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WBS Weekly: Penguins start a winning streak

After a split with Lehigh Valley that ended WBS’s losing streak at 8 games, WBS closed its weekend with their first victory of the season over Hershey to end a 7-game losing streak against the Bears.

The leading scorer for the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, Patrick Watling, in his third game for the WBS Penguins on Sunday.

Friday, January 14: Lehigh Valley 4 @ WBS 3

The WBS Penguins returned home on Friday night to take on their longtime rivals from the Philadelphia organization, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, for the first time since November 3 and the fifth time this season. Despite WBS’s 9-14-1-3 record entering the game, they held a record of 3-1 against the Phantoms in their first 4 games.

The Penguins started out strongly, with Felix Robert scoring his seventh goal of the season 3:16 into the game. Taylor Fedun got the only assist.

While the game started out well, it eventually turned into the sort of game a team usually finds itself in when on a 7-game losing streak. Despite putting a total of 32 shots on Phantoms starting goaltender Garrett Metcalf in the first two periods, Robert’s goal was the only one Metcalf would allow in the first 40 minutes.

Linus Sandin for the Phantoms tied the game at 14:10 of the first on a power play, his second of the season. He then gave Lehigh Valley an unlikely lead at 2:14 of the third with an unassisted goal. Former Penguin Cal O’Reilly then gave Lehigh Valley a 3-1 lead at 8:53 of the third with his 5th of the year.

At one point in the third period, with 11 minutes left to play, WBS were outshooting Lehigh Valley 34-15, but losing 3-1.

Valtteri Puustinen tried his best to get WBS back into it, scoring his 10th of the season at 16:23 of the third to bring the Penguins back to within 3-2. However, as if to punctuate the bad-luck night, Adam Clendening sent a clearing attempt out of his own zone with WBS’s goalie pulled with about 2:30 to go. The clearing attempt hit the side boards in his own zone with enough force to deflect all the way down the ice and into WBS’s empty net for a 4-2 lead.

Even though Alex Nylander scored his first for WBS and his 9th of the season with less than 7 seconds to go, it wasn’t enough. Despite being outshot 42-16, Lehigh Valley won 4-3 to extend WBS’s losing streak to 8 games.

Metcalf finished with 39 saves on 42 shots for the win, his second in as many starts for the Phantoms. Penguins goaltender Alex D’Orio only stopped 12 of 15 shots he faced in the losing effort, dropping him to 0-4 on the season. The Penguins’ power play did not convert either of its 2 opportunities, while the penalty kill allowed 1 goal in 3 chances.

Saturday, January 15: WBS 5 @ Lehigh Valley 2

For the rematch in Allentown on Saturday night, WBS welcomed former Phantom Pascal Laberge to their lineup, having signed Laberge to a PTO on Friday morning.

The story of this game opened in a very similar fashion to the previous night’s game, with WBS outshooting Lehigh Valley 13-3 in the first period and getting Puustinen’s 11th goal of the season at 10:22 for a 1-0 first period lead.

The script flipped very quickly in the second period, though. WBS outshot Lehigh Valley again in the middle frame, 14-6, but the difference on this night was a three-goal outburst in a span of 1:37 to propel the Penguins to a 4-0 lead. Sam Poulin (5), Robert (8), and Nathan Legare (3) tallied the goals.

The Phantoms put together a push in the third period, outshooting WBS 13-8 and getting power play goals by Connor Bunnaman and Wade Allison to get within 4-2, but Taylor Fedun’s empty netter with 1:16 to play clinched WBS’s first victory since December 12.

Tommy Nappier saved 20 of 22 Lehigh Valley shots for the victory, his second for WBS and his first since November 12. Felix Sandstrom in net for Lehigh Valley saved 30 of 34 WBS shots in the losing effort. The Penguins power play did not convert any of the 5 chances it received, while the penalty kill conceded twice in 7 chances.

Sunday, January 16: Hershey 1 @ WBS 2

Nappier stayed in the starter’s net for WBS’s third game of the weekend, their 8th of 12 against the Hershey Bears this season. Whereas the momentum of previous solid performances this season had died at the hands of the Bears, on this day the momentum carried through.

After a scoreless first period, Alex Nylander scored his second goal of the season for WBS in 6 games and his 10th overall to give WBS the lead. The power play goal was assisted by Sam Poulin and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

WBS held the lead until the waning seconds of the second period, when a seemingly covered puck at Nappier’s feet was stuffed into the goal by Hershey’s Shane Gersich for his 10th goal of the season and a 1-1 tie after 40 minutes.

In the third period, another PTO signing for WBS broke the tie. Just after Nathan Legare backchecked brilliantly to break up a Hershey 2 on 1, he sent a pass off the boards behind everyone to a trailing Patrick Watling. Watling, the scoring leader for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers who joined WBS on a PTO Wednesday, finished the breakaway to give WBS a 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish. The goal was Watling’s first for WBS in his fifth AHL game of the season, having scored two assists for Syracuse in two games back in December.

Nappier finished with 23 saves on 24 shots for his second victory in 24 hours and 3rd on the season. Hershey starter Pheonix Copley finished with 24 saves on 26 shots in the losing effort. The WBS PP went 1 for 4 after two scoreless outings against Lehigh Valley, while the penalty kill dispatched Hershey’s only player advantage.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of January 16:

  1. Providence Bruins: 29 games played, 16-9-3-1, .621 points percentage
  2. Springfield Thunderbirds: 33 games played, 18-11-3-1, .606
  3. Hershey Bears: 34 games played, 18-11-3-2, .603
  4. Hartford Wolf Pack: 31 games played, 16-10-3-2, .597
  5. Charlotte Checkers: 32 games played, 17-13-2-0, .563
  6. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 30 games played, 10-12-6-2, .467
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 37 games played, 13-17-3-4, .446
  8. WBS Penguins: 30 games played, 11-15-1-3, .433

Team Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

WBS’s 1 power play goal in 11 chances on the weekend left them with a season conversion percentage of 10.2%, still worst in the AHL. The penalty kill’s 3 goals conceded in 11 chances dropped the team’s kill percentage to 77.7%, 26th in the AHL and only ahead of Springfield for worst in the Eastern Conference.

The two victories to close the weekend brought WBS closer to the other teams in the Atlantic fighting for the sixth playoff position. Also, they are now up to 29th in the league in points percentage, elevated just above Milwaukee at week’s end.

The Penguins will look to extend their winning streak even further this week as they continue a five-game homestand. First up is a midweek visit by Lehigh Valley on Wednesday, January 19, start time 7:05 pm EST.

The Toronto Marlies then come to town for their only visit of the season. WBS and Toronto will play two at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza this weekend, first on Friday, January 21, start time 7:05 pm EST, then Saturday, January 22 at 6:05 pm EST in WBS’s annual “Pink in the Rink” game.