On Tuesday, January 11, the AHL announced its initial slate of All-Stars, 12 per division, for the AHL All-Star Classic, to be held February 5-6 in Laval. The twin restrictions of 12 selections per division and each team sending at least one All-Star led to some very curious choices in the Atlantic Division.
WBS’s lone representative is defender Xavier Ouellet, leading all WBS defenders with 17 points (2 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games, but currently out week to week with a lower body injury. The other Atlantic Division selections are as follows, with stats given as of the end of play Sunday, January 15.
- Will Cuylle, Hartford: 11 goals, 7 assists for 18 points in 36 games
- Tyson Foerster, Lehigh Valley: 11 goals, 12 assists for 23 goals in 35 games
- Ethen Frank, Hershey: 16 goals, 12 assists for 28 points in 30 games
- Matthew Highmore, Springfield: 7 goals, 26 assists for 33 points in 36 games
- Vinni Lettieri, Providence: 13 goals, 26 assists for 28 points in 36 games
- Riley Nash, Charlotte: 12 goals, 17 assists for 29 points in 33 games
- Mike Vecchione, Hershey: 13 goals, 17 assists for 30 points in 35 games
- Samuel Bolduc, Bridgeport: 6 goals, 17 assists for 23 points in 37 games
- Cam York, Lehigh Valley: 3 goals, 10 assists for 13 points in 20 games
- Brandon Bussi, Providence: 12-2-3, 2.16 GAA, .935 save percentage, one shutout in 17 appearances
- Joel Hofer, Springfield: 11-9-4, 2.52 GAA, .918 save percentage, one shutout in 24 appearances
For comparison, WBS’s stats leaders include Dustin Tokarski (now promoted to PIttsburgh) with a record of 8-6-4, a 2.22 GAA, a .926 save percentage, and one shutout in 18 appearances. Forwards Valtteri Puustinen (14 games, 15 assists for 29 points in 35 games) and Alex Nylander (14 goals, 15 assists for 29 points in 34 games) also rank highly when compared to the initial All-Star selections.
There will very likely be a significant slate of replacement All-Stars chosen between now and the All-Star Classic owing to injuries and call-ups.
Wednesday, January 12: WBS 4 @ Hershey 3 (OT)
As far as games on the ice, the Penguins opened up their week with their 10th game of the season against the Hershey Bears on Wednesday. After a scoreless first, WBS charged out to a 3-0 lead in the second period behind Jonathan Gruden’s 9th goal of the season and the first professional goals for Lukas Svejkovsky and Raivis Ansons.
Hershey, befitting their status as the best team in the AHL so far this season, roared back in the third period with two goals from Mike Sgarbossa in his 500th AHL game and one from Vincent Iorio to tie the game at 3. Sgarbossa’s second goal came with 25 seconds left in the game.
WBS was able to steal the extra point in overtime with a very slick three-player sequence.
Gruds sends us home with the W!! pic.twitter.com/SSb21mDu9q— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 12, 2023
Gruden’s second goal of the night, 4th in two games, and 10th of the season gave WBS the 4-3 victory and top star honors for the night not just in his own game, but across the entire AHL. Goaltender Taylor Gauthier stopped 20 of 23 shots for his 4th win in 5 appearances, besting Hunter Shepard’s 22 saves on 26 shots.
It was another big night from Jonathan Gruden, who recorded his second consecutive two-goal game (which included the OT winner), as the #WBSPens downed the Hershey Bears, 4-3, on Wednesday.— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 12, 2023
Postgame Highlights are courtesy of @PALottery pic.twitter.com/3HTcBtYtJc
Saturday, January 14: WBS 1 @ Charlotte 3
Our lines for the night (day?)— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 14, 2023
What is 4 o’clock classified as? pic.twitter.com/45Y9P0rDON
The big story of WBS’s return to Charlotte took place late in the first period, as starting goaltender Taylor Gauthier, starting his 6th straight game, was removed after 20 minutes following a collision and dust-up late in the first period. He was replaced by Filip Lindberg, returning to action after himself being removed from his last appearance in Belleville December 21 due to injury.
Charlotte outshot WBS 13-6 in the second period and got an early breakthrough through Lucas Carlsson’s 5th goal of the season at 3:53 of the second. They expanded the lead to 2-0 through a power play goal by Santtu Kinnunen, his 5th of the year, at 9:55 of the third.
Jonathan Gruden continued his hot streak into Charlotte, scoring his career-high 11th goal of the season at 10:56 of the third period to bring a 2-0 Charlotte lead back to 2-1. Gruden’s fifth goal in his last 3 games earned him a promotion to Pittsburgh on Sunday morning.
*Knock knock* Who's there? IT'S JOHNNY!!!— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 14, 2023
Gruds notches his 5th goal in 3 games to get us going! pic.twitter.com/YyFvroU7Ew
Gerry Mayhew responded quickly, scoring his 5th of the season at 12:35 of the season at 12:35 of the third. Despite getting a power play over the final 90 seconds of the game, the Penguins could not get any closer.
Lindberg finished with 18 saves on 21 shots in his relief appearance, while Charlotte’s Mack Guzda saved 19 of 20 WBS shots for the win.
Sunday, January 15: WBS __ @ Charlotte __
Filip Lindberg returned to the starter’s role Sunday afternoon for the rematch against Charlotte, and it was largely down to him that WBS was able to salvage a split against the Checkers. Drake Caggiula opened the scoring at 1:06 of the second with his 7th goal of the season, assisted by Alex Nylander and Mitch Reinke.
Jules with this snipe to get us on the board first! pic.twitter.com/a6ShaEi2dZ— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 15, 2023
Matt Kiersted tied the game at 4:41 of the second with his first goal of the season. Lucas Carlsson gave Charlotte a 2-1 advantage at 1:12 of the third, a goal that Valtteri Puustinen matched at 9:43 of the third with his 14th goal of the season. Reinke and Nylander assisted on the power play goal, and regulation finished tied at 2.
Lindberg and his counterpart, Jean-Francois Berube, stole the show in overtime with several spectacular saves, leading to a shootout. Nylander and Lukas Svejkovsky converted their attempts, while Lindberg conceded only to Charlotte captain Zac Dalpe in clinching the 3-2 victory.
Svej sends us home with the win with this shoot-out tally! pic.twitter.com/3wln53J1gE— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 15, 2023
Lindy’s final save in the OT period and his final save in the shoot-out! pic.twitter.com/3vCm6IkIBy— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) January 15, 2023
Lindberg finished with 29 saves on 31 shots for his first victory since December 9 against Cleveland, while Berube finished with 32 saves on 34 shots and the night’s first star honors.
Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of January 15:
- Hershey Bears: 37 games played, 25-8-3-1, 54 points (most points in AHL)
- Providence Bruins: 37 games played, 22-8-5-2, 51 points
- Charlotte Checkers: 37 games played: 19-14-2-2, 42 points
- WBS Penguins: 34 games played, 18-11-2-3, 41 points
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 35 games played, 16-14-3-2, 37 points
- Hartford Wolf Pack: 36 games played, 14-13-3-6, 37 points
- Bridgeport Islanders: 37 games played, 15-15-6-1, 37 points
- Springfield Thunderbirds: 36 games played, 15-16-1-4, 35 points
The WBS power play ends the week ranked 26th in the AHL with a 17.5% conversion percentage. The penalty kill ends the week at an 81.5% kill percentage, good for 15th in the AHL.
The Week Ahead
It’s back home to the friendly confines of the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza for two games this week, as Syracuse comes to town Wednesday, January 18, and Lehigh Valley visits Friday, January 20, both 7:05 pm EST starts. WBS then starts a 3-game road trip with a visit to Bridgeport Saturday, January 21, start time 7:00 pm EST.