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WBS Weekly: Penguins finish the week .500 after a road win at Lehigh Valley

After two losses, WBS gets a strong road effort and end the week in 6th place in the Atlantic Division.

Penguins goaltender Tommy Nappier, showing off the WBS Penguins’ alternate third jersey during their game Friday night against Belleville.

Wednesday, February 9: WBS 1 @ Rochester 3

The WBS Penguins opened the week by taking a road trip up to Rochester that had originally been scheduled for December 22 before getting rescheduled due to COVID-19 issues. WBS came out quickly, with the red-hot Pierre-Olivier Joseph scoring his sevent goal of the season and fourth in his last five games just 69 seconds into the contest. Alex Nylander and Sam Poulin provided the assists.

Despite outshooting Rochester 33-20 over the course of the game, though, WBS could not get anything else past Americans starting goaltender Aaron Dell. Amerks forward Brett Murray tied the game at 6:55 of the second, then former WBS defender Ethan Prow scored in the third to give Rochester the lead. JJ Peterka’s empty-netter sealed away the 3-1 victory.

Dell finished with 32 saves for his seventh win of the season in just eight starts. Alex D’Orio had a somewhat slower night, stopping 17 of 19 shots, but still took the loss to drop to 6-7-1-1 on the season. WBS could not convert either of its two power plays, but the penalty kill dispatched all three Rochester advantages.

Friday, February 12: Belleville 2 @ WBS 1

Up until 2017, when the top affiliate of the Ottawa Senators was based in Binghamton, NY, WBS played the Senators prospects a lot…almost as much as they did Hershey or Lehigh Valley. That rivalry was cut short when Ottawa moved their affiliate to Belleville for the 2017-18 season. Friday’s contest with the Senators was only the third game against Belleville since the move, and the first since a 6-2 win in Belleville January 12, 2018.

Despite the Senators starting the week outside playoff positioning in the North Division, they came into Northeastern Pennsylvania looking to make a physical statement, and they did. Forward Parker Kelly scored at 7:18 of the first, then former Penguins forward Andrew Agozzino scored his 12th of the season at 8:09 of the second to stake the Senators to a 2-0 lead. Through 40 minutes, Belleville outshot WBS 27-16.

WBS’s top scorer Valtteri Puustinen brought the Penguins back to 2-1 with a power play goal at 7:57 of the third, his 14th of the season, but despite a 16-6 shot advantage in the final 20 minutes, they could not get the equalizer. Belleville punctuated the win with an impressive offensive zone push, preventing WBS goaltender Tommy Nappier from ever leaving the ice.

Nappier ended the game with 31 saves on 33 shots in the losing effort, while Belleville’s Filip Gustafson stopped 31 of 32 shots for the win. Puustinen’s power play goal was the only one for WBS in five chances, while their penalty kill dispatched both Senators advantages.

Saturday, February 12: WBS 3 @ Lehigh Valley 2

The rather surprising loss from the previous night seemed to spark WBS, as they thoroughly outplayed the Lehigh Valley Phantoms over the first 30 to 35 minutes of Saturday’s game at PPL Center. WBS outshot the Phantoms 13-4 in the first period without getting a goal, but they opened the second period with two quick goals through captain Taylor Fedun and forward Nathan Legare.

Former Penguins forward Cal O’Reilly brought the Phantoms back to 2-1. Despite being outshot 26-12 over the first 40 minutes, Lehigh Valley entered the third period needing just one more to tie the game.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph put an end to that early in the third.

Joseph’s eight goal of the year restored the two goal lead and served as the eventual game-winner. Phantoms forward Maksim Sushko scored to bring Lehigh Valley back to within one goal again, but Tommy Nappier shut the door from there for his fifth win of the season.

Nappier finished with 20 saves on 22 shots, while Phantoms goaltender Kirill Ustimenko stoped 32 saves on 35 shots in the losing effort. WBS received the only power play of the night in the third period, but they could not convert it.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of February 13:

  1. Springfield Thunderbirds: 45 games played, 25-14-5-1, .622 points percentage
  2. Hartford Wolf Pack: 42 games played, 23-13-4-2, .619
  3. Hershey Bears: 45 games played, 24-15-3-3, .600
  4. Providence Bruins: 38 games played, 19-13-3-3, .579
  5. Charlotte Checkers: 43 games played, 23-18-2-0, .558
  6. WBS Penguins: 43 games played, 19-19-2-3, .500
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 43 games played, 17-18-6-2, .488
  8. Bridgeport Islanders: 45 games played, 17-20-4-4, .467

Team Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

Of note this week is Pierre-Olivier Joseph, whose eight goals on the season tie with Nikolas Brouillard of San Diego and Ryan Murphy of Grand Rapids for the league lead in goals by defenders. Joseph’s 23 points tie him for 12th in the AHL among defenders.

The WBS power play is still mired in last place in the AHL with a 12.4% conversion percentage at week’s end. The penalty kill is up to 22nd in the AHL with a 79.2% kill percentage.

Three more games are on deck for WBS this week, starting with their second road trip of the season to Charlotte to take on the Checkers. The Penguins and Checkers will play two midweek games Tuesday, February 15, and Wednesday, February 16, both 7:00 pm EST starts. WBS then closes the week at home Saturday, February 19, at 6:05 pm EST against Springfield in their annual Military Appreciation Night.