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WBS Weekly: Nylander and Puustinen hit 20 goals, WBS sinks further into last place

An overtime victory over Hershey midweek ended WBS’s losing streak, but losses to Lehigh Valley and Bridgeport sank WBS further into last place.

WBS Penguins forward Alex Nylander during Sunday’s game against Bridgeport, sporting WBS’s alternate black jersey.

Wednesday, February 15: Hershey 2 @ WBS 3 (OT)

The WBS Penguins entered Wednesday’s contest with the Hershey Bears having split their previous 10 meetings of the season. The teams traded goals in the first period, with Drake Caggiula striking his 10th goal of the season on a power play at 16:43 of the first. Mitch Reinke and Alex Nylander recorded the assists.

The lead lasted less than two minutes, though, as Mason Morelli scored his 9th of the season unassisted at 18:21 of the first to force a 1-1 tie.

Hershey outshot WBS 12-6 in the first and 11-9 in the second, but WBS was able to kill off two Bears power plays in the middle session to keep the game 1-1. Filip Hållander pushed the Penguins in front at 5:24 of the third period with his 9th goal of the season, assisted by Valtteri Puustinen and Jonathan Gruden.

However, for the third straight game, the Penguins were victimized by a late third period goal. This time, it was Hershey’s Bobby Nardella, who recorded his 4th goal of the season from Logan Day and Hendrix Lapierre just 89 seconds away from full time to tie the game at 2.

WBS was unable to recover from the late goals against Providence last week, but they were able to recover on Wednesday.

That’s the 19th goal of the season for Puustinen, assisted by Tyler Sikura and Taylor Fedun, to give WBS the extra point and stop their winless February and five-game losing streak all at once.

If not for Puustinen’s overtime heroics, top star honors might well have gone to goaltender Taylor Gauthier, who celebrated his 22nd birthday with 34 saves on 36 Hershey shots and the win. Instead, Gauthier took third star honors, with Hållander getting second honors and Puustinen the night’s top honors. The loss was Hershey’s 18th of the season in 48 games, with a remarkable 6 of those losses at the hands of the WBS Penguins.

Saturday, February 18: WBS 3 @ Lehigh Valley 4 (SO)

Following Wednesday’s visit from Hershey, WBS headed south to visit their other longtime Pennsylvania rivals, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, for the 7th game of their 12-game season series. After a scoreless first period, Drake Caggiula opened the scoring with his 11th of the season for WBS at 5:21 of the second period. Tyler Sikura recorded the only assist.

All-Star Alex Nylander made the lead 2-0 at 15:22 of the second with his 20th goal of the season. Valtteri Puustinen moved to 20 assists on the season with the primary assist, with Ty Smith also getting a helper.

The lead imploded over a 16-second stretch in the third period, as Egor Zamula and Alex Kile scored their first goals of the season for Lehigh Valley to tie the game at 2. WBS recovered to take a 3-2 lead at 6:34 of the third through a Puustinen power play goal. The goal was Puustinen’s 20th of the season to match Nylander for the team lead, and it was Puustinen’s 11th power play goal of the season, just behind Michael Carcone of Tucson for the league lead. Nylander recorded his 22nd assist on the goal, along with Mitch Reinke’s 19th assist of the season.

Once again, though, WBS could not hold the third period lead. Kile scored his 2nd of the game and 2nd of the season for Lehigh Valley at 12:21 of the third to tie the game at 3 and send the game to overtime.

WBS dominated possession in the extra session, but they could not get any of their three shots past Phantoms goaltender Troy Grosenick. The last of these was WBS’s first penalty shot of the season, but Tyler Sikura was unable to convert just 35 seconds away from the end of overtime.

Grosenick carried the momentum of the saved penalty shot into the shootout, where he denied Nylander, Lukas Svejkovsky, and Sam Houde to backstop Bobby Brink’s shootout goal and a Phantoms victory. Grosenick finished with 25 saves on 28 shots for second star honors, while Penguins goaltender Taylor Gauthier stopped 34 of 37 shots in the losing effort.

Sunday, February 19: Bridgeport 2 @ WBS 1

Sunday’s visit from the Bridgeport Islanders served as the WBS season debut for Tommy Nappier, recalled to WBS on February 15 following news of an upper-body injury to Filip Lindberg. The Islanders greeted him very rudely, as Chris Terry scored his 16th goal of the season just 39 seconds into the game.

Alex Nylander responded at 5:55 of the first with his 21st goal of the season on a power play to retake the team lead. Filip Hållander and Mitch Reinke provided the assists, with each moving to 20 assists on the season with the goal.

Bridgeport’s Ruslan Iskhakov scored his 11th of the season at 8:27 of the first to retake the lead for Bridgeport, and that’s all that goaltender Jakub Skarek would need. He shut down all 24 WBS shots over the final 40 minutes of the game to hold the 2-1 victory for the Islanders and take his 8th win of the season.

Nappier finished with 27 saves on 29 shots in the losing effort.

Atlantic Division Standings, through the games of February 19

  1. Providence Bruins: 50 games played, 30-10-8-2, 70 points
  2. Hershey Bears: 50 games played, 31-12-5-2, 69 points
  3. Charlotte Checkers: 50 games played, 29-17-2-2, 62 points
  4. Springfield Thunderbirds: 49 games played, 25-18-2-4, 56 points
  5. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 50 games played, 25-20-3-2, 55 points
  6. Bridgeport Islanders: 49 games played, 22-19-7-1, 52 points
  7. Hartford Wolf Pack: 50 games played, 21-20-3-6, 51 points
  8. WBS Penguins: 49 games played, 21-21-2-5, 49 points


At week’s end, WBS is one of only two teams in the AHL that can boast two 20-goal scorers, with Alex Nylander at 21 (T-12 in the AHL) and Valtteri Puustinen at 20 (T-14th in AHL). The other one is Coachella Valley, with Jesper Froden’s 25 and Max McCormick’s 20, and at week’s end the Firebirds have 31 wins and 2nd place in the Pacific.

Elsewhere on the Penguins, Jonathan Gruden has 12 goals, and Drake Caggiula has 11. No one else is in double digits. In fact, out of WBS’s 133 goals forced (fourth-worst in the AHL at week’s end), players not named Nylander and Puustinen combined have only 92 goals in 49 games.

Taylor Gauthier’s overtime win and shootout loss give him a season record of 6-2-2, a 2.46 GAA, and a .918 save percentage in 13 appearances.

The Week Ahead

WBS closes out an ugly month of February with three more contests this week. Lehigh Valley comes to town Wednesday, February 22, start time 7:05 pm EST. Then, WBS heads out of the division to visit Syracuse Friday, February 24, start time 7:00 pm EST. WBS then comes back home Saturday, February 25, for Military Appreciation Night against the Belleville Senators, start time 6:05 pm EST.