a few folks around me that started to stray away from this guideline, which came back to bite them in a huge way when Jakub Voracek tied the game at the death.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that Pittsburgh was dead in the water as soon as the game went to overtime. When Claude Giroux found his way into his danger zone and fired home the winner, I got out of dodge as quickly as I could as the Linc shook and vibrated around me in celebration.

Not the result I wanted, but well worth attending as my fourth professional hockey game outdoors.

Sunday, February 24: Rockford 1 @ WBS 4

WBS opened its Sunday matinee rematch with the Rockford IceHogs on the right skate, as Ryan Scarfo, whose services were obtained by the Penguins back in December for the well-traveled Future Considerations, scored his first for WBS at 6:48 of the first.

Rockford matched the goal at 18:07 of the first through Luke Johnson’s 13th of the year to tie the game at 1 after 20 minutes.

The second period belonged to the newly-announced father-to-be Jimmy Hayes, who scored his eight and ninth goals of the season against his former team to give WBS a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.

WBS managed to fend off all 12 Rockford shots in the third period, and Adam Johnson put a tidy bow on the game with an empty-netter at 16:42 of the third to put the Penguins back into the win column 4-1.

It’s an empty-netter, sure, but to me, there’s a difference between hitting the empty net from any sort of distance and the kind of empty-netter Johnson scored, where he chased down a missed EN attempt from a teammate to beat an icing call, then stuff home the empty-netter himself.

Tristan Jarry got the start again in net, and he stopped 33 of 34 shots for the win, his 16th of the season, and third-star honors. Scarfo added an assist on Hayes’s first goal for second honors, while Hayes took top honors with his pair of goals.

The win gives WBS a record of 26-22-5-2, 59 points, and a points percentage of .536, still in sixth place in the Atlantic Division and five points out of the playoffs. Defender Ethan Prow has now matched the point production of his former (and perhaps future) teammate Teddy Blueger with 15 goals and 24 assists in 54 games to lead the Penguins and tie himself for fourth among all AHL defenders, just six points behind the defense leader Zach Redmond of Rochester. Adam Johnson leads active players in goals with 16, with Ryan Haggerty and Anthony Angello joining Prow at 15 goals and Joseph Blandisi at 13 total (5 for WBS).

Goalie Tristan Jarry continues to chug along, with a record of 16-10-5 this season, a GAA of 2.71, and a save percentage of .912. Jarry’s GAA ranks 15th in the AHL among qualified goalies (1,080 or more minutes played as of week’s end), and his save percentage ranks 11th.

At week’s end, the WBS power play holds a conversion percentage of 17.6 percent, 19th in the AHL; its kill percentage still falls short of 4-in-5, finishing the week at 79.5 percent for 24th place in the AHL.

The Atlantic Division standings at week’s end:

  1. Charlotte Checkers: 36-14-6-1, 57 games played, 79 points
  2. Bridgeport Sound Tigers: 33-18-5-2, 58 games played, 73 points (8-1-1 in their last 10)
  3. Hershey Bears: 31-21-0-3, 55 games played, 65 points (extended their point streak to 17 games with a 3-2 shootout win against Rockford on Saturday before losing the streak 5-1 to Bridgeport on Sunday)
  4. Providence Bruins: 28-20-7-1, 56 games played, 64 points
  5. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 27-22-3-3, 55 games played, 60 points
  6. WBS Penguins: 26-22-5-2, 55 games played, 59 points
  7. Springfield Thunderbirds: 22-23-6-5, 56 games played, 55 points
  8. Hartford Wolf Pack: 23-25-6-3, 57 games played, 55 points

As of last week, the WBS magic number to clinch the playoffs was 51. We continue to look to Providence to see where WBS needs to get to in order to sneak into the playoffs, as the Bruins’ maximum possible points is only fourth-best in the division. The Bruins dropped three points this weekend, losing 5-4 to Bridgeport in overtime on Friday and losing at home to Hartford 4-1 on Sunday; combined with WBS gaining two points this weekend, the WBS magic number falls to 46 with 21 games to go.

With the PIAA District II high school basketball championships at the arena this weekend, WBS hits the road for two division games to open up March, starting in Providence on Friday, March 1, start time 7:05 pm EST, then heading up to Hartford on Saturday, March 2, for a 7:30 pm EST start time with the Wolf Pack.

With the NHL trading deadline today, I’ll direct you to this excellent summary by KatyaKnappe over at Pension Plan Puppets as to how the deadline today affects AHL teams for the rest of the season.

There’s still a lot of work left to do if WBS is to extend its playoff streak, and it’s going to need a lot of help to get over the line once again.