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WBS Report: The AHL season begins

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Three games in the books for the WBS Penguins, and already, a disturbing trend is growing.

The Penguins celebrate their first goal of the season, from Monday afternoon against Binghamton.
@WBSPenguins

Monday, February 8: Binghamton 4 @ WBS 3 (OT)

After a two-day delay owing to COVID protocols, the WBS Penguins opened their 2020-21 season on Monday afternoon, hosting the Binghamton Devils. The first 40 minutes of the contest favored the Penguins considerably, with Jordy Bellerive opening the season scoring at 14:28 of the first period. After Nolan Foote of Binghamton tied the game at 13:35 of the second, the newly-appointed captain Josh Currie opened his WBS account with a power play goal at 17:01 of the second.

Binghamton then gifted WBS a two-goal lead into the locker room as they scored into their own net; the goal was eventually awarded to Justin Almeida as a power play goal with Travis St. Denis in the box for roughing.

Unfortunately for WBS, the third period and overtime swung hard to Binghamton’s favor, as they outshot WBS 16-4 through the last 21:49 of the game. Danick Martel and Ryan Schmelzer scored in the third, and Reilly Walsh scored in overtime to take the victory. Emil Larmi took the loss, stopping 30 of 34 shots. Of note: The WBS power play, which tallied 2 goals on 4 opportunities.

Thursday, February 11: Hershey 3 @ WBS 2

Second on the docket for WBS was their old rival, the Hershey Bears. Newly appointed Bears captain Matt Moulson scored just 1:22 into the game, but Tim Schaller equalized at 16:24 of the first. WBS captain Currie turned his hot start into a scoring streak with his second power play goal in as many games at 2:10 of the second to give WBS a 2-1 lead.

However, Mike Sgarbossa scored his own power play goal at 5:14 of the second to tie the game at 2.

In a contest loaded with power plays, it was the Bears who ended up converting on more of their chances. Connor McMichael scored a power play goal at 8:56 of the third to break the tie and give the Bears what they needed to win. Hershey ended the game with 2 power play conversions in 7 attempts, while WBS converted only one of their 6 chances. Emil Larmi was in net again, and he stopped 33 of 36 shots in a third-star losing effort.

Saturday, February 13: WBS 5 @ Syracuse 4

WBS ended the week with their first of 3 visits on the season to what is now called the Upstate Medical University Arena in Syracuse, NY, but what I still think of as the War Memorial. Awaiting the Penguins on this day would be the Crunch, sporting not only Tampa Bay’s highly skilled prospects, but also those of the Florida Panthers on account of Florida’s regular affiliate (Springfield) not playing this season.

The first 20 minutes were split evenly, with Jan Drozg opening the scoring just 46 seconds into the game and the ever-dangerous Alex Barre-Boulet matching him at 15:31 of the first.

The second 20 minutes favored WBS, who outshot Syracuse 13-6 and enjoyed goals from Chase Berger and Kyle Olson to build a 3-1 lead going into the final 20 minutes.

The first 6:45 of the final period were absolutely wild, with five goals scored in that timespan alone. It started with Grigori Denisenko and Gabriel Fortier scoring 1:45 apart to tie the game, then Will Reilly scoring his first for WBS and first in the AHL at 4:11. That WBS lead only lasted 29 seconds, as Barre-Boulet scored his second of the game to tie the proceedings again. Happily for WBS, though, the final goal fell to Jordy Bellerive, who tallied his second of the season at 6:45 of the third. Despite being outshot 16-5 in the final session, WBS held firm to win their first game of the season 5-4. In his third start of the year, Emil Larmi finished with 29 saves on 33 shots for his first win.

Stats

Jordy Bellerive and Josh Currie lead the team with two goals each after the first week, with rookie defender Cam Lee and winger Nick Schilkey leading the team with three assists each. Lee and Schilkey are part of a glut of 26 players league-wide with three assists, just one behind another bunch of 12 players with four assists each to co-lead the league after the first week.

The WBS power play is off to a strong start, with conversions in all 3 games and 4 overall in 15 attempts for a conversion rate of 26.7%, good for eighth in the league.

Despite the good, my early concerns for the season are how the team has given up leads in all three of their games. They were up 2 against Binghamton on opening day and lost it; they were up by a goal against Hershey and lost; they were up 2 on Syracuse and lost that lead too before eventually clawing it back to win. If there is to be success for WBS on this strange sort of season, they need to learn to hold leads and close out games.

Best wishes to Jordan Nolan, while we’re at it.

Future Schedule

After a busy three games in six days to open the season, WBS has this upcoming week largely open. The next game for WBS on the schedule is this upcoming Saturday, February 20 at 1 pm EST, as they make their first trip to GIANT Center for what could be their first game of the season in front of a live audience. Of the four opponents WBS will face this season (Hershey, Lehigh Valley, Binghamton, Syracuse), only the Bears are admitting fans to their building. They’ve managed to get a crowd of 403 fans into each of their first two home games, their season opener on February 6 and again for Valentine’s Day.

Saturday will kick off a stretch of four games in eight days, with WBS then hosting the Bears on Wednesday, February 24 at 5:00 pm EST, then Lehigh Valley on Friday, February 26 at 5:00 pm EST, then going to Lehigh Valley on Saturday, February 27 at 7:05 pm EST. Radio for all games is available on WILK News Radio’s web site, with video streaming available through AHL TV at a reduced rate this season.