The WBS Penguins took the ice for Star Wars Night already behind the 8-ball for the week, after the Bridgeport Islanders defeated Laval 5-3 on Wednesday night and Belleville 5-2 on Friday night. Staring an eight-point playoff deficit in the face, they welcomed the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to town.
Saturday, March 25: Lehigh Valley 3 @ WBS 2 (OT)
WBS started off on the right foot, as Drake Caggiula converted a Phantoms turnover into a breakaway, then into his 18th goal of the season just 3:22 into the game.
Former WBS Penguins captain Garrett Wilson responded at 7:07 of the first with his 16th goal of the season. The first period ended tied at 1 despite the Phantoms outshooting WBS 12-4 in the first 20 minutes.
WBS took the lead again at 5:44 of the second, as a shot from Josh Maniscalco deflected off a Phantoms defender and past goaltender Samuel Ersson. The power play goal was Maniscalco’s first AHL goal, assisted by Jonathan Gruden and Nathan Légaré.
Whatdya say Mani?!— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 25, 2023
Josh Maniscalco notches his first AHL goal with this shot! pic.twitter.com/UMk07p4izo
WBS held the lead through the end of the second period, but Artem Anisimov, veteran of 771 NHL games, scored his 17th goal of the season for Lehigh Valley on a power play at 2:52 of the third. Regulation ended tied at 2.
Overtime favored the Phantoms, as Anisimov won a offensive zone face off to himself behind the WBS net and floated a perfect pass to Adam Brooks for his 9th goal of the season and a 3-2 victory.
Anisimov took third star honors on the night for his goal and assist. Caggiula took second star for his game-opening goal, and Brooks took top honors for his game-winning goal and an assist on Wilson’s goal. Phantoms goaltender Ersson finished with 19 saves on 21 shots for the win, while WBS’s Taylor Gauthier finished with 21 saves on 24 shots.
The Phantoms were the menace on Saturday night, as Lehigh Valley posted a 3-2 overtime victory against the #WBSPens at the @MoSunArenaPA— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 26, 2023
Postgame Highlights are courtesy of the @PALottery. pic.twitter.com/rrlC6rL0pC
Sunday, March 26: Hartford 5 @ WBS 1
Lines and pairings for the night pic.twitter.com/SxqOdSvadd— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 26, 2023
The last time WBS played Hartford on February 4, Tim Gettinger scored 8 seconds into the game to kickstart what would eventually become an 8-2 for the Wolf Pack. Sunday didn’t start out much better, as Zac Jones scored his 8th goal of the season just 16 seconds into the game. Hartford would get two more goals in the first period through Will Lockwood (14) and Jonny Brodzinski (18, on a power play) to go up 3-0 on WBS through 20 minutes.
Former Providence Bruin Anton Blidh scored his 10th goal of the season for Hartford at 10:27 of the second to expand the lead to 4-0, which Hartford would keep until just past the halfway mark of the third period.
Jonathan Gruden provided the only bright spot of the game with a power play goal at 10:31 of the third. It was Gruden’s 15th goal of the season for WBS, as Drake Caggiula recorded his 29th assist of the season on the goal. Lukas Svejkovsky provided the secondary assist, his 12th helper of the season.
Gruds with a missile for this power play tally pic.twitter.com/Jmp1PpYxkd— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) March 26, 2023
WBS could get no closer, though, as Turner Elson slammed the door with an empty-netter at 19:24 of the third to finish off a 5-1 victory.
Former Penguins goaltender Louis Domingue stopped 27 of 28 WBS shots, including 24 of 25 over the final two periods. Dustin Tokarski suffered the loss with 22 saves on 26 shots.
Atlantic Division standings, through the games of March 26
- Providence Bruins (clinched playoffs): 63 games played, 39-14-8-2, 88 points
- Hershey Bears (clinched playoffs): 63 games played, 38-16-5-4, 85 points
- Charlotte Checkers: 63 games played, 35-22-3-3, 76 points
- Springfield Thunderbirds: 63 games played, 33-23-2-5, 73 points
- Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 64 games played, 33-25-3-3, 72 points
- Bridgeport Islanders: 63 games played, 30-25-7-1, 68 points
- Hartford Wolf Pack: 64 games played, 28-25-4-7, 67 points
- WBS Penguins: 63 games played, 25-27-6-5, 61 points
Valtteri Puustinen still leads the Penguins in scoring with 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists), but he’s fighting a 12-game goalless streak at week’s end. Drake Caggiula is closing in on the team lead in points, ending the week with 47 points in 57 games (18 goals, a team-leading 29 assists). From there, it’s 14 points back to Filip Hållander, with 11 goals and 22 assists in 42 games. Jonathan Gruden ends the week third among active WBS players with 15 goals.
Dustin Tokarski ends the week with a record of 12-12-5, a GAA of 2.53, and a save percentage of .915. He now ranks 11th in the AHL among goaltenders in GAA and 9th in save percentage. Taylor Gauthier ends the week with a record of 7-3-5, a 2.67 GAA, and a .908 save percentage in 18 appearances.
WBS ends the week back down to second-worst in the AHL in goals forced at week’s end with 170 in 63 games. They rank 12th in the AHL in goals allowed with 189. The power play is humming along at a 20.3% conversion rate that ranks 14th in the AHL, while the penalty kill ranks 11th at 81.9%.
The Week Ahead
WBS will start the week with a stiff test, as division leader Providence comes to town Wednesday, March 29, for a 7:05 pm EDT face off. The Penguins will visit the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Friday, March 31, for a game scheduled to start at 7:05 pm EDT. WBS will close out the week Saturday, April 1, by rebranding themselves the Old Forge Pizzas for a night and welcoming the Syracuse Crunch to town for a 6:05 pm EDT face off.