Wednesday, February 12: WBS 2 @ Hartford 1
The WBS Penguins faced a very tall task to open this week, opening with their first visit to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the season. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Wolf Pack had only dropped one game in regulation and a grand total of only four points out of games at XL Center, bringing a home record of 20-1-0-2 into the contest.
Which made the result all the more impressive.
Yet another young prospect for WBS enjoyed a breakout game to power the Penguins to victory. On this night, it was the young rookie defender Pierre-Olivier Joseph, developing extremely well in his first pro season since coming over from the Arizona organization and scoring his second and third goals of the season to provide all of WBS’s offense.
On the other side of the rink, Casey DeSmith allowed only Ryan Dmowski’s third of the year to beat him, finishing with 25 saves on 26 shots to send Hartford to only their second home loss of the season.
Dmowski, DeSmith, and Joseph took the stars of the game honors on the night.
Friday, February 14: WBS 2 @ Providence 4
From there, the Penguins, dads and mentors in tow, proceeded to Providence to take on the Bruins in a fight for fourth place in the Atlantic Division.
Aside from Jordy Bellerive’s return to the lineup following injury, the best I can say from this game is that WBS played it extremely cleanly, taking exactly zero (0) penalties. Unfortunately, clean games aren’t necessarily winning games, as Josiah Didier and Brendan Gaunce scored goals in the first period, then Joona Koppanen and Jack Studnicka (empty net) scored in the third to sandwich Adam Johnson’s eighth goal of the year on a power play.
Providence forgot a guy on that play, but they didn’t forget anyone else for the rest of the night.
The returning Bellerive scored his ninth of the year mere fractions of a second away from full time to make the final a bit more friendly, but whether it’s 4-2 or 4-1, it was still a Bruins victory.
Providence goaltender Max Lagace stopped 28 of 30 shots for his 18th victory of the season for the Bruins; both he and teammate Dan Vladar are in the top 10 in the AHL in goals against average and save percentage among qualifying goaltenders. The only other teams in the AHL that can come close to that accomplishment are Milwaukee, with their two goalies in the top six, and Hershey, with their pair in the top 8 in GAA. For WBS, DeSmith took the net again and finished with 22 saves on 25 shots for the loss.
Koppanen, Didier, and Lagace took the honors of stars of the game.
Saturday, February 15: WBS 2 @ Bridgeport 3
Bit of a curious choice to play DeSmith again on back to back nights and his third in four nights. I suppose a sense of urgency was felt to try to get standings points from anywhere they could.
Too bad the choice didn’t pan out, as Simon Holmstrom put two past DeSmith, one at 17:59 of the second and one at 9:38 of the third on a power play to square the season series with the Penguins at two wins apiece.
For the Penguins, Jamie Devane scored his 3rd of the season at 10:08 of the second to match Oliver Wahlstrom’s first period marker. Then Joseph Blandisi scored his sixth of the season for WBS at 16:35 of the second on a power play to give WBS a temporary lead that they could not hold.
Those were the only two shots to beat Bridgeport goaltender Jared Coreau, who stopped the other 34 shots WBS put on him to take his 10th win of the season for the Sound Tigers.
Coreau, Grant Hutton (two assists), and Holmstrom swept the honors for Bridgeport.
The Stat Board
Atlantic Division standings through the games of February 16, sorted by points:
- Hershey Bears - 54 games played, 32-16-3-3, 70 points, .648 points percentage
- Hartford Wolf Pack - 52 games played, 29-13-5-5, 68 points, .654 points percentage
- Charlotte Checkers - 51 games played, 29-18-4-0, 62 points, .608 points percentage
- Providence Bruins - 52 games played, 28-18-3-3, 62 points. .596 points percentage
- Springfield Thunderbirds - 53 games played, 28-23-2-0, 58 points, .547 points percentage
- WBS Penguins - 53 games played, 25-20-3-5, 58 points, .547 points percentage (loses regulation and overtime wins tiebreaker to Springfield 25-21)
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 53 games played, 22-24-1-6, 51 points, .481 points percentage
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 52 games played, 19-27-5-1, 44 points, .423 points percentage
Bit of a setback of a week for Hershey atop the standings, dropping a home and home series to the Binghamton Devils before recovering to beat Lehigh Valley on Sunday to maintain their spot at the top of the division. Hartford recovered from its midweek loss to take a 3-1 decision from Laval on Friday, then a 4-3 shootout win at Lehigh Valley to stay two behind Hershey with two games in hand. Charlotte took five out of 8 points this week to jump level on points with Providence, despite two wins in two tries from the Bruins. Springfield matched WBS on points with their own 2-0 week; both WBS and Springfield are four back of the playoff line. Lehigh Valley and Bridgeport continue to lag behind.
On Friday, the AHL debuted the 2020 version of the Playoff Primer, detailing various magic numbers and tiebreakers for the various teams in the AHL. The primer will be updated on a daily basis from now until the end of the regular season. Per the most recent primer available as of this writing, February 15, the magic numbers for the WBS Penguins are as follows, with 23 games to play:
- Clinch playoffs: 53
- Win division: 59
- Best record in the league: 66
WBS’s leading active scorer David Warsofsky did not record any points this week, so he stays at nine goals and 21 points to lead the team. Sam Miletic posted an assist to get to 29 points (8G+21A), one behind the Penguins captain. From there, it’s two back to Adam Johnson (8G+19A) and Kevin Roy (9G+18A) on 27 points.
Meanwhile, the overall goals leader for WBS, Anthony Angello, and the leading overall scorer, Andrew Agozzino, remain promoted to Pittsburgh, where this past week their time on ice was as follows:
- February 11 at Tampa Bay: Angello scratched, Agozzino 3:19
- February 14 vs. Montreal: Angello scratched, Agozzino 6:49
- February 16 vs. Detroit: Angello scratched, Agozzino 9:31
Also of note for me: Sam Lafferty, who posted 5:08 of time against Tampa, 8:01 against Montreal, and 9:37 against Detroit with a goal.
Those are the three most likely to come down to WBS following Pittsburgh’s return to health, so it’s a bit frustrating from the farm team side to see them with such little utilization for Pittsburgh when they could tangibly help WBS. Here’s to Pittsburgh’s return to health.
After Casey DeSmith’s week, he ends with a record of 17-14-2, a GAA of 2.77, and a save percentage of .908.
The WBS power play converted two of 10 chances on the week to improve their success rate to 18.8% (37 of 197), 12th in the AHL and second in the division. The penalty kill improved to 81.6% after only allowing one goal this past week, finishing with 38 concessions on 207 kills. The kill is 17th in the AHL and last in the division, though only 0.5% stands between WBS and Springfield/Lehigh Valley in the division rankings.
It doesn’t get any easier for WBS, with a three-game weekend on deck against the top three teams in the Atlantic. Hershey comes to town first on Friday night, February 21, 7:05 pm EST start time. WBS then heads back to the New England states, first to pay another visit to Hartford on Saturday, February 22, 7:00 pm start time, then on to Providence again on Sunday, Feburary 23, 3:05 pm start time.
One last word: Congratulations go out this week to Scott Howson, the director of player development for the Edmonton Oilers, who was unanimously elected by the AHL Board of Governors on Friday to succeed David Andrews as the tenth President and CEO of the American Hockey League, effective July 1. Andrews is retiring as President and CEO, though he will stick around as Chair of the Board of Governors.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Andrews has had on the American Hockey League during his 26 years at the helm, but consider this: When Andrews became President and CEO in 1994, the AHL had only 16 teams spread among 3 divisions, based mostly in Canada, New England, and New York. The furthest south that the league extended at that time was with the Hershey Bears. Through integration of six franchises from the International Hockey League in 2001, an expansion to California consummated in 2015, and various other new franchises and locations (including the birth of the team about which I write every week in 1999), the AHL has achieved one-to-one affiliation with every single NHL franchise, including an arrangement already set up in Palm Springs, California for the new Seattle NHL franchise.
It will be very difficult to consider an American Hockey League without David Andrews leading it. Scott Howson has a massive legacy to follow.