Wednesday, January 15: WBS 2 @ Texas 5
After picking up Joseph Blandisi who was assigned to WBS from Pittsburgh, the AHL Penguins embarked on their first road trip to the state of Texas in just over 17 years. A visit to the Texas Stars kicked off a six game road trip for Wilkes-Barre. The game went back and forth over the first two periods, with a power play goal by Kevin Roy (his second in as many games) answered by Texas forward Tanner Kero’s power play goal in the first, then Adam Johnson’s sixth of the season was answered by Texas’ Anthony Louis in the second period.
Unfortunately, Texas pulled away in the third, as Joel L’Esperance scored his 17th of the season just 38 seconds into the third period, and Kero scored twice more in the final minutes to secure a hat trick as the Stars secured the 5-2 victory.
WBS starting goaltender Casey DeSmith took the loss with 32 saves on 36 shots, while Texas keeper Jake Oettinger secured the victory with 18 saves on 20 shots. Texas swept the star honors on the night, with L’Esperance, Louis, and Kero so honored.
Friday, January 17: WBS 3 @ Texas 4 (SO)
Friday was far more interesting for the Penguins than was Wednesday. It started off with the afternoon trade of forward Oula Palve to the Stars organization in exchange for defender John Nyberg, who immediately slotted into the second defense pairing that night (as you can see above). Palve, in his first North American pro season, departs the Penguins having scored one goal and 7 assists in 37 games, being penalized for 22 minutes, and accruing a -20 rating. Everything I’ve seen from the community of statistics over the last few years tells me that plus-minus is increasingly irrelevant, but it has to say something that Palve’s plus-minus rating was the worst on the team at the time of his departure by five over David Warsofsky and ten over the next-worst forward, Jordy Bellerive...doesn’t it?
As for the game, Texas flew out of the gates, getting goals by Nicholas Caamano and Ben Gleason inside the first 5:41 of the game to chase Dustin Tokarski from the proceedings after just four shots. Emil Larmi took Tokarski’s place for his first AHL action since December 7 (curiously enough, against these same Texas Stars). Larmi acquitted himself marvelously in relief, stopping 24 of 25 shots and conceding only to Anthony Louis at 10:55 of the second.
To their credit, WBS showed some serious moxie on Friday night, getting goals from Adam Johnson at 16:25 of the first and Kevin Roy at 6:09 of the second to tie the game, then David Warsofsky at 1:44 of the third to tie the game again. The goals by Roy and Warsofsky were power play goals.
Take a look at Adam Johnson’s seventh of the season. pic.twitter.com/XgamY9z8hi— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 18, 2020
David Warsofsky with the BLAST to tie it up pic.twitter.com/JeEmWopwNi— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 18, 2020
The rest of the third period and overtime proceeded scoreless, and while Jordy Bellerive scored in the shootout, so did Texas’s Jason Robertson and Nicholas Caamano to give Texas the extra point and a season sweep of the Penguins.
Jake Oettinger took the start again for the Stars and took another victory from WBS, stopping 27 of 30 shots. Oettinger took third star of the game for his efforts, with Louis and Caamano taking the remainder of the honors.
Saturday, January 18: WBS 4 @ San Antonio 3 (SO)
Tokarski was a late scratch for WBS as they visited the AT&T Center in San Antonio to take on the Rampage; Emil Larmi took his place as the backup to DeSmith.
After splitting their games in WBS, the Penguins started out well enough, with Joseph Blandisi scoring his fourth for WBS at 12:22 of the first. The Rampage responded in the second with a shorthanded goal by Austin Poganski at 9:09 of the second, then again through Jake Walman at 15:15 of the second. Walman’s goal was answered 1:11 later by Jordy Bellerive, who tallied his 4th of his rookie season to tie the game 2-2 after 40 minutes.
Bellerive wasn’t done, as he scored unassisted at 10:37 of the third to give WBS a short-lived lead. Walman matched the pair of goals just 1:20 after Bellerive broke the tie to re-level the game at 3, a score that held through the end of regulation.
Despite getting a high-sticking power play in overtime, WBS gave the power play away just as quickly through a roughing penalty, and the game progressed to a shootout where Bellerive scored his second straight shootout goal to give WBS the win.
DeSmith finished with 22 saves on 25 shots and saves on Austin Poganski, Mike Vecchione, and Joey LaLeggia in the shootout. His opposite number, Ville Husso, stopped 32 of 35 WBS shots in the losing effort.
Poganski finished with a goal and an assist for third star. Jake Walman’s pair of goals were good for second honors, while Jordy Bellerive took top honors for his pair of goals and his shootout winner.
The Stat Board
Atlantic Division standings after the games of January 19, sorted by points:
- Hartford Wolf Pack - 42 games played, 23-10-9, 55 points, .655 points percentage
- Hershey Bears - 43 games played, 25-13-5, 55 points, .640 points percentage
- Charlotte Checkers - 41 games played, 24-14-3, 51 points, .622 points percentage
- Providence Bruins - 43 games played, 23-16-4, 50 points, .581 points percentage
- Springfield Thunderbirds - 43 games played, 23-18-2, 48 points, .558 points percentage
- WBS Penguins - 42 games played, 19-16-7, 45 points, .536 points percentage
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 42 games played, 18-19-5, 41 points, .488 points percentage
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 43 games played, 15-23-5, 35 points, .407 points percentage
Hartford has finally been caught atop the Atlantic Division, as Hershey took a 4-1 victory on Sunday against Rochester to tie the Wolf Pack for the division lead. Seemingly out of nowhere, Charlotte is up to third, having gone 9-1 in their last 10 including 5 wins in a row to charge out of the depths and into third. Providence sits one point behind, having dropped a two-goal lead late to Springfield on Sunday and losing the extra point to sit one behind Charlotte in fourth place. From there, it’s two back to Springfield, 7-3 in their last 10, and five back to the Penguins, 3-4-3 in their last 10 and losing 3 points of standings position on the playoff cutoff line this past week. Lehigh Valley is on a five-game winning streak in an attempt to turn around their season, ending the week four behind WBS in seventh, and Bridgeport continues to lag behind.
The active leading scorer for WBS is still Sam Miletic, who recorded an assist this past week to end with 8 goals and 19 helpers in 41 games. Anthony Angello still leads the team with 15 goals, and he chipped in with two assists this week. Adam Johnson had an extremely good week, with two goals and two assists to end with 7 and 17 through 27 games.
Another week, another slight regression for Casey DeSmith, ending the week with a slightly higher GAA of 2.96 and a slightly lower save percentage of .903, with a record of 12-11-2 and 3 shutouts. Dustin Tokarski only played five minutes, but his numbers took a cut nonetheless, ending with a record of 6-3-2, a 1.76 GAA, and a .932 save percentage. Emil Larmi’s effort on Friday dropped his AHL GAA to under 4 (3.84), with a .875 save percentage and a 1-2-3 record.
The WBS power play scored 3 goals this week, but they did so in 15 chances, ending with 29 goals in 162 chances for a percentage of 17.9%, an increase of 0.2% over last week, tied for 16th in the AHL, and third in the division. The penalty kill gave up two goals in 10 chances, ending the week with 34 power play goals conceded in 166 chances for a kill percentage of 79.5%, identical to last week, 26th in the AHL, and last in the division.
The back half of this road trip for WBS will commence on Tuesday, as the Penguins close out their season series with the Rampage with an 8:00 pm start on Tuesday, January 21. From there, WBS moves to Charlotte for its annual visit to the now-red-hot Checkers for two games, Friday, January 24th at 7:00 pm EST, then Saturday, January 25th at 6:00 pm EST.
After that, it gets weird. The 2020 AHL All-Star Classic is scheduled for next Sunday, January 26 (Skills Competition, 8 pm EST), and Monday, January 27 (All-Star Challenge, 10 pm EST), but as of this writing, only Andrew Agozzino has been chosen to represent WBS, and he’s currently promoted to Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen whether the league will announce roster replacements at any time this week, but if any of those replacements include WBS players, the recap next week will include their exploits at All-Stars.