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WBS Weekly: COVID break ends in Wilkes-Barre

Following a COVID-19 outbreak that postponed four games, the WBS Penguins returned to the ice this weekend to take three out of four points.

Volunteers gather up some of the teddy bears thrown onto the ice Saturday night during WBS’s annual Teddy Bear Toss.

Saturday, December 11: Hershey 3 @ WBS 2 (OT)

Two weeks to the day following their last game, a 5-1 loss at home to Providence, the WBS Penguins were finally able to return to action after a COVID-19 outbreak that forced the postponement of four of their games. Even as the team took the ice Saturday for their first game of 12 against the Hershey Bears this season, the team still wasn’t at full roster strength. Jan Drozg, Justin Almeida, Jordy Bellerive, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Sam Poulin, Chase Bigras, and Juuso Riikola were all out due to either injury or protocol, forcing an 11-forward 7-defender alignment to open the weekend.

It didn’t seem to matter much at first that WBS was off for two weeks, as their leading goal scorer Valtteri Puustinen wasted no time getting back to work after the pause. His sixth goal of the season at 4:07 of the first triggered the annual Teddy Bear Toss, with Felix Robert and Mitch Reinke getting the assists.

After the cleanup, Bobby Nardella tied the game at 8:18 and the first period ended 1-1.

In the second period, Cody Franson’s third goal of the season on a power play at 3:23 put Hershey ahead, but for only 28 seconds. Robert scored his fifth of the year at 3:51 of the second to tie the game back up at 2.

The third period ended scoreless, and a frenetic, frantic overtime finished favoring the visitors, as Axel Jonsson-Fjallby scored his fourth of the season at 4:09 of the extra session to give Hershey the extra point.

Bears goaltender Pheonix Copley stopped 28 of 30 shots for the victory, while Tommy Nappier stopped 27 of 30 for WBS in the losing effort.

Sunday, December 12: Springfield 0 @ WBS 6

With goaltenders Filip Lindberg, Louis Domingue, and Alex D’Orio either injured or still in COVID-19 protocols, and with Nappier having played the night before, the Penguins brought in Matt Jurusik on a professional tryout from the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. Jurusik made his AHL debut on Sunday, as the Penguins hosted the Springfield Thunderbirds to close out the weekend. The Penguins welcomed Jordy Bellerive and Justin Almeida back to the lineup, allowing them to return to a traditional 12-forward 6-defender lineup as shown above.

Meanwhile, although Springfield dashed out to a 14-5-2 record over their first 21 games, they entered this game on their only two-game losing streak of the season owing to a rash of callups and injuries to their roster.

Something had to give. It turned out to be the Thunderbirds.

Six different players scored for the Penguins, and Jurusik marked his AHL debut with a 28-save shutout, as the Penguins extended Springfield’s losing streak to three. It was both the largest single-game offensive output of WBS’s season and the Penguins’ first clean sheet of the season.

Kicking off the festivities was Anthony Angello with a shorthanded goal at 8:39 of the first. It was Angello’s first goal of the season in only his second game of the season, with Taylor Fedun getting the primary assist in his 500th professional game.

WBS blew the doors off in the second period with four goals. Felix Robert tied for the team lead with his sixth of the season, Pierre-Olivier Joseph tallied his second goal of the season, Matt Bartkowski opened his WBS account, and Kyle Olson scored his fourth of the season to put WBS up 5-0 after 40 minutes.

Almeida topped off the proceedings with his first for WBS, returning to the Penguins after a stint in Wheeling that featured a four-goal game for the Nailers.

Full highlights:

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of December 12:

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack: 12-4-2, .711 points percentage
  2. Springfield Thunderbirds: 14-6-2, .682
  3. Providence Bruins: 10-6-4, .600
  4. Hershey Bears: 9-7-3, .553
  5. WBS Penguins: 9-8-3, .525
  6. Charlotte Checkers: 11-10-2, .522
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 8-13-3, .396
  8. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 5-11-5, .357

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

One thing that didn’t change coming out of the COVID-19 shutdown was the anemic WBS power play. Despite scoring eight goals in two games this weekend, the power play went 0 for 5 against Hershey on Saturday and 0 for 1 against Springfield on Sunday. For the season, the power play has only converted 8 out of 89 opportunities for a success rate of 9.0%, last in the AHL by nearly four percentage points. The Penguins are tied with Manitoba for fourth-most power plays received, they are last in power play goals, and they are tied with six other teams with four shorthanded goals allowed; only Springfield (five) have conceded more goals while on an advantage.

Happily, the penalty kill is not nearly as bad. Though it conceded one goal to Hershey in four chances, it was clean against Springfield, fending off three chances. Through the first 20 games, the kill has conceded 15 goals in 83 chances for a percentage of 81.9%, tied for 13th in the league. The shorthanded goal scored by Angello on Sunday was WBS’s first SHG of the season.

The Penguins were supposed to open up this past week on Wednesday at home against Hershey, but that game was the fourth of four games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. That game was rescheduled to this Tuesday, December 14, with a 7:05 pm start. WBS then makes its first visit to GIANT Center this Saturday, December 18, to take on the Bears at 7:00 pm EDT.

As of press time, the Penguins’ postponed game from December 3 at Syracuse has yet to be rescheduled. The game from December 4, home against Charlotte, was moved to Wednesday, April 13, and the game from December 5, at Hershey, was moved to Tuesday, February 22.