Wednesday, March 24: Syracuse 6 @ WBS 3
The WBS Penguins opened their week with a regularly scheduled game against the Syracuse Crunch, five days after bringing them in as a replacement opponent for their first game of the season with fans. This second game went about as badly as the first, maybe more so, as the Crunch tied a franchise record with six goals in the first period. Gemel Smith led the charge with a hat trick and two assists all in the first five goals, with Jimmy Huntington’s second of the year at 14:00 of the first capping off an atrocious first 14 minutes for the home side.
WBS tried to make a comeback, as Tim Schaller, Josh Currie, and Nick Schilkey all scored goals, but the first period hole was far too deep.
Crunch goaltender Christopher Gibson took the victory with 23 saves on 26 shots. Emil Larmi started the game for WBS but only lasted 8:40, stopping only one of the five shots he faced. He was replaced by Alex D’Orio after Smith finished his hat trick, and D’Orio stopped 15 of 17 shots in relief.
Friday, March 28: Hershey 3 @ WBS 1
Next up for WBS was a home and home set with one of their forever rivals, the Hershey Bears. Hershey opened the scoring at 13:21 of the first period with Philippe Maillet’s first of the season for the Bears; Kale Kessy and Brian Pinho got the assists. Maillet’s opener was matched by Jordy Bellerive’s team-leading sixth of the season at 1:34 of the third to tie the game at 1.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, the tie was broken by the captain of the Bears, Matt Moulson. With Zach Trotman in the penalty box for interference, Moulson converted his fifth goal of the season at 10:03 of the third, assisted by Maillets and Joe Snively, to put Hershey up 2-1. Hershey forward Kody Clark closed the scoring with his sixth of the year into an empty net at 18:55 of the third to hand WBS their sixth straight loss.
On the heels of his relief performance from Wednesday, Alex D’Orio started this one and finished with 23 saves on 25 shots. Hershey goaltender Zach Fucale took the win for the Bears, stopping 30 of 31 shots.
Jordy Bellerive netted his sixth goal of the season, and Alex D'Orio turned aside 23 shots in his first AHL start of the year, but the #WBSPens dropped a 3-1 decision to the Hershey Bears on Friday.— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 27, 2021
Postgame highlights are presented by @PALottery#PALottery #PennsylvaniaLottery pic.twitter.com/5CUALvtzG4
Sunday, March 28: WBS 1 @ Hershey 3
Sunday afternoon’s return match in Hershey turned out to be nearly a mirror of the game on Friday. Brian Pinho opened the scoring just 18 seconds into the game with his 3rd goal of the season. The goal was once again matched by WBS, this time by Tim Schaller’s 6th of the season and his 100th AHL point. The goal at 10:12 of the second was assisted by Nick Schilkey, his 9th helper of the year to lead WBS.
Once again, for the second straight game, it was Hershey captain Matt Moulson who broke the tie. Once again, it came on a power play. With Jan Drozg in the box serving a bench minor for too many players on the ice, Moulson jammed home the puck in a net-front scrum to break the tie at 16:53 of the third. WBS protested, claiming that goaltender Max Lagace had covered the puck for a stoppage, but those protests went for naught.
Shane Gersich finished the proceedings with an empty-netter, his third of the year, 7 seconds from full time to give Hershey another 3-1 win over WBS. Hershey’s now on a streak of four straight wins, while WBS has lost their last seven in a row.
Lagace in net finished with 27 saves on 29 shots for the loss, while Pheonix Copley stopped 26 of 27 shots for Hershey in the win.
Matt Moulson scored the go-ahead goal late in the third period on the power play as the Bears defeated the Penguins 3-1 for the second consecutive game. Here are the S&T Bank Highlights! #HBH pic.twitter.com/nDv62Pi6GS— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 28, 2021
At the halfway mark of their abbreviated 2021 season, the WBS Penguins now hold a record of 5-7-3-1, good for only 14 points in 16 games. Hershey leads on points with 24, with Lehigh Valley second at 22, then seven back to Syracuse at 15, Rochester at 14 with WBS, Utica at 13, and Binghamton at 10. By points percentage, though, Lehigh Valley leads at .733, with Utica second at .722, Hershey third at .706, Rochester fourth at .636, Syracuse fifth at .577, WBS sixth at .438, and Binghamton last at .357.
Nick Schilkey leads the Penguins in assists (9) and points (13), with Tim Schaller second with 6 goals (tied with Jordy Bellerive for team lead) and 6 assists. Bellerive has 3 assists to add up to 9 points, tied with the now-promoted Radim Zohorna for third. Defender Cam Lee is fifth in points with 8, all assists.
Among the goaltenders, four have suited up for WBS this season: Max Lagace, Alex D’Orio, Shane Starrett, and Emil Larmi. Lagace has performed the best, holding a 3-2-1 record, a 1.98 GAA, and a .920 save percentage in 6 appearances. Larmi has been the worst, with a record of 1-4-1, a 4.87 GAA, and a .845 save percentage in six appearances.
The WBS power play took a major hit this week, falling to 16.9% success so far this season (tied for 16th). The penalty kill didn’t fare much better, conceding at least once in each of the 3 games this week and falling to 81.0% success, 15th in the league.
The Road Ahead
I expect the Penguins will be without their captain Josh Currie to close out March and open up April. Currie had a rough week, taking a puck to the side of the head while on the bench in the closing moments of Friday’s game, then delivering this extremely dangerous hit in Sunday’s contest.
That hit was not called a penalty on the ice. In fact, it led to a power play for WBS as Martin Fehervary took an instigator’s minor, fighting major, and instigator’s misconduct to get back at Currie.
So I fully expect the league to bring down the hammer on the Penguins captain. There’s no place for that kind of hit in any level of hockey, much less the top developmental league in North America.
The league will have to make its decision by Wednesday, as WBS will close the month of March by heading to Newark on March 31 to take on the Binghamton Devils, start time 7:00 pm EDT. Following that, WBS heads down to Allentown for a Saturday night engagement with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on April 3, start time 7:05 pm EDT.