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WBS Weekly Season Finale: WBS finishes under .500 for first time in 21 years

Two shutouts and a 5-4 overtime loss to Charlotte on Fan Appreciation Night closed out the third worst season in WBS franchise history.

Kyle Olson leans in for a faceoff against Charlotte on Saturday night.

Monday, April 10: WBS 0 @ Laval 4

On Sunday, April 9, the Montreal Canadiens gave a massive boost to their top farm team, the Laval Rocket, for the Rocket’s push to the Calder Cup playoffs. Montreal sent forwards Jesse Ylönen and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, defender Corey Schueneman, and goaltender Cayden Primeau to Laval.

All four players figured in Monday’s 4-0 victory over WBS, rescheduled from before Christmas due to weather. Harvey-Pinard opened the scoring at 2:36 of the first with a power play goal, his 16th goal for Laval this season, unassisted. Ylönen doubled the lead to 2-0 with a power play goal at 7:22 of the third, his 10th goal for Laval. Schueneman provided the lone assist for Danick Martel’s empty net goal at 18:26 of the third. Most impressively, Primeau stopped all 41 WBS shots he faced to set the season high for saves against the Penguins this season.

Dustin Tokarski took the start for WBS and stopped 33 of 36 shots for his sixth straight defeat.

Friday, April 14: WBS 0 @ Hartford 4

WBS closed out the road portion of their schedule Friday with their final visit of the season to playoff-bound Hartford. With nothing left to play for, WBS started Joel Blomqvist in goal for his second career AHL game. The boxscore says Blomqvist finished with 23 saves on 27 shots, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of how fortunate WBS was to leave Hartford with just a 4-0 shutout loss.

For their part, Hartford gave their supporters quite a show in their home finale, with Tim Gettinger opening the scoring at 15:58 of the first period on a power play. Gettinger’s 13th goal of the season was all that Louis Domingue needed, but Turner Elson tacked on two goals and Adam Edstrom scored his first of the season for Hartford at 13:24 of the third just in case. Domingue finished with 28 saves on 28 shots for his fourth shutout of the season for the Wolf Pack and WBS’s third goalless effort in their previous 5 games.

Saturday, April 15: Charlotte 5 @ WBS 4 (OT)

Despite still fighting for home ice in the opening round of the playoffs, Charlotte chose to sit five of their veterans, including captain Zac Dalpe, for the WBS season finale.

The Penguins opened the scoring at 16:28 of the first period through Ty Glover’s 7th goal of the year, assisted by Jamie Devane.

Valtteri Puustinen made the lead 2-0 at 4:01 of the second with his 24th goal of the season, assisted by Ty Smith and Drake Caggiula. The secondary assist pushed Caggiula to 30 assists on the season for WBS.

Anthony Bitetto brought Charlotte back to 2-1 at 8:54 of the second with his 5th goal of the season, but Ty Smith restored the two goal lead at 18:26 of the second with a power play goal. His 7th of the season was assisted by Puustinen (34) and Caggiula (31).

Things got weird at the end of the second period, as Jagger Joshua took a double minor against a Josh Davies roughing minor during a scrum to end the period. On the ensuing power play to start the third period, Santtu Kinnunen scored his 9th of the season to bring Charlotte back to 3-2.

After the goal, Dustin Tokarski took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to put the Checkers back on the power play, and Connor Bunnaman converted for his 16th goal of the season to tie the game.

Just 23 seconds after that goal, Matt Kiersted took a hooking minor, which Jonathan Gruden converted for his 16th goal of the season, assisted by Smith and Puustinen.

Kyle Olson then took a hooking minor at 5:21 of the third, which Grigori Denisenko converted for his 12th goal of the season and Charlotte’s third power play goal in the first 6:18 of the third period.

The game cooled off from there to eventually get to overtime, the 23rd time this season WBS needed more than 60 minutes to resolve a game. Only Rockford has gone to more OT games.

On this night, despite some early WBS possession, they could not get any shots away. Charlotte got one shot, and it was Bitetto’s 2nd goal of the night and 6th of the season to give the Checkers a 5-4 victory. WBS’s overtime record this season dropped to 4-8, with a corresponding 5-6 record in shootouts.

Checkers goaltender Jean-Francois Berube finished with 33 saves on 37 shots for the win, while Tokarski finished with 29 saves on 34 shots.

Final Atlantic Division Standings

  1. Providence Bruins: 44-18-8-2, 98 points
  2. Hershey Bears: 44-19-5-4, 97 points
  3. Charlotte Checkers: 39-25-5-3, 86 points
  4. Springfield Thunderbirds: 38-26-3-5, 84 points
  5. Hartford Wolf Pack: 35-26-4-7, 81 points
  6. Lehigh Valley Phantoms: 35-26-4-7, 81 points
  7. Bridgeport Islanders: 34-30-7-1, 76 points
  8. WBS Penguins: 26-32-8-6, 66 points

Final Statistics, powered by HockeyDB

For the second straight year, Valtteri Puustinen led the team in scoring, improving on his 20 goals and 22 assists from the 2021-22 season. Puustinen is also the first Penguin since Scott Harrington in 2013-14 to play all of WBS’s games in a season.

WBS finished the season with 191 goals in 72 games, second worst in the AHL ahead of only San Diego’s 180. The power play finished with a 19.9% conversion percentage that ranks 15th in the AHL. The penalty kill, despite a 2 for 5 effort in the season finale, finished 13th in the AHL with a kill percentage of 81.5%.

At the close of October 2022, the WBS Penguins held a record of 6-0-1, leading the Atlantic Division and best in the AHL. Through the end of calendar year 2022, they held a record of 14-9-2-3 for 33 points and 5th place in the Atlantic Division, a winning percentage of exactly .500 in 28 games.

In calendar year 2023, the WBS Penguins only won 12 of their remaining 44 games, a shocking downfall that resulted in the league’s fourth-worst record, the third-worst record by points percentage in franchise history, and the end of a 20-season streak of .500 or better points percentages.

Not only does the new incoming hockey operations staff in Pittsburgh have a lot of work to do for the NHL Penguins, they’ve got a lot of work to do on the farm before we reconvene in October for season 24.