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WBS Weekly: Nylander and Puustinen standing out in Wilkes-Barre

Alex Nylander scored four goals in two games against the Toronto Marlies to lead the WBS Penguins to a weekend sweep.

The WBS Penguins salute their supporters after defeating the Toronto Marlies 3-2 in overtime on Saturday.
Photo taken by me

Wednesday, January 19: Lehigh Valley 3 @ WBS 1

Fresh off their first victory of the season over the Hershey Bears, the WBS Penguins opened their week with a midweek contest against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, their seventh game out of 12 this season against their rivals from Allentown. The first 40 minutes produced nothing in the way of goals, with Lehigh Valley’s Felix Sandstrom fending off 18 WBS shots and the Penguins’ Alex D’Orio saving 17 Phantoms shots.

In the third period, the much-maligned WBS special teams let them down, as Wade Allison and Linus Sandin scored power play goals at 3:57 and 10:41 of the third period. Jordy Bellerive scored his fifth goal of the season to keep the Penguins close, but they could not recover Sandin’s goal. Maksim Sushko scored into an empty net with 39 seconds to go to give the Phantoms the victory.

Sandstrom finished with 28 saves on 29 shots for the victory, his first for Lehigh Valley since November 10. D’Orio finished with 21 saves on 23 shots in the losing effort. The WBS power play was held scoreless in four attempts, while their penalty kill conceded two power play goals in only three chances to provide the difference in the game.

Friday, January 21: Toronto 1 @ WBS 5

The Penguins then welcomed the Toronto Marlies to town for their only visit of the season. Toronto entered this game 7-3 in their last 10 games, having just lost a 6-game winning streak Wednesday night in Hartford by a score of 5-2.

Alex Nylander set the tone for the Marlies’ visit just 30 seconds into the game with his 11th goal of the season and third for WBS.

The game stayed 1-0 until late into the 2nd period, when WBS broke open the floodgates. The Penguins’ leading scorer Valtteri Puustinen scored his 12th of the season with a rare power play goal.

Fellow rookie Filip Hållander rejoined the scoresheet with his fourth goal of the year and first since November 23.

Toronto’s Antti Suomela broke Alex D’Orio’s shutout bid with just 10 seconds left in the second period, but that’s all the Marlies would be able to muster on this night. Kasper Bjorkqvist, returning to WBS after his recent stint in Pittsburgh, scored his third goal of the season for WBS to restore the 3-goal lead.

Then, Nylander scored his second goal of the night to provide the final margin of victory, 5-1. It was easily WBS’s strongest performance of the season since their 6-0 victory over a depleted Springfield team on December 12.

D’Orio finished with 21 saves on 22 shots for his first victory of the season for WBS in seven games. Erik Källgren took the loss in net for Toronto, stopping 25 of 30 WBS shots. The WBS power play showed vast improvement, scoring on 2/4 opportunities; the penalty kill, although it gave up one goal in five opportunities, excelled by dispatching 1:56 of Toronto two-player advantage in the first period.

Saturday, January 22: Toronto 2 @ WBS 3 (OT)

Toronto was much more prepared for the return game on Saturday night, WBS’s annual “Pink in the Rink” game. Jack Kopacka and Mikhail Abramov struck early to give the Marlies to a 2-0 advantage after 20 minutes.

Toronto held that lead through the second period, but WBS’s most prolific scorers were able to turn the game around in the third period. First, Puustinen scored his 13th goal of the season at 3:03 of the third to temporarily take the team lead in goals.

Fortunately for WBS, “temporarily” only lasted about 16 game minutes. With starting goaltender D’Orio pulled for an extra attacker, Nylander scored his 13th of the season and fifth for WBS with just 47 seconds to go to tie the game at 2 and send the game to overtime.

In overtime, with Toronto’s Brett Seney in the penalty box for holding, Nylander closed out the week in style.

Nylander’s sixth goal for WBS in just nine games clinched a 3-2 victory for the Penguins, who were able to jump out of last place in the Atlantic Division for at least a day with the win. WBS were pegged back to last place at week’s end by a Bridgeport 4-3 overtime win over Springfield on Sunday.

D’Orio finished with 22 saves on 24 shots for his second win in as many days, while Toronto’s Michael Hutchinson finished with 31 saves on 34 shots, many of them strong saves, in a hard-luck losing effort. The power play winner in overtime was WBS’s only power play goal of the game in two chances, while the penalty kill dispatched both Toronto advantages.

Atlantic Division standings, through the games of January 23:

  1. Providence Bruins: 31 games played, 17-10-3-1, .613 points percentage
  2. Hartford Wolf Pack: 34 games played, 18-11-3-2, .603
  3. Springfield Thunderbirds: 36 games played, 19-12-4-1, .597
  4. Hershey Bears: 36 games played, 19-12-3-2, .597
  5. Charlotte Checkers: 36 games played, 19-15-2-0, .556
  6. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 33 games played, 12-13-6-2, .485
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 40 games played, 15-18-3-4, .463
  8. WBS Penguins: 33 games played, 13-16-1-3, .455

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

Note that the above stats list does not include Nylander’s numbers with Rockford before joining WBS. His eight goals for the IceHogs, combined with his six for WBS in just nine games, gives him 14 on the season, tied for ninth in the AHL. Also of note is Puustinen’s 13 goals, tying him for 14th in the AHL in goals.

WBS’s three power play goals against Toronto elevated their conversion percentage on the season to 11.7%, still last in the AHL. The penalty kill finished the week with a kill percentage of 77.1%, 27th in the AHL.

There’s no rest on the horizon for the Penguins anytime soon, though. On account of COVID-related rescheduling, WBS will have four games this week. First off is the first of two rescheduled home games against the Cleveland Monsters tonight, January 24, start time 7:05 pm EST. Then, tomorrow night, January 25, the Penguins hit the road to visit the Hershey Bears for their fifth game in 7 days, start time 7:00 pm EST.

WBS then makes their only visit of the season to Cleveland for their two road games against the Monsters Friday, January 28 and Saturday, January 29, both starting at 7:00 pm EST.