Friday, January 31: Lehigh Valley 1 @ WBS 4
It was expected that the Pittsburgh Penguins would come calling after sending Andrew Agozzino, Joseph Blandisi, Sam Lafferty, and Kevin Czuczman back to Wilkes-Barre for the Pittsburgh bye week. What was a little surprising to me was that the recalls consisted only of Agozzino and WBS’s goals leader, Anthony Angello. Not necessarily because I don’t think Angello was deserving of his NHL debut on Friday against the Flyers, because I absolutely think he earned it; mostly because I expected more bodies to go up.
This left WBS with a strong lineup to open its post-All-Star schedule with a Concert Series against a resurgent Lehigh Valley side still stuck in seventh place in the Atlantic. WBS took full advantage.
Jake Lucchini led it off at 6:34 of the first period with his fifth goal of the year.
Jan Drozg followed up less than a minute later with this shot off the back of Lehigh Valley goaltender J-F Berube to give WBS a 2-0 lead.
Lehigh Valley drew it back to 2-1 as Andy Andreoff took a long breakout pass and fired past WBS goaltender Casey DeSmith before defender P-O Joseph could get back. Joseph made a strong effort, but Andreoff’s shot was that much better.
What a dandy from Andy. pic.twitter.com/FGxBCmuRN9— LehighValleyPhantoms (@LVPhantoms) February 1, 2020
In the second period, WBS captain David Warsofsky put on a dazzling shift to get past the forwards at the top of the LV defense, only to dish off to a waiting Lucchini in the circle. Lucchini did not miss his sixth goal of the year.
That’s an assist that’s just as good as the goal, in my opinion.
Forward Sam Lafferty, playing only his sixth game for WBS this season, closed the scoring just 53 second into the third period and showed quite clearly that he is not of the AHL anymore. (At least, he showed that to these eyes.)
That goal chased Berube from the game, as Felix Sandstrom came in for mop-up duty and stopped the final seven WBS shots of the night. Berube finished with 23 saves on 27 shots, while DeSmith earned second star honors with 29 saves on 30 shots to propel WBS to its fifth straight victory.
Drozg took third star of the game honors for his goal, but Lucchini was clearly the game’s top performer with his pair of goals.
The postgame concert featured a Dave Matthews Band tribute band, A Proud Monkey. Of the paid attendance of 6,201 for Friday’s game, I would estimate about 10% stuck around for the concert, with the majority of those paying the additional $10 to stand on the ice or on mats laid down on the ice for the show. I stuck around for about half of the 60-minute set, and I thought A Proud Monkey performed well.
Saturday, February 1: Bridgeport 3 @ WBS 2 (SO)
Following Friday’s game, Pittsburgh corrected their mistake and recalled Lafferty, leaving WBS with the above lineup as they welcomed the last-place Bridgeport Sound Tigers to town. Joseph Blandisi opened the scoring at 11:13 of the first period with a power play goal, his fifth goal of the year for WBS, and one of the prettiest goals you’ll see this season from the farm team.
Bridgeport’s Oliver Wahlstrom tied the game at 15:15 of the second with his fifth of the year, only to have Lucchini score his third goal in two games and seventh of the season at 18:18 of the second.
It looked for a while in the third period that WBS would hang on to win, but Josh Ho-Sang (who for some reason always seems to be with Bridgeport when WBS plays them) scored his first of the year for the Sound Tigers just 2:27 from full time to get Bridgeport a very scarce point.
WBS could not convert a power play at the end of regulation, and despite Lucchini and Thomas Di Pauli scoring in the shootout, Bridgeport managed to slam the door on the WBS winning streak as Matt Lorito, Travis St. Denis, and Simon Holmstrom beat WBS starting goaltender Emil Larmi to give Bridgeport only their 16th win of the season in 47 games.
Larmi finished the normal game with 28 saves on 30 shots, while Bridgeport’s Jared Coreau stopped 25 of 27 shots and even took a roughing penalty at the end of overtime. Ho-Sang’s equalizer in the third period gave him third star honors; Blandisi’s highlight reel opener was good for second star; Holmstrom’s shootout winner earned top honors.
The postgame concert on Saturday for the paid crowd of 6,421 was from No Quarter, the acclaimed Led Zeppelin tribute band. I wish I could have seen this one...
The week closed with WBS defender Zach Trotman sharing this image of a nasty sliced lip after being stitched up in the aftermath of Saturday’s game. I’m not embedding it here, because it’s a bit squeamish, but it serves as a reminder that the game of hockey can be very, very harsh on its participants.
The Stat Board
Atlantic Division standings as of February 2, sorted by points:
- Hartford Wolf Pack - 46 games played, 26-11-9, 61 points, .663 points percentage
- Hershey Bears - 48 games played, 28-15-5, 61 points, .635 points percentage
- Providence Bruins - 48 games played, 26-17-5, 57 points, .594 points percentage
- WBS Penguins - 47 games played, 23-16-8, 54 points, .574 points percentage
- Springfield Thunderbirds - 48 games played, 26-20-2, 54 points, .563 points percentage
- Charlotte Checkers - 45 games played, 25-17-3, 53 points, .589 points percentage
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 47 games played, 19-22-6, 44 points, .468 points percentage
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 47 games played, 16-26-5, 37 points, .394 points percentage
Not a whole lot of change coming out of the All-Star break, as Hartford and Hershey are still jockeying for the Atlantic lead, Providence is established in third, and WBS, Springfield, and Charlotte are still in a fight for the last playoff spot. At week’s end, WBS and Springfield hold the point advantage over Charlotte, with WBS having one extra game to play over Springfield. Lehigh Valley is still in seventh, 10 back of the playoff line, with another 7 back to the last-place Sound Tigers.
With Agozzino, Lafferty, and Angello up in Pittsburgh to end the week, it’s WBS’s All-Star representative Sam Miletic and captain David Warsofsky who tie for the active scoring lead. Miletic recorded his 20th assist of the season this week, with Warsofsky adding his own assist to end the week with 21. Adam Johnson is not far behind, with 7 goals and 19 assists through 32 games.
Casey DeSmith’s strong game on Friday improved his season record to 15-11-2 and his save percentage to .905 while dropping his season GAA to 2.88. Despite taking his fourth extra-time loss of the season on Saturday, Emil Larmi (2-2-4) also improved his GAA to 3.33 and his save percentage to .888.
The WBS power play recorded one goal in six opportunities this week to end with 33 goals on 176 chances, a conversion rate of 18.8%, 14th in the AHL and second in the Atlantic Division. The penalty kill was perfect this week, dispatching all six opportunities it faced to end the week with 36 goals conceded on 183 chances for a kill rate of 80.3%, 26th in the AHL and still last in the Atlantic.
WBS continues its homestand with three games in four days this week, first welcoming the Binghamton Devils to town on Wednesday, February 5 at 7:05 pm EST, then the Hershey Bears on Friday, February 7 at 7:05 pm EST, then Military Appreciation Night on Saturday, February 8, as Lehigh Valley comes back to town for a 7:05 pm puck drop.