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WBS Weekly: Wilkes-Barre preps for a long road trip

The WBS Penguins take down the division leaders Hartford 3-0 for their only victory of a six-game homestand. Next up: A six-game road trip.

Wednesday, January 8: Charlotte 6 @ WBS 3

The WBS Penguins’ second half of their six-game homestand began with yet another flop, as the defending champion Charlotte Checkers scored the game’s last four goals to turn a 3-2 WBS lead at the halfway point of the game into a 6-3 loss, WBS’s fourth setback in a row.

After Charlotte’s David Gust scored his fourth of the season just 40 seconds into the proceedings, the WBS power play factored into the next three goals, both good and bad. It started good, with newly-acquired Cole Cassels scoring his first for WBS on a power play at 13:10 of the first.

In the second period, after the WBS power play conceded an exceedingly rare and totally embarrassing 3 on 5 shorthanded goal to Clark Bishop. They made up for it though with a response by Anthony Angello’s 14th goal of the year.

Adam Johnson gave WBS the lead at 8:35 of the second with his fifth of the year, starting to round back into goal-scoring form, but from there, it all fell apart, as Steven Lorentz (10), Morgan Geekie (8), Julien Gauthier (17), and Lorentz again (11, empty net) put the last four on the board to extend Charlotte’s winning streak to six games.

Starting goaltender Casey DeSmith saved 23 of 28 shots in the losing effort, while Charlotte’s Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 27 of 30 shots to take his 9th win of the season. Gust (goal and assist), Gauthier (goal and assist), and Lorentz (two goals and an assist) swept the honors of stars of the game.

Friday, January 10: Hershey 2 @ WBS 1 (SO)

After promoting Christopher Brown from Wheeling to join the lineup, WBS played host to the Hershey Bears on the AHL’s “Freeview Friday” this past Friday.

Whereas last week’s Friday night engagement with the Bears went extremely badly and discouragingly for the home side, this Friday’s game went much more favorably for the Penguins. Hershey was playing without their scoring leader Mike Sgarbossa, out with an injury, but that by itself didn't account for the sharp improvement of the WBS defense from one week to the next, holding Hershey to only 20 shots over the course of 65 minutes and a shootout.

Only Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was able to beat starting goaltender Dustin Tokarski in regulation, scoring his eigth of the season 42 seconds into the second period. That goal was matched by Jamie Devane, who converted a beautiful pass from Niclas Almari for his second of the season.

The tie could not be broken through a frenetic third period and overtime, despite Thomas Di Pauli getting slashed on a breakaway and WBS getting a power play in overtime. Unfortunately for the Penguins, an effort deserving of the full points only got them half of the points, as Shane Gersich scored in round 6 of the shootout to give Hershey the extra point.

Tokarski finished with 18 saves on 19 shots in the hard-luck loss, while Hershey’s Pheonix Copley saved 33 of 34 shots, including six in a row in the shootout, to take the win.

Devane took third star for his goal, Copley’s performance earned second honors, while Gersich’s shootout winner was enough for top honors as WBS dropped its fifth straight home game to close out the first half of its schedule.

Saturday, January 11: Hartford 0 @ WBS 3

WBS closed out its six-game homestand by facing the top affiliate of the New York Rangers, the Hartford Wolf Pack, for the first time this season. Hartford’s strong start had been fueled by one of the league’s best goaltenders in Igor Shesterkin, who holds the league lead in GAA (1.93) at week’s end and is second in wins (15) and save percentage (.932), but who was also on recall to the Rangers, so it was left to Tom McCollum to tend the pipes.

I was really curious to see how the Penguins would handle the division leaders, and to my pleasant surprise, WBS gave Hartford everything it could handle and more over the course of a very evenly played 60 minutes.

The game was so even that it took a Hartford own-zone turnover in the second period to give WBS the opening it needed to break the scoreless tie.

For reasons unknown to me, Sam Miletic and Chase Berger were given assists on this, Kevin Roy’s first for WBS and fifth of the season, but there you go.

The defense, already down one of their most improved young defenders in Jon Lizotte (missed Saturday’s game after getting the bad side of an inadvertent collision on Friday with Hershey’s Beck Malenstyn), held the line impressively from there. Casey DeSmith did the rest, stopping all 25 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season. David Warsofsky and Anthony Angello added empty net goals in the final minutes to make for a harsher score line than the Wolf Pack probably deserved.

Warsofsky, Roy, and DeSmith swept the night’s honors for the Penguins.

The Stat Board

Atlantic Division standings after the games of January 12, sorted by points:

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack - 39 games played, 23-9-7, 53 points, .679 points percentage
  2. Hershey Bears - 39 games played, 23-11-5, 51 points, .654 points percentage
  3. Providence Bruins - 40 games played, 22-15-3, 47 points, .588 points percentage
  4. Springfield Thunderbirds - 41 games played, 21-18-2, 44 points, .537 points percentage
  5. Charlotte Checkers - 37 games played, 20-14-3, 43 points, .581 points percentage
  6. WBS Penguins - 39 games played, 18-15-6, 42 points, .538 points percentage
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 39 games played, 15-19-5, 35 points, .449 points percentage
  8. Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 41 games played, 14-22-5, 33 points, .402 points percentage

Hartford’s loss to WBS on Saturday was their only loss of the week, as they went 2-1 on the week to maintain their two-point lead over the hard-charging Hershey Bears, who are now 15-2 over their last 17 games. Providence still holds third place by winning both of their games this week, with Springfield losing a bit of ground after going 1-2. Charlotte also went 2-1 to separate themselves from WBS, whose 1-1-1- week dropped them into sixth place by themselves. Lehigh Valley and Bridgeport still hold down the basement.

With WBS’s leading scorer Andrew Agozzino (14 goals, 17 assists) called up to Pittsburgh and unavailable to WBS over the last week. The active scoring leader is now Sam Miletic, with 8 goals and 18 assists over 38 games. Anthony Angello's empty netter on Saturday broke a three-way tie with Agozzino and Stefan Noesen to give Angello the team lead in goals with 15. Angello has also chipped in 7 assists for 22 points in 39 games. Next on the active scoring list is Adam Johnson, with 5 goals and 15 assists; David Warsofsky finally returned to action after an extended injury absence; he ranks fourth among active players with 4 goals and 15 assists.

Casey DeSmith floated between good (shutout Saturday) and bad (5 behind him on Wednesday) to end the week with a record of 11-10-2, a 2.91 GAA, and a .904 save percentage alongside his three shutouts. Dustin Tokarski is up to 609:40 of game time where 720 minutes are required to qualify for the league rankings; he ends the week with a 6-3-2 record, a 1.57 GAA, and a .939 save percentage. The GAA and save percentage would both lead the league if Tokarski had enough game time.

The WBS power play found success on Wednesday night, putting two power play goals behind the best penalty kill in the league in Charlotte. But there was no other success during the week; the power play ends the week with 26 goals in 147 chances for a 17.7% conversion percentage, 17th in the AHL and third best in the Atlantic. The penalty kill only conceded once on the week to end with 32 goals allowed in 156 chances for a kill percentage of 79.5%, 25th in the AHL but worst in the Atlantic Division.

WBS hits the road later this week for its longest road trip of the season, heading deep into the heart of Texas for four games over the next week and a half. First up is a pair of games in Cedar Park against the Texas Stars, Wednesday, January 15 and Friday, January 17, both 8:00 pm EST starts. Following that is a pair at San Antonio, the first of which will close out next week’s set of 3 games on Saturday, January 18 at 8:00 pm EST.