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WBS Weekly: Missed Opportunities

WBS missed a golden opportunity to close the gap in the Atlantic Division midweek, but they ended the week improving their season record over division-leading Springfield to 4-0-0-1.

Penguins forward Anthony Angello, showing off WBS’s special Military Appreciation Night jerseys during warmups Saturday night.

Tuesday, February 15: WBS 4 @ Charlotte 5

The WBS Penguins opened the week in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, trailing the fifth-place Charlotte Checkers by 5.8 percentage points. The second road trip of the season to Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte thus provided a golden opportunity for the Penguins to close that gap and bring themselves back into contention for the upper playoff positions.

WBS started off Tuesday’s first of two contests against the Checkers very well, with Valtteri Puustinen scoring his 15th of the year at 4:36 of the first and Anthony Angello scoring a power play goal at 7:40 of the first to stake the Penguins to a 2-0 lead.

Charlotte was undaunted, though. They started their comeback through former WBS forward Scott Wilson, who scored his 18th of the season unassisted at 12:32 of the first. Then, Max McCormick (10) and Cale Fleury (6) scored in the second period to give Charlotte a 3-2 lead. Further, Kole Lind scored his 15th of the year at 2:54 of the third to put the Checkers up 4-2.

WBS did well to tie the game in the third period. Jonathan Gruden scored his 3rd of the year at 7:14 of the third to cut Charlotte’s lead in half, then Michael Chaput scored WBS’s second power play goal of the night with 2:20 to go to level the score at 4.

Unfortunately, for as much work as WBS put into the third period to tie the game (outshooting Charlotte 17-10 in the final 20 minutes), the tie score only lasted 51 seconds. Cole Schwindt scored unassisted with 1:31 to play in the third period to deny WBS any points and win 5-4.

Rookie Charlotte goaltender Spencer Knight stopped 30 of 34 shots for his fifth win in as many starts, while Tommy Nappier stopped 22 of 27 shots in the losing effort. The WBS PP finished 2 for 5 on the evening, while the penalty kill stopped Charlotte’s only attempt on the night.

Wednesday, February 16: WBS 1 @ Charlotte 4

Whereas it was WBS flying out of the gates on Tuesday night, Charlotte flew out of the gates for the rematch on Wednesday. Zac Dalpe opened the scoring 1:25 into the game with his 18th goal of the season, and Charlotte didn’t let up. Carson Twarynski (4), Connor Carrick (8, power play), and Henry Bowlby (8) expanded the lead to 4-0. Joey Daccord, in net for Charlotte, did his job very well, stopping everything WBS threw at him until 16:32 of the third. It was at that point that Nathan Legare scored his 7th of the season on a power play to break the shutout bid.

Goaltender Alex D’Orio, in net for WBS for the second game of the road trip, stopped 19 of 23 shots in the losing effort. Each team scored a power play goal: WBS one in five chances, Charlotte one in three chances.

Saturday, February 19: Springfield 2 @ WBS 3 (SO)

WBS closed the week at home, hosting the first-place Springfield Thunderbirds for their annual Military Appreciation Night. After a scoreless first period, Alex Nylander opened the scoring 44 seconds into the second period with his 16th goal of the season for all teams and 8th for WBS in 22 games.

Defender Mitch Reinke doubled the lead at 12:30 of the second period with his 2nd goal of the year, capping off a second period in which WBS outshot Springfield 13-3.

In the third period, a very familiar face to Penguins fans made his presence known. Forward James Neal, who spent parts of four seasons with Pittsburgh en route to nearly 300 career NHL goals, scored a power play goal 23 seconds into the third period to bring the Thunderbirds back to 2-1. The goal was Neal’s third for Springfield in 3 games since joining them February 11.

Springfield defender Josh Wesley tied the game at 9:32 of the third with his 3rd goal of the season. WBS outshot Springfield 32-28 in regulation.

In overtime, it was Springfield dominating play, preventing WBS from getting any shots on net and getting 4 of their own. Penguins goaltender Tommy Nappier stopped them all to force a shootout.

Nappier closed out a strong performance in net by stopping Springfield’s assist leader Sam Anas, Neal, and Hugh McGing in the shootout. Anthony Angello and Valtteri Puustinen were stopped in the shootout as well, but Alex Nylander was true with his shootout attempt to give WBS the 3-2 victory and improve the Penguins’ season record over the Thunderbirds to 4-0-0-1.

Both Nappier and Springfield goaltender Joel Hofer stopped 30 of 32 shots in normal play. Springfield scored the only power play goal of the night in 3 attempts, while WBS could not convert on either of their two advantages.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of February 20:

  1. Springfield Thunderbirds: 47 games played, 26-14-5-2, .628 points percentage
  2. Providence Bruins: 41 games played, 22-13-3-3, .610
  3. Hartford Wolf Pack: 44 games played, 23-15-4-2, .591
  4. Charlotte Checkers: 47 games played, 26-18-3-0, .585
  5. Hershey Bears: 48 games played, 25-17-3-3, .583
  6. WBS Penguins: 46 games played, 20-21-2-3, .489
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 45 games played, 17-19-6-3, .478
  8. Bridgeport Islanders: 48 games played, 18-21-5-4, .469

Team Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

Pierre-Olivier Joseph dropped back to a tie for 2nd in the AHL for goals from defenders with 8. His 26 points are third on WBS behind Alex Nylander’s 28 for all teams and Valtteri Puustinen’s 30 points, and they are good for 9th in the AHL among defenders.

The WBS power play, with three successful conversions in Charlotte, ended the week with a 13.2% success rate, still last in the AHL. The penalty kill regressed slightly, ending the week at 78.8% and 23rd in the AHL.

At the start of the week, the gap WBS was facing to get to fifth place in the Atlantic was 5.8 percentage points. At week’s end, it’s 9.4 percentage points, with WBS having 30 games left to play. Just 3.5 percentage points separate division-leading Springfield from fifth-place Hershey, then it’s a nearly 10-percentage-point gap to the final playoff spot.

The Penguins have four opportunities this week to start making up the difference, starting with a COVID makeup game at Hershey on Tuesday, February 22, start time 7:00 pm EST. Lehigh Valley comes to town Wednesday, February 23, start time 7:05 pm EST. Then it’s the weekend, as WBS heads up to Bridgeport Saturday, February 26, start time 7:00 pm EST. Finally, WBS returns home for a Sunday afternoon matinee against Syracuse, start time 3:05 pm EST.