Following their biggest win of the season last Sunday, 6-0 over a depleted Springfield lineup, WBS took to the ice twice this past week. Both games were against their oldest rival, the Hershey Bears, and both games ended pretty much the same way, no matter where the games took place.
Tuesday, December 14: Hershey 4 @ WBS 1
Tonight’s lineup vs Hershey brought to you by @MotorWorldMO! pic.twitter.com/4ifXMDFdJ2— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 14, 2021
With Filip Lindberg and Louis Domingue still injured, and Alex D’Orio still unavailable, WBS again turned to PTO signing Matt Jurusik in net. Jurusik was fresh off making franchise history just two days ago with the first debut shutout in the history of the team, so it only made sense that he get another shot at the net.
That said, Hershey’s not Springfield. They made sure to emphasize that point on Tuesday, in a game rescheduled from the previous week and WBS’s third game in four days.
All of Hershey’s big stars contributed Tuesday, as Joe Snively, Kody Clark, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, and captain Matt Moulson all scored goals, and Mike Vecchione contributed two assists. For Snively, it was his eighth goal of the season, all within his previous 11 games, and it extended a stretch that would eventually end in 19 points in 12 games and a callup to Washington.
The only thing keeping Bears starting goaltender Pheonix Copley from his first shutout of the season was Penguins defender Pierre-Olivier Joseph’s third goal of the season, just 2:42 away from the end of the game. Kyle Olson and Jordy Bellerive got the assists.
Otherwise, Copley stopped the other 18 shots he faced, while Jurusik’s rude welcome to the AHL ended with 22 saves on 26 shots.
POSTGAME VIDEO: @TheHersheyBears got goals from four different scorers as they skated past the #WBSPens, 4-1, on Tuesday evening at the Mohegan Sun Arena.— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 15, 2021
Postgame Video courtesy of @PALottery pic.twitter.com/IHi52NPNBJ
Saturday, December 18: WBS 3 @ Hershey 8
Here's tonight's lineup vs Hershey! D'Orio will be starting in goal for the #WBSPENS! @MotorWorldMO pic.twitter.com/2eb8Yaw9w9— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 18, 2021
Take a good look at that lineup. Not only is it shown as 11 forwards and 7 defenders, but that’s defender Will Reilly lining up at a forward position alongside Jamie Devane. So in truth, due to injuries, COVID protocols, and the extremely curious choice to sit Anthony Angello as a healthy scratch, the Penguins dressed 10 forwards and 8 defenders, plus Alex D’Orio for his AHL season debut, for Saturday night’s visit to GIANT Center.
The Penguins might have caught something of a break, as Hershey also dressed 10 forwards and 8 defenders. However, as they proved on Tuesday, the remainder of Hershey’s forwards are, quite simply, better than their WBS counterparts.
All eight of Hershey’s goals were scored by different players. Seven of them (Kale Kessy, Kody Clark, Ryan Dmowski, Mike Vecchione, Mason Morelli, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, and Shane Gersich) were forwards, while Bobby Nardella also contributed from the blue line.
D’Orio only lasted 20 minutes, saving 9 of 12 shots before giving way to Tommy Nappier. Nappier didn’t fare much better, saving 19 of the 24 shots he faced.
The bright spot for WBS was a rare power play goal, scored by Valtteri Puustinen in the second period on assists by Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Mitch Reinke.
Puustinen scored making it 6-2 assisted by Reinke and Joseph! pic.twitter.com/X4ZrMzRWtK— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 19, 2021
What you don’t see in that clip was the previous 1:23 of that power play. WBS managed to hold offensive zone possession for virtually the entire advantage, and the one-timer by Puustinen that eventually found paydirt was his third one-timer from approximately that same position in the same power play. It was the best the power play has looked in a long while this season.
Also contributing goals in the 8-3 rout were Jordy Bellerive, his third of the season, at 18:47 of the first, and Matt Bartkowski, his second of the season, at 10:34 of the third.
A look at Jordy Bellerive's goal with 1:16 left in the period. Assist goes to Chris Bigras! pic.twitter.com/ZqaDODGVx7— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 19, 2021
Bartkowski scores at 10:34 assisted by Bigras and Puustinen! pic.twitter.com/60BsXCadWE— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) December 19, 2021
Those three goals were the only blemishes on Pheonix Copley’s night. Though Copley had plenty of cushion to work with, he still had to make 33 saves on 36 shots for his 8th win of the season and fourth in as many starts in December.
Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of December 19:
- Springfield Thunderbirds: 15-7-3, .660 points percentage
- Hartford Wolf Pack: 13-6-3, .659
- Providence Bruins: 11-7-4, .591
- Hershey Bears: 12-8-3, .587
- Charlotte Checkers: 14-11-2, .556
- WBS Penguins: 9-10-3, .477
- Bridgeport Islanders: 9-14-4, .407
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 6-11-6, .391
Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:
The Penguins’ power play did not convert on three opportunities on Tuesday against Hershey, but it did convert on one of five opportunities on Saturday to slightly increase their season conversion percentage. The power play is now at 9.3%, still last in the AHL by almost three percentage points, and they are tied with Springfield, Hershey, and San Diego for most shorthanded goals allowed with 5. The penalty kill dispatched the only Hershey power play from Tuesday, but it allowed two goals on five chances on Saturday to finish the week at 80.9%, 17th in the AHL.
The American Hockey League announced on Friday afternoon that due to COVID protocols affecting the Toronto Marlies, their games through December 21 were postponed. This means that WBS’s scheduled trip to Toronto on Tuesday is now off.
Because of that, WBS only has one game left before Christmas, a visit to Rochester on Wednesday, December 22 at 7:05 pm EST. UPDATE: The AHL also announced this afternoon that due to COVID protocols, WBS’s scheduled game against Rochester tomorrow night, Wednesday, December 22, is also postponed to a future date. As a result, the Penguins are now essentially on their Christmas break.
The Penguins’ schedule between Christmas and New Year’s is loaded, with four games in six days. First up is a home and home set against the Bears scheduled for Monday, December 27, at home (7:05 pm EST start) and Wednesday, December 29, at GIANT Center at 7:00 pm EST. Following that is a pair of home games against the Cleveland Monsters, on New Year’s Eve at 5:05 pm EST, then New Year’s Day at 6:05 pm EST.