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WBS Weekly: WBS Pens finish strong in February

Taylor Fedun closed out the week with an OT winner to celebrate his 400th AHL game on Sunday.

The WBS Penguins salute their fans after defeating Syracuse 4-3 in OT on Sunday.
Photo taken by me

Tuesday, February 22: WBS 3 @ Hershey 1

The WBS Penguins opened up a four-game week with their final trip to GIANT Center in Hershey this season to take on the Bears, who on the heels of a 4-5-0-1 stretch in their last 10 games had fallen to fifth place in the Atlantic Division. After a scoreless first period, forward Kyle Olson put WBS on the board first with his seventh goal of the season at 6:57 of the second. Jordy Bellerive and Jonathan Gruden tallied assists.

Despite being outshot 27-25 on the game, that goal by Olson held up for the entire second period and nearly all of the third. Olson padded the lead to 2-0 with an empty-netter at 18:16 of the third.

Hershey didn’t give up, though, as Brian Pinho broke Tommy Nappier’s shutout bid one minute from full time with his sixth goal of the season. Hershey could not get another, as Jonathan Gruden’s empty netter with 23 seconds to go sealed away WBS’s first victory in Hershey since December 2019.

Nappier finished with 26 saves on 27 shots in the winning effort, while Hunter Shepard stopped 22 of 23 shots he faced. Neither WBS (5 attempts) nor Hershey (3 attempts) converted any power plays.

Wednesday, February 23: Lehigh Valley 3 @ WBS 2 (SO)

Next up for WBS was a trip back home to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. WBS seemed to carry over its momentum from the Hershey victory into the first period of Wednesday’s contest, as Gruden and Filip Hållander each scored their fifth goals of the season to put WBS up 2-0 after 20 minutes. Hållander’s goal was on a power play, and Pierre-Olivier Joseph assisted on both to bring him to 20 assists on the season.

The second period featured one of the best saves of the season, featuring the glove of Alex D’Orio.

Unfortunately, that would be the final highlight of the night for the Penguins. Lehigh Valley turned the tables starting in the second period, outshooting WBS 24-15 over the final 40 minutes of regulation and getting goals from Maksim Sushko and Hayden Hodgson (power play) to tie the score at 2 after 60 minutes.

Overtime was thoroughly dominated by Lehigh Valley, who got seven shots on goal to WBS’s three, but D’Orio stood tall. In the shootout, Alex Nylander, Valtteri Puustinen, and Drew O’Connor were all unsuccessful, while former Penguin Adam Clendening scored to give the Phantoms the extra point and ever so slightly close the gap for sixth place in the Atlantic.

D’Orio finished with a remarkable 36 saves on 38 shots in the losing effort, while his counterpart Kirill Ustimenko stopped 30 of 32 shots for his first victory of the season in 6 appearances. WBS’s power play went 1 for 2, while Lehigh Valley’s went 1 for 5.

Saturday, February 26: WBS 5 @ Bridgeport 3

Entering the week, Filip Hållander had the least amount of points scored (13) and the least amount of games played (37) among WBS’s incoming star class of four North American rookies (Valtteri Puustinen 30 in 45 games, Sam Poulin 20 in 42 games, Nathan Legare 14 in 40 games). After his goal on Wednesday, Hållander had easily the best game of his rookie campaign Saturday night in Bridgeport, scoring his first career AHL hat trick to fuel WBS’s 5-3 victory over the Islanders.

Supplementing Hållander’s sixth, seventh, and eigth goals of the season were Drew O’Connor’s fourth of the season for WBS and first since returning to the WB on Tuesday, as well as Anthony Angello’s sixth of the season on a power play. Defender Juuso Riikola dished out two assists to bring him to 15 on the season in 29 games, while Tommy Nappier stopped 28 of 31 Bridgeport shots for his eighth win of the season and seventh in his last nine starts. Angello’s power play goal was the only one for WBS in four attempts, while the WBS penalty kill stopped 2 of 3 Islanders advantages.

Sunday, February 27: Syraucse 3 @ WBS 4 (OT)

WBS welcomed the Syracuse Crunch to town on Sunday to close out the week and the month of February. The Penguins’ habit for strong starts continued unabated, as Radim Zohorna buried a rebound at 3:27 of the first for his sixth goal of the season.

WBS expanded their lead to 2 at 12:29 of the second, as Drew O’Connor buried another rebound for his fifth of the season.

Things were looking really good for WBS through 40 minutes, with a 2-0 lead and a shooting advantage of 21-16. But in the third period, the Syracuse engine fired to life, as Gage Goncalves, Gabriel Fortier, and Remi Elie scored in the first 12:15 of the third period to propel the Crunch to a 3-2 lead.

WBS didn’t give in, though. With Anthony Richard in the penalty box for hooking in the final minutes and starting goaltender Alex D’Orio pulled for an extra attacker, Valtteri Puustinen wired a shot to Syracuse goaltender Hugo Alnefelt’s glove side for his 16th goal of the season and a 3-3 tie.

Both Alnefelt and D’Orio made strong saves in overtime, as momentum swung back and forth. With Zohorna and O’Connor dangerously tired at the end of a shift, O’Connor sent a shot on net from the left side that Alnefelt saved, but he couldn’t track the rebound. The rebound fell right in front of an empty cage, and the captain of the Penguins pounced to punctuate his 400th AHL game.

D’Orio finished with 24 saves on 27 shots for the victory, while Alnefelt finished with 36 saves, some of them high quality, on 40 shots in the losing effort. The WBS PP went 1 for 2 on the day, while the PK dispatched both Crunch chances.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of February 27:

  1. Springfield Thunderbirds: 50 games played, 28-15-5-2, .630 points percentage
  2. Providence Bruins: 44 games played, 24-14-3-3, .614
  3. Hartford Wolf Pack: 47 games played, 25-16-4-2, .596
  4. Hershey Bears: 51 games played, 26-19-3-3, .569
  5. Charlotte Checkers: 50 games played, 26-21-3-0, .550
  6. WBS Penguins: 50 games played, 23-21-2-4, .520
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 48 games played, 18-20-7-3, .479
  8. Bridgeport Islanders: 51 games played, 19-23-5-4, .461

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

Pierre-Olivier Joseph was recalled to Pittsburgh on Friday, but his 28 points for WBS (8 goals, 20 assists) rank him ninth in the AHL among defenders. Ryan Murphy holds the league lead for goals from defenders with 10, but Joseph is tied with 8 others for second place.

The WBS power play has finally climbed out of the league basement with a conversion percentage of 13.8% at week’s end, 29th in the AHL ahead of Lehigh Valley and Grand Rapids. The penalty kill ended the week at a 79.3% kill rate, good for 22nd in the AHL.

While the PIAA District 2 basketball championships take residence at Mohegan Sun Arena this weekend, the WBS Penguins will be hitting the road. WBS heads to Bridgeport first for a pair with the Islanders on Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5, both games starting at 7:00 pm EST. Closing out the weekend will be a visit to Providence to take on the Bruins Sunday, March 6, start time 3:05 pm EST.