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WBS Weekly: Eight-game point streak comes to an end

The WBS Penguins again find themselves on the wrong side of the playoff line following back to back losses to Hershey and Lehigh Valley.

Wednesday, February 5: Binghamton 1 @ WBS 2

The WBS Penguins entered their first full week of February games without anyone on the active roster having gotten to double digits in goals. The only three that have done so are either promoted (Anthony Angello, Andrew Agozzino) or elsewhere (Stefan Noesen). So the offense for the week had to come from somewhere if the Penguins were to extend their streak of games with points, which was at seven entering the week.

On Wednesday, that offense came from their captain, David Warsofsky. Warsofsky tallied twice, once at 18:39 of the first to open the scoring and again at 10:50 of the third to break a 1-1 tie, both on power plays, to fuel the Penguins to a 2-1 victory, their eighth straight game with points.

Starting goaltender Casey DeSmith earned his 16th win of the season for WBS by stopping 22 of 23 shots, good enough for second star honors on the evening. Forward Cole Cassels recorded the primary assists on both Warsofsky goals to get third star of the game, while Warsofsky earned top honors for his pair of goals, leaving him with nine on the season at game’s end.

Friday, February 7: Hershey 3 @ WBS 0

It’s kinda funny when you think about it...here are the WBS Penguins, just starting to get things together with points in their last eight games, in playoff position again, within seven points of the division leaders with two months of the season to go, welcoming in the Hershey Bears for a Friday night rivalry engagement.

And the Bears come out and show the Penguins exactly where they stand in the pecking order.

The very old Matt Moulson opened the scoring just 2:28 into the game with a power play goal, his team-leading 16th goal of the season. Garrett Pilon made it 2-0 at 4:32 of the second with his 13th of the season, and Liam O’Brien deposited a shorthanded goal into an empty net just 1:18 from full time for his ninth of the year. Pheonix Copley did the rest, shutting down all 31 WBS shots he saw for his second shutout of the season (both against WBS) to push Hershey to a 5-2-1 record over WBS so far this season (WBS is, by contrast, 3-3-1-1 in those eight games), with four matchups still to go.

Pilon, Moulson, and Copley took the stars of the game.

Saturday, February 8: Lehigh Valley 5 @ WBS 3

In many respects, Saturday night’s Military Appreciation Night represented a throwback to the old days of WBS Penguins hockey. Saturday night in February, extremely cold weather, sellout crowd of 8,107, Philadelphia’s affiliate is in town, and the game was on local television.

It felt like 2005 during warmups.

It also felt early on like it was going to be an entertaining barnburner of a game, with Isaac Ratcliffe’s fourth of the year, Jamie Devane popping Kurtis Gabriel’s helmet off in a fight, and Kevin Roy’s ninth of the year all within the first 3:03 of the first period. But from there, Lehigh Valley’s Kirill Ustimenko, the ECHL Goaltender of the Month for January and just promoted to Lehigh Valley from Reading on Thursday, settled down impressively to keep WBS off the board for the next 51 minutes.

His counterpart, Emil Larmi, had no such fortunes, conceding two goals to Maksim Sushko in the first period, one to Kyle Criscuolo in the second, and one to Gerry Fitzgerald to put Lehigh Valley up 5-1 at the 3:58 mark of the third period. Larmi finished a difficult night with 27 saves on 32 Lehigh Valley shots.

WBS made the final score a bit more respectable than they probably deserved through the newly-promoted Myles Powell’s first AHL goal at 13:07 of the third and Jan Drozg’s 4th of the year just 20 seconds from full time, but Lehigh Valley still took the full points with a 5-3 win.

Ustimenko finished a busy night with 38 saves on 41 shots and the game’s second star honors. Fitzgerald took third star with a goal and an assist, while Sushko took top honors for his pair in the back end of the first to set the Phantoms on their way.

Put in a good word for Kevin Czuczman, too...he had to be helped off the ice on Saturday after he ran into one of his teammates. Status unknown for the future, as is that of Jordy Bellerive, who missed all of this week’s games after a rough ending to last week.

The Stat Board

Atlantic Division standings after the games of February 9 (sorted by points):

  1. Hershey Bears - 51 games played, 31-15-2-3, 67 points, .657 points percentage
  2. Hartford Wolf Pack - 49 games played, 27-12-5-5, 64 points, .653 points percentage
  3. Providence Bruins - 50 games played, 26-18-3-3, 58 points, .580 points percentage
  4. Charlotte Checkers - 47 games played, 27-17-3-0, 57 points, .606 points percentage
  5. WBS Penguins - 50 games played, 24-18-3-5, 56 points, .560 points percentage
  6. Springfield Thunderbirds - 51 games played, 26-23-2-0, 54 points, .529 points percentage
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 50 games played, 21-23-1-5, 48 points, .480 points percentage
  8. Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 50 games played, 18-27-4-1, 41 points, .410 points percentage

There’s those Hershey Bears, on top of the division by three points after a 3-0 week and 8-2 in their last 10. Hartford is three back with two games less played, though, so the Wolf Pack can still control the division despite going 1-1-1 this week with only one point taken out of a weekend visit to Charlotte. From there, it’s six back to the pack of teams fighting for playoff position, led by Providence, who only took one point out of a home and home series with Bridgeport. Charlotte swept the weekend visit from Hartford to improve to 7-3 in their last 10 and take the final playoff position with less games played than anyone else in the division. WBS is one back of the playoff line at 56 with 26 games left to play, and Springfield is two back of WBS after an 0-3 week that saw them drop road games to Hartford, Lehigh Valley, and Hershey. Lehigh Valley was denied their own perfect weekend by Hershey on Sunday 5-2, but they are still 9 back of the playoffs. Bridgeport continues to flounder in the basement.

As noted above, WBS’s three top goal scorers this season are not on the team, so the active goals and points leader is now David Warsofsky with 9 goals and 21 assists in 39 games. All-Star Sam Miletic is stuck on 8 goals and 20 assists, with only one assist in his last 9 games. Adam Johnson is in a similar funk, stuck on 7 goals and 19 assists and scoreless in his last 6. Kevin Roy is now one point back of Johnson on the overall scoring list, with 9 goals and 16 assists on the season and 5 goals/6 assists for WBS in 22 games.

Casey DeSmith ends the week with a record of 16-12-2 after beating the Devils on Wednesday and losing to Hershey on Friday, with a season GAA of 2.80, a save percentage of .908, and three shutouts. Emil Larmi’s rough rookie season continues, with a season record of 2-3-4, a GAA of 3.55, and a .883 save percentage.

After getting both goals on Wednesday, the WBS power play went a combined 0 for 8 against Hershey and Lehigh Valley, finishing the week with 35 goals on 187 power plays for a 18.7% conversion percentage, 14th in the AHL and second best in the division. The penalty kill only conceded Matt Moulson’s power play goal on Friday in 16 chances across 3 games, improving to an 81.4% season kill percentage. While WBS still has the worst kill in the division, they have improved to 17th in the league.

A New England week awaits WBS this upcoming week, as Monster Jam takes up weekend residence at the home arena. WBS visits Hartford on Wednesday, February 12 at 7:00 pm EST, then Providence on Valentine’s Day this Friday, 7:05 pm EST start time, then Bridgeport on Saturday, February 15, 7:00 pm EST start time.