Wednesday, March 3: Syracuse 2 @ WBS 1 (SO)
Remember that frenzied, back and forth game in Syracuse back on February 13, where the WBS Penguins survived three Crunch goals in the third period to win 5-4? The return matchup this past Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre Township was decidedly not that.
Just like in the first contest, WBS struck first. Unlike the first contest, the first goal took a lot longer than 46 seconds to come in. Defender Jon Lizotte got the opener at 1:08 of the second period, assisted by Felix Robert and Radim Zohorna. WBS held the lead until the 2:05 mark of the third period, when Syracuse’s Cole Schwindt scored his first of the year. John Ludvig and Gabriel Fortier got the assists.
The remainder of regulation and overtime could not produce a winner, so penalty shots were required for the first time on the WBS season. Zohorna scored on his opening attempt, but so did Taylor Raddysh for Syracuse. Cam Lee could not follow up, while Otto Somppi scored on his attempt for a 2-1 lead. Frederick Gaudreau was unable to equalize, giving the Crunch the extra point and a 2-1 victory.
For the Penguins, Maxime Lagace returned to the net and stopped 17 of 18 shots in normal play. Spencer Martin for Syracuse repelled 30 of 31 WBS attempts.
Saturday, March 7: WBS 6, Binghamton 3 (at Newark)
With the Binghamton Devils relocated to the RWJ Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, NJ this season, Saturday night presented the first opportunity for WBS to visit Binghamton’s temporary digs. Although the initial impressions may not have been favorable, I’m sure WBS will be looking forward to their next visit on March 31.
The proceedings looked as though they might unravel quickly in the first period. Danick Martel, former Penguin Ben Street, and Graeme Clarke scored within a span of 1:58 to put the Devils ahead 3-0 after just 9:04 of play. As it turned out, all that was needed was for WBS to, in the words of coach J.D. Forrest, “find their legs”.
With Michael Vukojevic serving a double-minor for high sticking, Radim Zohorna started the comeback with a power play goal at 16:37 of the first. The goal came in the first half of the double minor, which allowed WBS to maintain its advantage. Jordy Bellerive capitalized just 26 seconds later, his fourth of the year, to bring WBS within 1 after the first period.
The power play success continued in the second period, as Jonathan Gruden scored his first of the season at 7:39 of the second.
Here’s a look at Gruden’s game-tying goal. pic.twitter.com/mHdOBzsH0i— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 7, 2021
Jon Lizotte broke the tie at 15:29 of the second with his third goal of the year and second in as many games, putting WBS up 4-3 after 40 minutes. They would not squander this lead, as Jan Drozg expanded the advantage to 2 at 1:07 of the third. The cherry on top was provided by Drew O’Connor, who had been returned to WBS earlier in the day. His first pro goal closed the scoring and clinched the fourth victory in five games for the Penguins.
Lagace got the net again and overcame those two shaky minutes in the first period to finish with 18 saves on 21 shots for the win. His opponent, Gilles Senn, had a very busy night, facing 43 WBS shots and stopping 37 of them.
The #WBSPens spotted the @BingDevils a 3-0 first period lead, before reeling off six straight scores to take the 6-3 win in Newark. Enjoy last night's highlights, presented by @PALottery#WilkesBarre #Scranton #PittsburghPenguins#Hockey#AHL#PALottery #PennsylvaniaLottery pic.twitter.com/1vlnvEEzn9— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 7, 2021
On the strength of those four wins in their last five, WBS’s season record has improved to 5-2-1-1, good for 12 points. By overall points, WBS is tied with Rochester and Lehigh Valley for second place in the North Division, but by points percentage, it’s a tie for third. The team leaders in scoring are Radim Zohorna (3 goals and 5 assists in 9 games) and Nick Schilkey (2 and 6 in 9 games), with Jon Lizotte leading defenders with 3 goals and 4 assists in 9 games. Among defenders, Lizotte is tied for 11th in league scoring. Jordy Bellerive’s four goals lead WBS. Fueled by three straight power play goals in Newark, the WBS power play finished the week above 20% in conversion percentage with 20.5%, 11th in the AHL. The penalty kill finished the week at 80.6%, 15th in the league.
Fans Returning Soon
On account of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s announcement last Monday that arenas of any size in Pennsylvania can reopen to 15% capacity, the WBS Penguins announced on the same day their intention to welcome fans back to home games. As of this writing, it has not been announced exactly how many fans will be allowed at the games, only that WBS is targeting March 19 against Lehigh Valley as its first with fans.
A full list of safety protocols are forthcoming from the Penguins, but mask-wearing mandates and social distancing will be implemented, as is the case at any event these days.
To accommodate now being able to play in front of fans, WBS then announced on March 2 that four of their games were being moved back from 5:00 pm start times to 7:00 pm start times. Those games are:
- March 19 vs. Lehigh Valley
- March 24 vs. Syracuse
- March 26 vs. Hershey
- April 16 vs. Lehigh Valley
This now creates a home schedule where, except for today’s game against Lehigh Valley, all weeknight home games will have 7:00 pm start times, while all weekend home games will have 5:00 pm start times.
WBS will next take the ice today at 5:00 pm EST against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. They will then have the rest of the week off before heading back up to Syracuse on March 13 for a 7:00 pm engagement with the Crunch.