The week for the WBS Penguins opened with the NHL trade deadline on Monday, which also represented the main roster deadline day in the American Hockey League. Teams who wanted certain players to be eligible to play for an AHL team post-trade deadline or for the playoffs had to make sure those players were on the AHL team’s roster at the deadline, 3 pm Monday.
Pittsburgh attempted to start this process last Sunday by putting forward Andrew Agozzino on waivers, but Agozzino did not make it to WBS. Instead, he was claimed by the Anaheim Ducks. As a result, two of WBS’s top performers this season (Agozzino, 14 goals and 19 assists over 37 games; Stefan Noesen, 14 goals and 8 assists over the first 22 games of the season) are gone from the organization.
You want to look at why WBS is languishing in sixth place, falling further behind the playoff line as the week went on? Start there, and also look at the other callups.
WBS did get some help, though, as Sam Lafferty and Anthony Angello were sent back down to WBS for the deadline. Also, per Taylor Haase, defender Zach Trotman was also sent down to WBS for the deadline but was then immediately recalled back to Pittsburgh in what is commonly called a “paper” transaction. This transaction makes Trotman eligible for WBS for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
Lafferty wasn’t around long, however. Presumably due to Jared McCann’s lingering injury, Lafferty was recalled back to Pittsburgh on an emergency basis on Tuesday.
Wednesday, February 26: Providence 6 @ WBS 2
Just three days after dropping a close 2-1 decision to the Providence Bruins in Providence, WBS welcomed the Bruins to town for a midweek rematch to start the week. It started out well enough, with Sam Miletic scoring his ninth goal of the season off assists from Riley Barber (his 20th for all teams and second for WBS) just 2:12 into the proceedings.
Providence’s Josiah Didier tied the game at 11:42 of the first, his second goal of the year. The teams went to the first break tied at one, with WBS outshooting Providence 12-10.
That’s notable, because over the last 40 minutes of the game, Providence completely overwhelmed the Penguins. They outshot the Pens 31-14 over the last two periods and getting two goals from Cameron Hughes in the second and goals from Cooper Zech, Peter Cehlarik, and Steven Kampfer to blow the game wide open. Barber scored his first for WBS at 12:06 of the second to bring a 3-1 Providence lead back to 3-2, but Zech’s goal at 13:34 of the second restored the two-goal lead and seemed to snuff out any further momentum.
For the Bruins, Dan Vladar got the start in goal and stopped 24 of 26 WBS shots for the win. Casey DeSmith took the loss for WBS, stopping 35 of 41 Providence shots.
Didier (one goal, one assist), Zech (one goal, one assist), and Hughes (two goals) were named stars of the game.
Friday, February 28: WBS 3 @ Syracuse 4
After finally solving his visa woes, the other half of the trade return from Laval, Phil Varone, joined the Penguins lineup for WBS’s only visit to the War Memorial in Syracuse to take on the Crunch. With Varone in the lineup, and along with all of the other forward additions, Jan Drozg was sent back down to Wheeling on Thursday, along with Emil Larmi, who needs to get some time in net and probably won’t now that Dustin Tokarski is back healthy again.
What a back and forth affair this was in Syracuse. For the first 55 or so minutes, it felt like the Penguins vs. Alex Barre-Boulet and not much else. Boulet scored a hat trick within the game’s first 29:46, but each of his goal was equaled by a different Penguin. Boulet’s first goal, just 11 seconds into the game, was matched by Jamie Devane’s fourth goal of the season at 5:11.
Just 34 seconds later, it looked at first as if Varone was going to pay immediate dividends in the Penguins’ lineup with his fifth goal of the season, but it was reversed on review due to a kicking motion.
Looked like Phil Varone scored in his Penguins debut but officials claim this was a distinct kicking motion. pic.twitter.com/9qfRvrbm8N— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) February 29, 2020
Varone did manage to get on the scoresheet, though, tallying the second assist on Riley Barber’s 15th goal of the season and second for WBS.
That lead lasted all of 2:35, as Barre-Boulet got his second goal of the game to tie the game at 2.
Barre-Boulet finished his hat trick in the second period to give Syracuse a 3-2 lead. That would be a lead that the Crunch carried into the third period until Cole Cassels scored his ninth of the season, assisted by Barber and Varone.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, the final bounce went to the Crunch, as Alexander Volkov scored his eighth goal of the season just 3:47 from full time, and Syracuse hung on for a 4-3 victory.
Tokarski took the loss, stopping 25 of 29 shots, while his counterpart on the evening, Spencer Martin, stopped 16 of 19 WBS shots for the win.
Cassels took third star of the game with a goal and an assist; Volkov’s game-winner was good for second honors; Barre-Boulet’s hat trick was the clear choice for the game’s top honors.
Saturday, February 29: WBS 1 @ Hershey 5
WBS finished its week with a classic Saturday night in Chocolatetown against the Hershey Bears, still asserting themselves as the top team in the division and bolstered by two massive additions.
Remember this guy?
OFFICIAL | Capitals have acquired forward Daniel Sprong from the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Christian Djooshttps://t.co/aXQaiLkftF— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 24, 2020
Wouldn’t you know it...Daniel Sprong’s first game as a Hershey Bear would be against his former team, the one for which he performed so well against the Bears in particular.
BTW, Sprong's stat line vs Hershey in 2017-18 with the Baby Pens: 10 GP, 6 G, 10 A, 16 PTS.— Zack Fisch (@zackfisch) February 24, 2020
Not only that, but Hershey welcomed back leading scorer Mike Sgarbossa, who had been out of the Bears lineup since January 5 and who had registered at point in 24 of the 34 games he played for the Bears prior to his leaving the lineup.
What could go wrong?
Sgarbossa scored two goals on the evening and assisted on Sprong’s first goal for Hershey. Sprong scored on his debut for Hershey and assisted on both Sgarbossa goals. Combine that with Philippe Maillet’s 14th goal of the year and Garrett Pilon’s 18th of the year to start the party, and Hershey had a 5-1 lead after 40 minutes that they saw through easily to a victory before a sold-out crowd of 10,503 at GIANT Center.
The only bright spot was David Warsofsky’s 10th of the year, scored on a power play and assisted by Phil Varone.
DAVID WARSOFSKY GOAL!!! Off the face-off on the power play pic.twitter.com/xCllPbchVj— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 1, 2020
Despite Hershey giving nine power plays on the night, they ended up killing off the other eight.
Casey DeSmith took another harsh loss, stopping only 23 of 28 shots, while Vitek Vanecek stopped 24 of 25 WBS shots to clinch Hershey’s 35th victory of the season, fourth in the AHL in wins and 2nd only to Belleville in the Eastern Conference.
Vanecek, Sgarbossa, and Sprong swept the stars of the game honors.
The Stat Board
Atlantic Division standings after the games of March 1, sorted by points:
- Hershey Bears - 59 games played, 35-18-3-3, 76 points, .644 points percentage
- Providence Bruins - 58 games played, 34-18-3-3, 74 points, .638 points percentage
- Hartford Wolf Pack - 58 games played, 31-16-6-5, 73 points, .629 points percentage
- Charlotte Checkers - 57 games played, 32-21-4-0, 68 points, .596 points percentage
- Springfield Thunderbirds - 58 games played, 30-26-2-0, 62 points, .534 points percentage
- WBS Penguins - 59 games played, 27-24-3-5, 62 points, .525 points percentage
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms - 58 games played, 24-26-2-6, 56 points, .483 points percentage
- Bridgeport Sound Tigers - 59 games played, 20-32-5-2, 47 points, .398 points percentage
Hershey still continues to pace the Atlantic, with a 6-3-1 mark in their last 10. Providence has surged up to second on the heels of an 8-0-1 points streak in their last nine, including eight wins in a row, capped by a 3-2 win at Hartford on Sunday. (Three of those wins, BTW, have been over WBS.) Hartford is down to third, 4-4-2 in their last 10. From the pack of the top 3, there’s a five point gap down to Charlotte; the Checkers got absolutely decimated at the NHL trade deadline and lost both of their goalies to Carolina due to injury, but they have persevered, ending a weekend of victories with a 6-3 win at Hershey on Sunday. Charlotte ends the week six points clear of the tie at fifth place between Springfield and WBS with games in hand over both teams; Springfield is 4-6 in their last 10, while WBS is 3-7 in their last 10 including 4 losses in a row. From that tie is another gap of six down to Lehigh Valley in 7th, then a gap of 9 to Bridgeport in last.
Riley Barber’s season totals for both WBS and Laval put him at the top of the scoring list for WBS at week’s end, with a season total of 15 goals and 21 assists over 45 games. He has five points (2G+3A) in six games for WBS. David Warsofsky ranks second among the active, (10G+22A) in 48 games. Kevin Roy’s season total (11G+20A) in 54 games ranks third (7G+10A for WBS in 31 games), with Sam Miletic fourth (9G+22A) om 58 games, then Adam Johnson fifth (9G+21A) over 44 games.
I mentioned before that I think you can look at the waiver claims of Noesen and Agozzino, along with the other callups, as a reason why WBS is stuck in sixth place at week’s end. I think one also has to look at the defense and goaltending. At the end of November, WBS was only two points out of first place in the Atlantic with two games in hand, and its presumptive #1 goaltender Casey DeSmith had just finished a Goaltender of the Month-worthy November with a record of 10-4, a GAA of 2.41, and a save percentage of .922. Since then, DeSmith has posted a record of 8-12-2, while his GAA has ballooned to 2.86, which ranks 29th in the AHL among qualifying goaltenders, of which there are only 53. His save percentage has dropped to .906,% which is 28th in the AHL, both considerable drops from his rankings at November’s end.
It probably doesn’t help that at week’s end, DeSmith has seen (and stopped) the fourth most shots in the AHL among qualifying goaltenders, seeing 1,136 shots and stopping 1,029 in his 39 games. For comparison, the league leader Anthony Stolarz out in San Diego has seen 1,287 shots and stopped 1,187, both league leading totals in 38 games.
The power play got a whopping 21 chances this week, but they only converted 3, dropping their percentage to 17.9% (40 goals on 223 chances), good for 14th in the AHL and second in the Atlantic. The penalty kill conceded twice in 13 chances to finish with 40 goals allowed on 234 chances and a kill percentage of 82.9%, still 12th in the AHL and now fifth in the Atlantic.
First up for WBS this week is the AHL trade deadline later today. WBS has a 3 in 3 this weekend starting Friday, March 6, with a visit to the Binghamton Devils, start time 7:05 pm EST. Next up is the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration Saturday, March 7, as WBS hosts Bridgeport, start 7:05 pm EST. Following Daylight Savings Time this upcoming Sunday morning, WBS closes its weekend with a 3:05 pm EDT home rematch against Binghamton.