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WBS Weekly: WBS tightens grip on a playoff spot with 2-0-1 week

After dropping a point to Cleveland on Wednesday, WBS excelled in its two weekend home games to earn some breathing room in the race for 6th place.

The WBS Penguins salute their supporters after closing out a 4-2 victory over Hartford on Sunday afternoon.
Photo taken by me

Wednesday, March 9: Cleveland 3 @ WBS 2 (OT)

The WBS Penguins returned home to start a five-game homestand this week, first welcoming the Cleveland Monsters back to town on Wednesday. WBS had won the three previous games against Cleveland this season, so a season sweep was at stake.

WBS dominated the first 20 minutes, outshooting the Monsters 20-6. The returning Kasper Bjorkqvist, who had rejoined WBS the morning of the game, opened the scoring with his fifth goal of the season at 4:18 of the first, assisted by Michael Chaput and Anthony Angello.

Drew O’Connor doubled the lead at 16:50 of the first with a powerplay goal, his seventh of the season in just 13 games for WBS. Juuso Riikola and Radim Zohorna picked up assists.

Momentum swung 180 degrees in the second period, though. The WBS penalty kill, entering the game with an 89.3% kill percentage since January 21, conceded on two straight penalty kills in the second period. Carson Meyer’s 13th of the season and Jake Christiansen’s eighth of the season tied the game at 2, and the game stayed tied through the end of regulation.

The final bounce in overtime favored the Monsters, as Dillon Simpson scored his fifth of the season at 2:26 of the extra session to give the Monsters a much-needed victory as they attempt to climb out of the North Division’s basement.

Monsters first-year goaltender Jet Greaves earned the victory, his fifth in his last six starts with 32 saves on 34 WBS shots. For the Penguins, Alex D’Orio saved 24 of 27 Monsters shots. The WBS power play finished the game 1 of 4, while the penalty kill finished 2 of 4.

Saturday, March 12: Laval 2 @ WBS 6

With their leading scorer Valtteri Puustinen in transit due to promotion to Pittsburgh and a subsequent return, Radim Zohorna called up to Pittsburgh, and forward Jan Drozg loaned out to Grand Rapids for the rest of the season, someone else on the forward lines needed to step up if the Penguins were to be victorious on Star Wars Night.

That someone was Sam Poulin.

Two weeks after his fellow rookie Filip Hållander scored his first career hat trick, Poulin registered his first career hat trick to fuel a 6-2 rout of the visiting Laval Rocket. Poulin scored two in the first 4:18 of the first period to pace the Penguins to an early 2-1 lead, then he capped off his trick at 18:03 of the third into an empty net.

Also scoring for WBS were two returnees to the lineup. Chris Bigras, out of the lineup since January 19 due to injury, returned to the blue line on Saturday night and promptly scored his second goal of the season at 12:12 of the first to extend WBS’s lead to 3-1. That goal chased Laval starting goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon from the game after saving just 3 of 6 WBS shots.

Alex Nylander also returned to the lineup Saturday after missing more than two weeks with what was described as a non-COVID illness. He wasted little time getting back onto the scoresheet, converting his ninth goal for WBS and 17th of the season on a powerplay at 1:56 of the third.

Closing out the WBS scoring was Felix Robert, scoring his 13th of the season at 6:18 of the third. Of note here is the also-returning Pierre-Olivier Joseph, sent back to WBS on Friday and scoring a secondary assist on Robert’s goal to move to 20 on the season.

Last, but certainly not least, among the returning players was starting goaltender Louis Domingue, who saved 37 of 39 Laval shots in his first action for WBS since December 27.

Sunday, March 13: Hartford 2 @ WBS 4

WBS concluded the week by hosting the Hartford Wolf Pack, who entered the game in third place in the Atlantic Division. After a scoreless first period, Filip Hållander broke through for his ninth goal of the season at 1:16 of the first. Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Mitch Reinke added assists.

WBS expanded the lead to two at 12:48 of the second, as Alex Nylander converted a 5 on 3 power play for his 10th goal for WBS and 18th on the season. Juuso Riikola moved to 20 assists on the season with the primary assist on the goal, with Drew O’Connor getting a secondary assist.

O’Connor then returned the favor, converting a brilliant pass by Nylander behind the Hartford net for his eighth of the season at 10:41 of the third. Chris Bigras also scored an assist.

Following a brief stoppage after a penalty box door malfunction, Hartford used the extra attacker advantage to great benefit, scoring two with goalie Adam Huska pulled to pull within 3-2 in the final 14 seconds. However, following a questionable no-icing call, Jonathan Gruden scored his seventh of the season into an empty net with 0.8 to go to finish off the 4-2 victory.

In his second start in less than 24 hours, Louis Domingue stopped 33 of 35 shots for his second straight victory. Huska stopped 28 of 31 WBS shots in the losing effort. Each team scored a power play goal; WBS one in four attempts, Hartford one in five attempts.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of March 13:

  1. Springfield Thunderbirds: 55 games played, 31-17-5-2, .627 points percentage
  2. Providence Bruins: 51 games played, 28-17-3-3, .608
  3. Hartford Wolf Pack: 52 games played, 27-18-5-2, .587
  4. Charlotte Checkers: 57 games played, 31-22-4-0, .579
  5. Hershey Bears: 57 games played, 29-21-4-3, .570
  6. WBS Penguins: 56 games played, 25-23-4-4, .518
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 57 games played, 23-25-5-4, .482
  8. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 55 games played, 20-25-7-3, .455

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

Valtteri Puustinen, fresh off his first NHL callup, leads the team in points with 34 (17 goals, 17 assists). He, Alex Nylander (18) Felix Robert (13), and Sam Poulin (10) finished the week with double digits in goals on the season. WBS’s three top assist scorers are all defenders, with Juuso Riikola and Pierre-Olivier Joseph tying for the team lead with 21 each (tying for 17th in the AHL among defenders), and Mitch Reinke in third on the team with 19.

At week’s end, the WBS power play is up to a 15.1% conversion rate, 28th in the AHL. The PK is back under 80% but ever so slightly at 79.9%, 20th in the AHL.

This Thursday, March 17, marks the 20th anniversary of the most infamous game in WBS Penguins history, the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre. You can reminisce about that game and take a look at a time where the American Hockey League wasn’t quite the developmental league it is today with this recap of the game written up by the WBS Penguins a few years ago.

It is perhaps fortuitous, then, that WBS will continue its homestand this Friday night, March 18, against the team that contested that St. Patrick’s Day 20 years ago, the Syracuse Crunch. Game start is at 7:05 pm EDT. WBS will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day itself this Saturday, March 19, by welcoming the Utica Comets to town, game start 6:05 pm EDT, to end their homestand before taking a four-game tour of Canada.