Tuesday, December 31: Springfield 5 @ WBS 4 (SO)
Before 2020 could begin, we had to get rid of 2019. Such was the case for the WBS Penguins as well, who welcomed the Springfield Thunderbirds to town for a New Year’s Eve matinee to open the week.
WBS struck first and struck quickly, as Sam Miletic and Andrew Agozzino scored their 7th and 12th goals of the season (respectively) within 18 seconds of each other in the first period.
The momentum quickly shifted, though, as Springfield rattled off three in a row over a span of 5:07 later in the first thanks to Paul Thompson, Dryden Hunt, and the returning Ryan Haggerty. Haggerty’s goal, as you can see in the highlight below, was especially controversial as it appeared WBS goalie Casey DeSmith was interfered with during the scrum that led to the goal.
WBS capitalized on a too-many-players penalty just before the end of the first, with Jan Drozg scoring his second of the season just 21 seconds from time to tie a frenetic first period at 3.
Things settled down from there considerably, as Joel Lowry scored his third of the year at 2:07 of the second to give Springfield a 4-3 lead, then Thomas Di Pauli (just before his recall to Pittsburgh) scored his 6th for WBS at 6:32 to tie the game at 4.
Overtime proceeded scoreless, despite WBS taking their own penalty for too many players on the ice, but the extra point went to the Thunderbirds, with Henrik Borgstrom scoring the only goal in the shootout to win 5-4.
DeSmith finished with 27 saves on 31 shots in the losing effort, while Springfield’s Philippe Desrosiers stopping 37 of 41 shots in the winning effort. Miletic took third star by adding an assist to his goal, Di Pauli took second by adding an assist to his goal, and Borgstrom took top honors with his shootout goal to win the game.
POSTGAME HIGHLIGHTS - a wild affair to end the decade as the @Thunderbirdsahl pull out a 5-4 shootout win over the #WBSPens on Tuesday night. The Penguins get goals from Sam Miletic, Andrew Agozzino, Jan Drozg and Thomas Di Pauli. pic.twitter.com/fiqtuhObyD— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 1, 2020
Friday, January 2: Hershey 6 @ WBS 2
If I had a kind way to describe the first weekend of calendar year 2020 for WBS, it would be a comedy of errors. It was announced prior to Friday’s game with Hershey that Tristan Jarry would be left behind in Pittsburgh on a short turnaround from a road game in Montreal on Saturday night to prepare for Sunday’s game against Florida, so Casey DeSmith would be recalled to second Matt Murray in Montreal on Saturday. Curiously enough, the recalls were not actually consummated before the Hershey game, so DeSmith was able to stay in the WB and back up Dustin Tokarski against the Bears.
The best I can say for the game is that it started out well enough. Andrew Agozzino, who had just been named to the AHL All-Star Team for 2019-2020 earlier in the day, further christened his birthday with his 13th goal of the season 6:53 into the game.
From there, though, the Bears completely took over the game.
I remember looking at the scoreboard during the midpoint of the first period and seeing Hershey up 6-5 in shots but WBS leading 1-0. By the time the first period ended, Brian Pinho had scored unassisted at 13:51 of the first to tie the game, and shots were 14-6 Hershey. By the time the second period ended, Hershey had expanded their shot advantage to 26-14 and put four more on the board, tormenting the young WBS defense with goals by Garrett Pilon, Eddie Wittchow, Pinho again, and Philippe Maillet (power play) to lead 5-1 after 40 minutes.
A slight bit of hope was sparked when Agozzino scored again 56 seconds into the third, his 14th of the season, but WBS could get no closer as Liam O’Brien scored an empty-netter at 16:36 of the third to set the final scoreline at 6-2.
Tokarski stopped only 14 of 18 shots in 28:46 of game time, easily his worst outing of the season, with DeSmith coming in after the fourth Hershey goal to mop up and stop 12 of the 13 shots he faced. Hershey goalie Vitek Vanecek stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced, including 17 of 18 in the final period.
Maillet added an assist to his goal for third star honors, Agozzino took second with his pair, and Pinho took top honors by adding an assist to his goal.
Saturday, January 4: Springfield 6 @ WBS 3
The weird weekend got weirder on Saturday morning, when it was discovered Casey DeSmith couldn’t find his passport and therefore couldn’t get into Canada, so he had to be left in the WB while Pittsburgh promoted Emil Larmi from Wheeling to serve as the second goalie to Matt Murray in Montreal. If possible, the weekend ascended to a whole new level of weird Saturday afternoon, when the Penguins signed forward Cole Cassels, previously on a PTO with Belleville, to an AHL contract for the rest of 2019-2020. The only problem is, Saturday’s game with Springfield was a special SpongeBob SquarePants-themed night, complete with specially-created jerseys that all of a sudden couldn’t be used anymore because they didn’t have one ready for Cassels.
I can’t make this up.
As for the game itself, it was another back and forth affair, led off (again) by Sam Miletic, his 8th of the year at 10:57 of the first.
Springfield’s Thomas Schemitsch tied the game 1:21 into the second with his 3rd of the year.
Later in the second, Adam Johnson found himself with a turnover on a forecheck and the newly-acquired Cassels streaking in. Johnson decided to go to work himself, and...well...
That’s Johnson’s fourth goal of the year.
The second period ended very badly for WBS, as Dryden Hunt scored a powerplay goal at 18:19 of the second, then Jake Massie backed it up with his second of the year just 29 seconds from the end of the second to flip a 2-1 WBS lead into a 3-2 Springfield lead after 40 minutes.
Jordy Bellerive came out flying in the third, forcing a Springfield turnover on a forecheck, putting a strong shot on net after a toe-drag, then having that shot pop into the air, bounce off Springfield goalie Philippe Desrosiers’s back, and into the net for his third goal of the season and a 3-3 tie. WBS continued to probe for the tiebreaker, but all they found was an explosion of goals by Springfield, who put three behind starting goalie DeSmith in a span of 2:24 in the third (Owen Tippett, Rodrigo Abols, Dryden Hunt) to pull away for a 6-3 victory.
DeSmith finished with only 24 saves on 30 shots in the loss, with Desrosiers stopping 30 of 33 WBS shots for the victory. Miletic added an assist on Johnson’s goal for third star honors, with Hunt (2 goals, 1 assist) and Tippett (1 goal, 3 assists) getting the other honors.
The 2020 AHL All-Star Classic heads out to Ontario, California in three weeks, January 26-27, with the Skills Competition on Sunday the 26th at 8 pm EST (5 pm PST) and the Challenge on Monday the 27th starting at 10 pm EST (7 pm PST). The Challenge repeats the format of the previous few years, with each division of the AHL fielding a team for a series of 3 on 3 games against the other divisions, and the best two performing teams playing a championship game.
The Atlantic Division team will be coached by Hartford’s Kris Knoblauch, as the Hartford Wolf Pack led the Atlantic as of December 31. Joining the Penguins’ lone representative, Andrew Agozzino, in Ontario will be the following, with stats provided as of the end of the games of January 5:
- D - Sebastian Aho, Bridgeport (2 goals, 18 assists in 34 games to lead the Sound Tigers in scoring)
- D - Jake Bean, Charlotte (5 goals, 17 assists in 32 games to tie for the Charlotte lead in scoring)
- LW - Paul Carey, Providence (15 goals, 11 assists in 37 games to tie for the Providence lead in scoring)
- G - Chris Driedger, Springfield (6-8-0, 2.09 GAA, .938 save percentage in 14 appearances)
- F - Morgan Frost, Lehigh Valley (6 goals, 8 assists in 19 games)
- D - Joey Keane, Hartford (6 goals, 15 assists in 35 games)
- LW - Matt Moulson (chosen as team captain), Hershey (13 goals, 13 assists in 26 games)
- C - Mike Sgarbossa, Hershey (11 goals, 24 assists in 34 games to lead Hershey in scoring)
- G - Igor Shesterkin, Hartford (15-4-3, 1.93 GAA, .932 save percentage, three shutouts in 23 appearances)
- C - Jack Studnicka, Providence (14 goals, 12 assists in 36 games to tie for the Providence lead in scoring)
- RW - Owen Tippett, Springfield (14 goals, 16 assists in 38 games to lead Springfield in scoring)
These initial selections are subject to change, due to three more weeks between now and the All-Star Challenge.
The Stat Board
Atlantic Division standings after the games of January 5, sorted by points:
- Hartford Wolf Pack - 36 games played, 21-8-7, 49 points, .681 points percentage
- Hershey Bears - 36 games played, 21-10-5, 47 points, .653 points percentage
- Providence Bruins - 38 games played, 20-15-3, 43 points, .566 points percentage
- Springfield Thunderbirds - 38 games played, 20-16-2, .553 points percentage
- Charlotte Checkers - 34 games played, 18-13-3, 39 points, .574 points percentage
- WBS Penguins - 36 games played, 17-14-5, 39 points, .542 points percentage
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 36 games played, 13-18-5, 31 points, .431 points percentage
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 38 games played, 13-20-5, 31 points, .408 points percentage
Hartford still leads the division, but Hershey has not let the derailing of their nine-game winning streak last week stop them, as they’ve gone right ahead with another four-game winning streak of their own to end the week two behind the Wolf Pack for the division lead. Providence is on a four-game losing streak to drop four behind Hershey, with Springfield on a four-game winning streak to jump into playoff position. Charlotte is on a five-game winning streak, with a record of 8-2 in their last 10, to charge out of the basement and tie WBS for fifth, with Lehigh Valley and Bridgeport continuing to lag behind.
Andrew Agozzino continues to lead the Penguins in scoring, befitting his All-Star status, with 14 goals and 17 assists in 35 games. Sam Miletic is not too far behind at week’s end, with 8 goals and 17 assists in 35 games. Anthony Angello is third among active players with 13 goals and 6 assists in 36 games, with Adam Johnson not far behind with 4 and 14 in 21 games.
After a strong November showing to earn Goalie of the Month honors, Casey DeSmith has fallen off considerably since, ending the week with a record of 10-9-2, a GAA of 2.95, and a save percentage of .904 with two shutouts. Dustin Tokarski got no closer to league qualification status, only recording 28:46 of game time this week to end the week with 544:40 played (660 minutes required to qualify on the leaderboards); Tokarski’s rough start against Hershey pegged his numbers back to a record of 6-3-1, a 1.65 GAA, and a .938 save percentage with one shutout.
The WBS power play converted only one out of 9 chances this week to drop to a tie for 15th in the AHL with 24 goals scored in 136 chances and a 17.6% conversion percentage. The penalty kill similarly suffered, conceding 3 goals on 11 chances during the week to drop below 80% on the season: 31 goals conceded in 152 chances for a 79.6% kill percentage, 26th in the AHL.
Things don’t get any easier for WBS this week, as they welcome the hot Charlotte Checkers to town on Wednesday, January 8 at 7:05 pm EST, then Hershey on Friday, January 10 at 7:05 pm EST, then Hartford on Saturday, January 11 at 7:05 pm EST to end their current homestand.