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WBS Weekly: WBS falters on their New England road trip

Only a very late equalizer by Valtteri Puustinen on Sunday in Providence gave the WBS Penguins any points this week.

WBS Penguins forward Drew O’Connor pursues the play Saturday night in Bridgeport.

Friday, March 4: WBS 4 @ Bridgeport 5

On the heels of a four-game week in which the WBS Penguins earned 7 out of 8 points, they hit the road to New England for a weekend against the Bridgeport Islanders and Providence Bruins. First up was a pair in Bridgeport against an Islanders team looking to climb out of last place in the Atlantic and challenge WBS for the final playoff spot.

The ever-dangerous Chris Terry opened the scoring on Friday with his 18th goal of the season at 10:09 of the first, but Felix Robert (11) and Chris Ortiz (his first AHL goal) propelled WBS to a 2-1 lead after the first 20 minutes. Michael Chaput assisted on both goals to bring him to 12 helpers on the season.

From there, although WBS outshot Bridgeport 33-12 over the final 40 minutes, veteran goaltender Cory Schneider stopped 31 of those shots to keep the Islanders in the game. Despite two power play goals in the third period (Robert’s 12th of the season and Radim Zohorna’s 7th of the season), the Islanders made the most of their 12 shots in the final two periods. Simon Holmstrom, Terry again, Arnaud Durandeau, and Kyle MacLean scored to propel Bridgeport to a 5-4 victory.

Schneider ended with a whopping 38 saves on 42 shots for a hard-fought 7th win of the season, while Tommy Nappier only stopped 15 of 20 Bridgeport shots in the losing effort.

Saturday, March 5: WBS 2 @ Bridgeport 4

In the return game on Saturday night, Drew O’Connor opened the scoring at 8:46 of the first with his sixth goal for WBS in 11 appearances and his 3rd in his last 4. Filip Hållander provided the assist to get him to 10 on the season.

Bridgeport answered right back, though, as Andy Andreoff (14) and Thomas Hickey (4) scored 1:28 apart to put Bridgeport up 2-1 after 20 minutes.

After a scoreless second period, Jonathan Gruden scored his 5th of the season at 1:55 of the third to bring WBS back to level terms. Anthony Angello and Juuso Riikola provided the assists; Riikola’s assist was his 16th of the season for WBS.

The tie score only lasted for just over three minutes. Durandeau scored his second in as many nights and his 11th on the season at 5:06 to put Bridgeport ahead again, then Cole Bardreau finished the proceedings at 14:46 with his 9th of the season to give Bridgeport a 4-2 victory and propel them out of last place in the Atlantic.

Jakub Skarek, in net for Bridgeport, stopped 36 of 38 shots for the win, while Alex D’Orio stopped 27 of 31 shots in the losing effort. After going 2 for 8 the previous night, the WBS power play only got one opportunity on Saturday and didn’t convert it.

Sunday, March 6: WBS 4 @ Providence 5 (OT)

To close the weekend, WBS paid a visit to the new Atlantic Division leaders from Providence, winners of their last three and eight of their last 10. The Bruins opened the scoring late in the first through Cameron Hughes’s 12th of the season at 17:37 to take a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. Shots ended 9-9 after the first period.

Whereas the first period was somewhat routine, the middle session was anything but. Michael Chaput kicked off the fireworks at 4:12 of the second with his 5th of the season on a power play. Radim Zohorna and Mitch Reinke picked up assists.

Just 2:17 later, Sam Poulin scored the seventh goal of his rookie campaign to give WBS a 2-1 lead. Reinke and Hållander picked up assists; for Reinke, the assist put him up to 17 on the season.

Providence then proceeded to show why they’re leading the division, as Hughes (13), Victor Berglund (3), and Jack Studnicka (9) scored the next three goals to propel the Bruins to a 4-2 lead.

Just 1:16 after Studnicka’s goal, though, Jonathan Gruden scored his sixth of the season to bring WBS back to 4-3 after 40 minutes. Matt Bartkowski and Jordy Bellerive got the assists, bringing Bellerive up to 16 assists on the season.

The second period ended 4-3 Providence, with WBS taking 18 shots on goal and Providence 14.

WBS threw everything they could at Providence in the third period, outshooting the Bruins 10-1 and fighting off four Bruins power plays. Despite their efforts, it took until the final, final seconds for the Penguins’ leading scorer to rescue a point out of the weekend.

If there was any momentum to take into overtime as a result of that equalizer, though, WBS most certainly did not pick it up. Oskar Steen scored his 13th of the year just 24 seconds into the extra session to give Providence the 5-4 victory.

Kyle Keyser, in net for Providence, stopped 33 of 37 WBS shots for his 8th win of the season and 3rd in as many starts. Alex D’Orio stopped 20 of 25 Providence shots in the losing effort. The WBS PP finished 1 for 4, while the penalty kill finished a perfect 5 for 5, including those 4 kills in the final period.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of March 6:

  1. Providence Bruins: 47 games played, 27-14-3-3, .638 points percentage
  2. Springfield Thunderbirds: 52 games played, 29-16-5-2, .625
  3. Hartford Wolf Pack: 50 games played, 27-16-5-2, .610
  4. Charlotte Checkers: 53 games played, 29-21-3-0, .575
  5. Hershey Bears: 54 games played, 26-21-4-3, .546
  6. WBS Penguins: 53 games played, 23-23-3-4, .500
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 54 games played, 21-24-5-4, .472
  8. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 51 games played, 18-23-7-3, .451

Statistics, powered by HockeyDB:

The Penguins’ power play continues to show improvement and ascension up the league ranks, finishing 28th in the AHL at week’s end with a 14.4% conversion rate. The penalty kill is also improving, finishing 18th in the AHL at week’s end with an 80.6% kill percentage.

Despite dropping four points to one of the teams chasing them in the race for sixth place, WBS didn’t lose all that much ground on the higher places, finishing the week 4.6% behind Hershey for fifth. Last week, the gap was 3%.

The Penguins return home this week for the start of a five-game homestand. First up are the Cleveland Monsters, coming to town Wednesday, March 9 at 7:05 pm EST to make up the game lost on New Year’s Day to COVID protocols. Next up is Star Wars Night on Saturday, March 12 against the Laval Rocket, start time 6:05 pm EST. Finally, after springing ahead for Daylight Savings Time, WBS hosts the Hartford Wolf Pack on Sunday, March 13, start time 3:05 pm EDT.