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WBS Weekly: WBS extends winning streak to 4 before losing in OT

WBS took 5 out of a possible 6 points out of its three home games this week, losing only to one of the most unique streaks in the AHL to close out the week.

Penguins defender Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Wednesday, February 2: Springfield 3 @ WBS 4 (OT)

With the arrival of the NHL All-Star Weekend this past weekend, NHL teams closed up their taxi squads. For Pittsburgh, this meant the return of Michael Chaput, Kasper Bjorkqvist, Juuso Riikola, and Pierre-Olivier Joseph to WBS just in time for three WBS home games in four days. First up was Springfield, in their first visit to Northeastern Pennsylvania since getting trounced 6-0 on December 12.

The Thunderbirds stormed out of the gate on Wednesday, getting goals from Tommy Cross at 1:18 of the first and Calle Rosen at 9:55 of the first to take a 2-0 lead. Joseph brought the Penguins back to 2-1 at 17:48 of the first with a power play goal, his fifth of the season.

After a scoreless second period, Chaput scored just eight seconds into the third period to tie the game at 2.

WBS pulled ahead at 14:44 of the third through Jan Drozg’s third goal of the season. Try as they might, though, they were unable to see the lead through to the end of regulation, as Will Bitten scored with 42 seconds to go to get the game to overtime.

In overtime, each team was able to get two shots on goal. Jordy Bellerive, as if launched out of a cannon, got the last shot.

Bellerive’s seventh goal of the season was enough to get first star honors on the night and the extra point for WBS. Starting goaltender Alex D’Orio stopped 24 of 27 shots for his sixth win in his last seven games, while Springfield’s Joel Hofer stopped 31 of 35 shots in the losing effort. Joseph’s power play goal was the only one for WBS in five attempts, while the penalty kill stopped both Springfield attempts.

Friday, February 4: Bridgeport 3 @ WBS 4

Despite the ice storm that buffeted eastern Pennsylvania on Friday, the first visit to NEPA for the Bridgeport Islanders went on as scheduled, with Tommy Nappier in net to give D’Orio a much-earned night off. WBS flipped the script quickly on their Wednesday start, getting goals from Alex Nylander off a sterling assist from Sam Poulin and Drozg to take an early 2-0 lead.

Bridgeport rebounded, though, with Kyle MacLean and Erik Brown each scoring in the back half of the first period to end the first 20 minutes tied at 2.

Anthony Angello restored the lead for WBS at 1:49 of the second with this unassisted goal.

Bridgeport responded again through former Penguin Paul Thompson. The second period ended 3-3, despite WBS holding a two-period shot advantage of 31-13.

In the third period, despite Bridgeport outshooting WBS 12-9, the Penguins were able to score the tie-breaking and game-winning goal. Once again, it was Poulin scoring an outstanding primary assist, and this time it was Joseph who finished.

Joseph’s sixth of the year and third in as many games was enough for top star honors, but honestly, Poulin’s two assists could easily have qualified him for top honors on the night too. Nappier finished with 22 saves on 25 shots for the win, his third in as many starts but first since beating Hershey January 16. His counterpart, longtime veteran Cory Schneider, ended a very busy game with 36 saves on 40 shots in a hard-luck losing effort. WBS had two power play opportunities, converting neither, while the Penguins did not give any power plays to the Islanders in a game that featured only four minor penalties.

Saturday, February 5: Providence 2 @ WBS 1 (OT)

Closing out the week was a visit from the Providence Bruins and WBS’s “Hockey is for Everyone” night. The Bruins entered the game determined to cut off a four-game losing streak that dropped them from the Atlantic Division lead to fifth place entering the night. They played like it too in the first period, outshooting WBS 11-3 but not getting any goals.

WBS turned the tables in the second period, outshooting Providence 15-6 and getting a very sneaky goal from Jonathan Gruden, his second of the season, to take a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes.

In the third period, WBS suddenly faced one of the most unique streaks in the AHL. Providence entered the game winning their last 17 in a row when forward Zach Senyshyn scored a goal, a streak that included both of Providence’s victories over WBS this season and dated back to February 23, 2020…also against WBS. As the Penguins’ misfortune would have it, Senyshyn scored on a power play at 2:04 of the third to tie the game.

WBS would manage to get the game to overtime, but the 3-on-3 session ended with Providence’s Jesper Froden scoring at 4:21 to break both WBS’s winning streak at four and the Bruins’ losing streak.

WBS starting goaltender Alex D’Orio finished with 28 saves on 30 shots in the losing effort, while Providence’s Jeremy Swayman finished with 26 saves on 27 shots, including four in overtime, to clinch the win. The WBS power play failed to convert either of its two power plays, while Senyshyn’s power play goal was the only one Providence converted in three attempts.

Atlantic Division standings, through the games of February 6:

  1. Hartford Wolf Pack: 40 games played, 22-12-4-2, .625 points percentage
  2. Hershey Bears: 42 games played, 23-13-3-3, .619
  3. Springfield Thunderbirds: 42 games played, 22-14-5-1, .595
  4. Providence Bruins: 36 games played, 18-12-3-3, .583
  5. Charlotte Checkers: 41 games played, 22-17-2-0, .561
  6. WBS Penguins: 40 games played, 18-17-2-3, .513
  7. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 39 games played, 15-16-6-2, .487
  8. Bridgeport Islanders: 43 games played, 16-19-4-4, .465

Team statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

While Pierre-Olivier Joseph stood out with a goal in each of the games on Wednesday and Friday, his 15 assists so far this season ties him for 18th in the AHL among defenders. His 21 points ties him for 11th in the AHL among defenders.

The WBS power play is slowly but surely improving, but they still ended the week in last place in the AHL with a 12.3% conversion percentage. The penalty kill ended the week 24th in the AHL with a 78.5% kill percentage.

Another three-game-in-four-day stretch awaits WBS this week, starting with a visit to the North Division’s third place team Rochester Wednesday, February 9, start time 7:05 pm EST. On Friday, February 11, the North’s sixth-place team Belleville visits NEPA for a 7:05 pm EST face-off. WBS then closes the week with a visit to Lehigh Valley on Saturday, February 12, start time 7:05 pm EST.