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WBS Weekly: Winning streak into the All-Star Break

Thanks to a huge influx of talent from Pittsburgh, WBS closed out its road trip on a four-game winning streak

Tuesday, January 21: WBS 3 @ San Antonio 2 (OT)

Wilkes-Barre had Dustin Tokarski out of the lineup with a hand injury and Joseph Blandisi recalled to Pittsburgh during this game. WBS closed out its Texas visit on Tuesday night with a return match against the San Antonio Rampage, their final matchup of the season.

San Antonio took early control through Klim Kostin’s ninth goal of the season at 8:58 of the first, which wasn’t matched until big Anthony Angello expanded his team lead in goals with his 16th of the season at 12:19 of the second.

Just go to the net. Good things will happen.

WBS took a 2-1 lead in the third period through Kevin Roy’s eighth goal of the season at 10:40 of the third; that was also Roy’s fourth for WBS in his previous five games. WBS could not see the slim lead through to full time, though, as former Penguin Derrick Pouliot sent his 26th assist of the season to former Penguin-killer Nathan Walker, who scored his 17th goal of the season at 18:57 of the third to send the game to overtime.

Overtime was its usual frenetic self, with WBS getting five shots to San Antonio’s three, including the last shot.

That’s gonna be a thing, I guess...bell puns for Jordy Bellerive. Well deserved, though, with Bellerive slamming home his sixth goal of the season and his third in two games against San Antonio to give the Penguins an overtime victory and a season victory over the Rampage, going 3-1 in four games.

Casey DeSmith took the win in net, with 23 saves on 25 shots. Ville Husso for San Antonio took the loss, stopping 26 of 29 Penguins shots. Amazingly, WBS swept all three stars of the game on the road, with Angello getting third star, Roy second star, and Bellerive first.

Friday, January 24: WBS 5 @ Charlotte 4

Look at that roster. Just look at it. Not only did WBS get a huge influx of reinforcements from Pittsburgh in the form of Kevin Czuczman, Andrew Agozzino, Sam Lafferty, and Blandisi, but Zack Trotman also returned from his injury absence. This influx forced Matt Abt, Michael Kim, and Christopher Brown down to Wheeling.

Additionally, the Penguins organization put Andreas Martinsen on unconditional waivers for the purpose of contract termination on Friday. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet notes in that link that releasing Martinsen would give Pittsburgh room for three more NHL contracts (47 out of 50), so while Martinsen’s desires might be to head back to Europe (as reported by Taylor Haase of DK Pittsburgh Sports), this would give Pittsburgh some contract room

Coach Mike Vellucci’s return to Charlotte following his championship run with the Checkers was full of fireworks from the Penguins. David Warsofsky, Cole Cassels, and Warsofsky again scored the game’s first three goals to put WBS up 3-0 over the first 27:30 of the game.

OK, that first one by Warsofsky had a bit of help.

As has been the trend for WBS this season, though, as quickly as they get leads like that, they give them away. It took less than eight minutes for Julien Gauthier (20), Eetu Luostarinen (8), and Gustav Forsling (6) to tie the game at three. But the period would not stay tied, as Cassels scored his second goal of the night at 18:03 of the second to give WBS a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes.

It only took eight seconds in the third period for Sam Lafferty to announce his return to WBS, scoring off an opening faceoff play to give WBS a 5-3 lead.

On this night, five would be enough, as WBS withstood David Gust’s eighth goal of the year at 11:48 of the third to finish a 5-4 victory.

Casey DeSmith had a busy Friday, stopping 36 of 40 Charlotte shots for the win, while Anton Forsberg stopped 31 of 36 for Charlotte in the losing effort. Coming into the game, Charlotte had the league’s best penalty kill, but the WBS power play still managed to dent them for three PPG on this night.

Luostarinen took third star with a goal and an assist, but it was a banner night for both David Warsofsky and Cole Cassels. Cassels added three assists to his two goals for the first five-point game of his career, and in so doing became the first Penguins player in nearly nine years to put up five points in a game. He only got second star for it, though, as David Warsofsky added two assists to his pair of goals for four points and top honors on the evening.

Saturday, January 25: WBS 4 @ Charlotte 2

Things started out rough in the first period of the rematch against Charlotte, as Julien Gauthier scored his 21st of the year just 55 seconds into the proceedings to give the Checkers a 1-0 lead. They held that lead past halfway into the second, until Jordy Bellerive struck gold twice to close out a fantastic road trip for him.

Those goals at 12:42 and 15:42 gave WBS a lead for just 40 seconds, as Morgan Geekie scored his thirteenth goal of the season to tie the game at 2 after 40 minutes.

The third period went back and forth, as both teams wanted to finish the pre-All Star portions of their schedule with a win. But the final shots went to Thomas Di Pauli, who took a breakout pass from Zack Trotman to zip around two Charlotte defenders and slam a backhander home for 3-2 with 1:27 to play. Di Pauli followed that up by throwing an empty-netter to give WBS their fourth straight victory, 4-2 over Charlotte, and a season split of the Checkers.

Emil Larmi buckled down beautifully following that first goal to finish with 24 saves on 26 shots and his first win at the AHL level since October 16 against Binghamton. His counterpart Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 27 of 30 shots in the losing effort.

Larmi’s performance earned him third star honors on the night. Bellerive’s pair of goals were good enough for second star, while Di Pauli stole first star away with his pair of goals in a brilliant final two minutes.

The Stat Board

Atlantic Division standings after the games of January 25, sorted by points (sorted by points)

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack - 44 games played, 25-10-4-5, 59 points, .670 points percentage
  2. Hershey Bears - 46 games played, 27-14-2-3, 59 points, .641 points percentage
  3. Providence Bruins - 46 games played, 25-16-5, 55 points, .598 points percentage
  4. Springfield Thunderbirds - 46 games played, 25-19-2-0, 52 points, .565 points percentage
  5. Charlotte Checkers - 43 games played, 24-16-3-0, 51 points, .593 points percentage
  6. WBS Penguins - 45 games played, 22-16-3-4, 51 points, .567 points percentage
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 45 games played, 18-21-1-5, 42 points, .467 points percentage
  8. Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 45 games played, 15-25-4-1, 35 points, .389 points percentage

Hartford and Hershey end at the break tied for first, with the Wolf Pack having two games. It’s four back to Providence in third, then three back to Springfield, who beat Bridgeport 6-2 on Saturday to claim the final playoff position for itself at the break. Charlotte and WBS are tied, one point behind, with Charlotte having two games in hand. From there, it’s a remarkable nine points back to Lehigh Valley, then another seven back to last place Bridgeport.

At the break, Andrew Agozzino leads WBS in scoring, with 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in 37 games. He had originally been named to the Atlantic Division’s AHL All-Star Team, but it was announced on Thursday that Agozzino would be unavailable for the All-Star Classic, so Sam Miletic was announced in his place. Miletic’s 19 assists tie with two others on WBS (Agozzino and Adam Johnson) for one behind the team leader in assists David Warsofsky’s 20, and Miletic has also contributed 8 goals for 27 points. Warsofsky has 7 goals and 20 assists for 27 points in 34 games; Adam Johnson has 7 goals and 19 assists for 26 points, while Anthony Angello leads the team with 16 goals, adding 9 assists for 26 points.

Casey DeSmith arrives at the All-Star break with a record of 14-11-2, a GAA of 2.95, and a save percentage of .903 with 3 shutouts. Emil Larmi’s record is 2-2-3 with a 3.56 GAA and a .881 save percentage. Dustin Tokarski’s stats are unchanged at a 6-3-2 record, a 1.76 GAA, a .932 save percentage, and one shutout.

The power play stood out on Friday, as noted above, putting three goals past the best PK in the league in Charlotte; the PP ended the week with those 3 goals in 8 chances, ending with 32 goals in 162 chances for a percentage of 18.8%, an increase of 0.9% over last week, 14th in the AHL, and second in the division. The penalty kill gave up two goals in 11 chances, ending the week with 36 power play goals conceded in 177 chances for a kill percentage of 79.7%, a bump of 0.2% from last week, but 27th in the AHL and last in the division.

It’s All-Star Weekend, so the entire league is off until Friday, January 31. WBS kicks off the unofficial second half of its season with its first-ever Concert Series of games. First off is Lehigh Valley on Friday night, January 31, start time 7:05 pm EST, and a postgame concert by A Proud Monkey, a tribute to the Dave Matthews Band. Next up is Bridgeport on Saturday night, February 1, start time 7:05 pm EST, with a postgame concert by No Quarter - the Tribute to Led Zeppelin’s Legacy. All admission tickets to both games include the concerts for free, while both games also offer Ice Access passes for an additional $10.