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WBS Weekly: Penguins beat Cleveland three times in six days

Alex D’Orio continued to shine with a heavy workload, recording his first shutout of the season Friday to highlight a three-win week for the WBS Penguins.

WBS Penguins goaltender Alex D’Orio, en route to his first AHL shutout Friday in Cleveland.

Monday, January 24: Cleveland 1 @ WBS 5

The WBS Penguins opened the week with their first game of the season against the Cleveland Monsters, rescheduled from New Year’s on account of COVID-19. Cleveland’s had a rough time this season, struggling to get out of the North Division’s basement. While they put forward a solid enough effort on Monday, outshooting WBS 32-23 over the course of the game, they ran into Alex D’Orio. D’Orio, playing his fourth game in six days, stopped 31 of 32 shots, and he was supported by a WBS goal outburst against Cleveland goaltender Jean-Francois Berube.

Matt Bartkowski (3), Felix Robert (9), Kyle Olson (5), Anthony Angello (2), and Kasper Bjorkqvist (4) scored for the Penguins in the first two periods, putting WBS up 5-0 after 40 minutes. It was only Justin Scott’s goal that broke D’Orio’s shutout bid in the third period, but WBS was more than happy to take the 5-1 victory, their third straight win after their dramatic sweep of Toronto last weekend.

All goals scored were even-strength, with the power play going 0 for 2. The penalty kill stopped all three Cleveland attempts.

Tuesday, January 25: WBS 2 @ Hershey 6

WBS then ventured down to Hershey to take on the Bears for the 9th time this season and WBS’s fifth game in seven days. WBS started out well, outshooting Hershey 13-9 in the first period and getting goals from Juuso Riikola on a power play and Nathan Legare to take a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, the fun stopped there. It could have been the fact of WBS’s fifth game in seven days against Hershey’s third in four days, or the results of a second period fight between Jordy Bellerive and Hershey’s Drake Rymsha, or perhaps something else, but Hershey took over in the second period and torched the Penguins with six straight goals over the final 40 minutes. Garrett Pilon (13), Marcus Vela (2), Christopher Brown (1), Joe Snively (14, shorthanded), Kale Kessy (3), and Snively again (15, shorthanded and into an empty net) propelled the Bears to a 6-2 victory, improving their season mark over the Penguins to 8-1.

D’Orio, in net again for the fifth time in seven days, finished with 28 saves on 33 shots in the losing effort, while Pheonix Copley stopped 26 of 28 WBS shots for the victory. The Penguins scored once on the power play in 4 chances, but the power play also conceded those two shorthanded goals to Snively. The WBS PK was inactive on account of no power plays to kill off.

Friday, January 28: WBS 4 @ Cleveland 0

The Penguins then hit the road for their only visit of the season to the home of the Cleveland Monsters. Two games were on the schedule, and similar to Monday, both broke decisively in favor of the Penguins.

Friday kicked off with Sam Poulin’s sixth of the season, assisted by Valtteri Puustinen (who was originally thought to have scored the goal) and Filip Hållander at 8:01 of the first.

Penguins captain Taylor Fedun followed it up just before the end of the first. Jan Drozg provided the only assist for Fedun’s third goal of the season.

WBS held the lead through the entire second period, then added to it in the third. Angello scored his third of the season at 4:58 of the third, assisted by Alex Nylander and the returning Michael Chaput. Jonathan Gruden then closed the proceedings with his first AHL goal of the season at 9:29, assisted by Riikola, to expand the lead to 4-0. D’Orio did the rest, stopping all 18 shots he faced for his first AHL shutout.

The Penguins power play went scoreless in four attempts, but the penalty kill dispatched both Cleveland attempts.

Saturday, January 29: WBS 5 @ Cleveland 2

To close out the week, WBS took on the Monsters again for their seventh game in 11 days, all of which featured D’Orio in net. Once again, WBS took control relatively early, with Felix Robert hitting double digits in goals with his 10th of the year at 10:41 of the first. Nathan Legare and Filip Hållander provided the assists on the power play goal.

WBS then broke it open in the second, with Legare and Olson scoring 33 seconds apart to propel the Penguins to a 3-0 lead. Legare’s fifth of the season at 2:14 was also a power play goal.

Cleveland showed a couple of sparks following Olson’s goal, with Brendan Gaunce scoring shorthanded at 7:42 of the second to bring the Monsters to 3-1 after 40 minutes. But they could get no closer than 2 goals.

In the third period, Jordy Bellerive scored his sixth of the season 29 seconds in to restore the three-goal lead.

Cleveland scored another shorthanded goal at 11:53 of the third through Liam Foudy to again get back to two goals, but Pierre-Olivier Joseph sealed the win away with an empty-netter at 19:19. The 5-2 victory was WBS’s third over Cleveland in six days, closing out a 7-5-0-1 month of January for the Penguins and, for a brief time, bringing them back into playoff position in sixth place in the Atlantic Division. Lehigh Valley’s third period comeback to beat Hershey 3-2 on Sunday propelled the Phantoms to .500 and the sixth spot at week’s end.

D’Orio finished with 31 saves on 33 shots for the victory, his fifth in his last six. The power play went 2 for 6, but it also conceded those two shorthanded goals for a shocking four shorties allowed in the week. The penalty kill stopped all three Monsters advantages.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of January 30:

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack: 37 games played, 20-12-3-2, .608 points percentage
  2. Springfield Thunderbirds: 39 games played, 21-13-4-1, .603
  3. Hershey Bears: 39 games played, 21-13-3-2, .603
  4. Providence Bruins: 34 games played, 17-11-3-3, .588
  5. Charlotte Checkers: 38 games played, 21-15-2-0, .579
  6. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 36 games played, 14-14-6-2, .500
  7. WBS Penguins: 37 games played, 16-17-1-3, .486
  8. Bridgeport Islanders: 41 games played, 15-18-4-4, .463

Player Stats, powered by HockeyDB:

Alex Nylander’s 14 combined goals ties him for 14th in the AHL at week’s end, while Valtteri Puustinen’s 13 goals ties for 24th in the league.

The WBS power play, stuck in the league basement for a number of weeks, finally climbed out to 30th in the 31-team league with a 12.4% conversion rate at week’s end. The power play has given up the second-most shorthanded goals in the league at week’s end with 9; only Springfield (10) has conceded more with a player advantage. The penalty kill is up to 23rd in the AHL at week’s end with a 78.4% kill percentage.

The games keep coming hot and heavy for the Penguins, who will have three home games in four days this week. First up is Springfield on Wednesday, February 2, start time 7:05 pm EST, to mark the halfway point in the season. Then, the Bridgeport Islanders come to town for their first game of the season against the Penguins Friday, February 4, start time 7:05 pm EST. To close out the week, the Providence Bruins visit on Saturday, February 5, start time 6:05 pm EST.