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WBS Weekly: WBS’s losing streak reaches 7

Following a barnburner of a shootout loss against the AHL’s best team, the Penguins dropped two more in Hershey to fall to last place in the Atlantic Division.

Penguins forward Nathan Legare fights out of a scrum against the Utica Comets Friday night.

Friday, January 7: WBS 5 @ Utica 6 (SO)

On Wednesday, January 5, the Pittsburgh Penguins sent forward Sam Lafferty to the Chicago organization in exchange for forward Alex Nylander. Nylander was promptly sent to the WBS Penguins, who opened this past weekend traveling to Utica to take on the new top affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, the Utica Comets.

It was the first game for WBS against an opponent not named the Hershey Bears since December 12, on account of various postponements. Unfortunately, it just so happened to be against the AHL’s best team by points percentage, as well as the holders of the AHL record for most victories to start a season, with 13 wins to start this season.

The Penguins’ leading scorer, Valtteri Puustinen, opened the scoring at 5:03 of the first period with a power play goal, his eighth goal of the season. The newly-arrived Nylander wasted no time contributing to his new team, getting the primary assist.

Utica responded with two goals in quick succession through Alexander Holtz at 6:35 and Brian Flynn at 8:42 to take a 2-1 lead. WBS stood its ground, though, with Jordy Bellerive tying the game at 2-2.

Utica took a measure of control in the second period. Nate Schnarr gave Utica a 3-2 lead on a power play at 4:04 of the second, then Ryan Schmelzer scored at the game’s midway point to extend the lead to 4-2.

To their immense credit, WBS came out of the second intermission flying, getting three goals in the first 8:33 of the final session to take a 5-4 lead. Jan Drozg opened the third period scoring with his second of the season at 3:51 of the third.

Puustinen then scored his second of the game to tie the game at 4.

The captain then got involved, as Taylor Fedun scored his first for WBS to give WBS a 5-4 lead. Nylander scored his second primary assist of the game on Fedun’s goal.

Utica responded 4 minutes later, as Frederik Gauthier scored to tie the game at 5.

The overtime session could not break the tie either, so the game went to a shootout. Anthony Angello converted his shootout attempt for WBS, but Nylander and Puustinen could not, as Holtz and Fabian Zetterlund converted their shootout attempts to give Utica the 6-5 win.

For Utica, Mareks Mitens saved 31 of 36 WBS shots for the victory. Tommy Nappier in net for WBS stopped 27 of 32 shots in a losing effort that, for this observer’s money, was a lot more encouraging to see than any of the last four Hershey losses on this losing streak.

The WBS power play converted 1/5 opportunities, while the penalty kill conceded two goals in six chances.

Saturday, January 8: WBS 0 @ Hershey 3

There was a very late change to the above graphic, as Jonathan Gruden took Kyle Olson’s place on the fourth line.

Whatever good vibes might have been taken out of the shootout loss to Utica the previous night were snuffed out, as they so often have been, at the GIANT Center. Despite Hershey losing its captain Matt Moulson indefinitely to back surgery just before New Year’s and suffering three other injury absences on account of the previous night’s game against Syracuse, Hershey still had more than enough in the tank to defeat the Penguins.

Shane Gersich scored two goals, Mike Vecchione scored a power play goal and an assist, Mason Morelli assisted on both Gersich goals, and Bears goaltender Hunter Shepard stopped all 20 WBS shots for his third straight victory over WBS, 3-0. Penguins starting goaltender Alex D’Orio stopped 33 of 36 Hershey shots, some of them in spectacular fashion, but it just wasn’t enough as Hershey extended its franchise-best start against the Penguins to 6-0.

Sunday, January 9: WBS 2 @ Hershey 3

WBS swapped Legare and Poulin for the rematch on Sunday, but it didn’t seem to matter much through the first 40 minutes. The first period went scoreless, but Hershey snagged two goals in the second period from Dylan McIlrath and Mike Vecchione (the latter coming with just one second remaining in the middle period) to go up 2-0.

WBS did not fold easily in the third period. Defender Mitch Reinke scored his first goal for WBS 30 seconds into the third period, with Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Jan Drozg providing the assists.

Hershey responded at 8:40 of the third as Garrett Pilon scored on a power play.

The Penguins got a break late in the third when a Hershey clearing attempt went over the glass. On the ensuing power play, and with starting goaltender Alex D’Orio on the bench for a two-player advantage, Radim Zohorna scored his fifth of the season to bring WBS back to within 1.

Despite WBS’s best efforts in the final seconds, they could not find the equalizer, as Hershey improved to a perfect 7-0 over the Penguins with a 3-2 victory.

Bears goaltender Pheonix Copley finished with 26 saves on 28 shots for the victory. In his second straight start, D’Orio finished with 22 saves on 25 shots. The WBS power play scored once in 3 attempts, while the penalty kill conceded only Pilon’s game-winner in three attempts.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of January 9:

  1. Springfield Thunderbirds: 30 games played, 18-9-2-1, .650 points percentage
  2. Hershey Bears: 31 games played, 18-10-2-1, .629
  3. Hartford Wolf Pack: 28 games played, 15-9-2-2, .607
  4. Providence Bruins: 26 games played, 13-9-3-1, .577
  5. Charlotte Checkers: 29 games played, 15-12-2-0, .552
  6. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 27 games played, 9-11-5-2, .463
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 35 games played, 12-16-3-4, .443
  8. WBS Penguins: 27 games played, 9-14-1-3, .407

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

The power play finished the week with 12 goals on 116 chances on the season for a conversion percentage of 10.3%, still last in the AHL but less than a percentage point away from 30th place, held by Lehigh Valley. The penalty kill has conceded a total of 24 goals on 110 penalties for a kill percentage of 78.2%, 25th in the AHL.

There you have it. Seven games played against Hershey over roughly the last month, all losses, and WBS finds itself dead last in the Atlantic and only 7 tenths of a percentage point ahead of last-place Texas for worst in the entire league.

WBS faces another stretch of 3 games in 48 hours this weekend. Starting it off is a visit from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this Friday, January 14, at 7:05 pm EST. WBS then heads down to PPL Center to take on the Phantoms on Saturday, January 15, start time 7:05 pm EST. WBS finishes the week with their 8th game of the season against the Hershey Bears, this time at home Sunday, January 16, start time 3:05 pm EST.