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WBS Weekly: Drew O’Connor scores three goals in two games following reassignment

O’Connor scored Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s first power play goal in 37 chances against Springfield, the opener against Providence, and an empty-netter to close out a 3-1 win on Saturday.

Drew O’Connor, back with the WBS Penguins, celebrates with his teammates.

Friday, November 19: WBS 4 @ Springfield 5 (SO)

At the end of last week, Pittsburgh’s return to health meant the return to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of defenders Juuso Riikola and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, goaltender Louis Domingue, and forward Drew O’Connor. It was hoped that these four would turn around the Penguins’ fortunes. WBS dropped five of their last six games, fallen to sixth place in the Atlantic Division, and gone scoreless in 36 straight power play opportunities entering Friday’s showdown with Atlantic leaders Springfield.

It didn’t take long for those hopes to manifest, as Riikola provided the secondary assist for three WBS goals in the first 12:27 of the contest.

Leading off was Radim Zohorna’s third goal of the season just 1:03 into the game, with Felix Robert getting the primary assist.

Next up was the first power play goal by the Penguins in 37 opportunities, scored by O’Connor. Filip Hållander provided the first assist.

Then the third was scored by Hållander himself, with Valtteri Puustinen getting the primary assist on WBS’s second straight power play goal.

To their credit, Springfield did not back down. They methodically chipped away at the lead throughout the next 35 or so minutes through goals by Alexey Toropchenko, Matthew Peca, and Toropchenko again to tie the game at 5:11 of the third. Just 41 seconds after the equalizer, Tanner Kaspick scored to put Springfield ahead.

WBS didn’t back down either, as defender Cam Lee scored his first goal of the year at 8:13 of the third to bring the game back to 4-4. Zohorna and Robert received the assists.

Regulation ended 4-4, and overtime couldn’t break the stalemate either, so the AHL TV Free Game of the Week required a shootout to decide the extra point. The WBS trio of O’Connor, Zohorna, and Puustinen failed to convert on their chances, and Springfield’s Hugh McGing converted his attempt in round 2 to give the Thunderbirds the 5-4 victory.

Starting goaltender Louis Domingue did all he could, stopping 35 of 39 shots, but it wasn’t quite enough to take the win.

Saturday, November 20: WBS 3 @ Providence 1

After not recording a point on Friday, the fourth of the returnees, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, got on the board on Saturday in Providence. Joseph provided the second assist on Drew O’Connor’s second goal in as many games at 11:05 of the first. Valtteri Puustinen got the first assist.

WBS expanded the lead to 2-0 at 9:32 of the second when Kyle Olson deflected home a Cam Lee shot. Jordy Bellerive also got an assist.

Providence made it interesting in the third period, with Jakub Leuko breaking Louis Domingue’s bid for a shutout at 10:44 of the third (a power play goal). However, they could get no closer, as O’Connor fired home an empty netter 1:12 from full time to put WBS back in the win column and finish the week with three out a possible four points.

Lauko got third star for his goal, O’Connor second for his two goals, but top honors went to Domingue. Just 24 hours after facing 39 shots from Springfield, he faced 43 from Providence, and he stopped 42 of them to take his second win of the season and first in nearly a month.

Atlantic Division standings, through the games of November 21:

  1. Springfield Thunderbirds: 12-2-2, .813 points percentage
  2. Hartford Wolf Pack: 11-3-2, .750
  3. Hershey Bears: 7-5-3, .567
  4. Providence Bruins: 6-5-3, .536
  5. WBS Penguins: 7-6-2, .533
  6. Charlotte Checkers: 7-7-1, .500
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 5-9-3, .382
  8. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 3-8-5, .344

Statistics, as provided by HockeyDB:

By virtue of their two power play goals against Springfield, WBS no longer holds the worst power play in the league, improving to 10.0% conversion through 15 games, That dishonor belongs to Lehigh Valley, with a 9.7% conversion percentage. The WBS penalty kill fended off all four opportunities it faced in Springfield, but it conceded once in 7 chances against Providence to finish the week with a kill percentage of 81.5%, solidly middle-of-the-pack at 16th in the league.

That’s a couple of really busy games right after each other for Louis Domingue, but WBS will need more of those tier of performances from him in the immediate future. WBS won’t have Filip Lindberg as an option for a while, as it was reported prior to the Springfield game on Friday that he is out week to week with a lower body injury.

WBS hits the road again this week, with a pair of midweek games in Charlotte Tuesday, November 23, at 7:00 pm EST and Wednesday, November 24, at 7:00 pm EST. WBS will then close out their November schedule with a home game against Providence on Saturday, November 27, start time 7:05 pm EST.