A whole heap of transactions to get through before we get to some games. MichaelLeighton joins the team in a trade that sent Sean Maguire to the Arizona organization and Czuczman comes back down to WBS. Jarret Burton, Jeff Taylor, Freddie Tiffels and Conor Wydo all come up from Wheeling, with Bengtsson now week to week with an upper body injury joining Kostopoulos on the shelf alongside Sestito (Week to week with lower body) and Ethan Prow (day to day with lower body). DiPauli returned home to deal with a family matter and won’t be available for the weekend as a result, with McKegg the same deal. Christian Thomas is off to the Spengler Cup to play for Canada. With all those moves out of the way, the Penguins have 2 home games this weekend, with Binghamton on Friday night and Lehigh Valley on Saturday evening.
Friday Night (12/22/2017)
Binghamton Devils (Home) – 4-3 OT Win
Scratches are Taylor, Spionzzi, and Tiffels, with Michael Leighton getting the start in net. The game gets off to a great start for WBS with Blueger scoring from Adam Johnson winning an icing race from a dump by Colin Smith, putting a move on the defender and setting up Blueger for an easy finish from in the slot. WBS then jumped to a 2-0 lead after a Burton faceoff win ended up on the stick Pedan who fed Czuczman for a point shot that Burton then tips in the front of the net. Binghamton returned the game to a 1 goal deficit as they scored on the PP after a bar down snipe from Quenneville. The game was tied not long after as the Devils pulled of a neat play behind the WBS net and reverse passed it out the back side of the net for an essential empty net goal. Binghamton then added to the WBS struggles by scoring a 3rd consecutive goal, this shorthanded, as Sprong got stuck in no man’s land on the point and got neither the puck nor the man. A rather uneventful 2nd period included 7 minor penalties (3 forWBS, 4 for Binghamton) and a fighting major a piece for McGrath and Thompson on the Devils. WBS had the better of the shots and we entered the 3rd period the score 3-2 Binghamton with the shots tied at 23. WBS got a tremendous stroke of luck as Burton digs a puck out from a battle behind the Devils net and in an attempt to throw the puck to the front of the net has it deflect off a stick, up into the air and into the Devils net off the back of Appleby in the Binghamton net. Wydo picked up his first AHL point with an assist in his first AHL game. After some late game shenanigans involving Aston-Reese fighting Latta and a big scrum in the corner of the Devils zone, the third ended 3-3 and the game went to OT. In that OT, WBS killed off a penalty to start and then managed to create a 2 on 1 opportunity in which Dea passed over to Blueger who converted the opportunity and secured 2 points for WBS.
Saturday Evening (12/23/2017)
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Home) – 3-2 OT Loss
Same line up as Friday night with the same scratches, only difference is that DeSmith gets the start in net. A fun first period that was back and forth with plenty of blocks and posts all around, which the Penguins finally broke the deadlock in with a Zach Aston-Reese weak wrister from the left half boards after some strong WBS zone time deflected off Blueger’s chest and into the Lehigh Valley net for his 3rd goal of the weekend. After 16 minutes of a 2nd period that Wilkes-Barre had absolutely dominated, Lehigh Valley forward and former Penguin Chris Conner took a pretty non-descript shot that glanced off the shinpads of Corrado and flew high blocker on DeSmith who had no chance. The tied game lasted all of 2 minutes before Haggerty managed to corral a mishandled puck behind the Phantoms net, came out on the right side of the net and roofed it with his back hander for his 11th of the season and a 2-1 lead for the Baby Penguins going into the 3rd period. An ill-timed fight in a 2-1 game by McGrath to start the 3rd period generated some energy for Lehigh Valley who added a goal to tie the game just before the 10 minute mark as DeSmith let in a weak shot to the near post through his five hole in a shot he’d certainly like to have back. A failure to deal with a simple dump in by Pedan and Tinordi resulted in a turnover 4 minutes later to gift the Phantoms a 3-2 lead, which they would hold onto throughout the rest of the game and lead the Penguins into Christmas off a disappointing loss in a game they had a strong hold in.
Wednesday Night (12/27/2017)
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Home) – 5-4 Loss
The only change in the lineup is McGrath out and Tiffels replacing him. A first period that saw WBS down 2-0 off some questionable refereeing decisions was followed by a great showing from the Wilson-Quinney-Sprong line, who rallied for 2 goals, one off a rebounded Sprong shot and the other off Sprong setting up Tinordi on the back door who’s missed shot was turned in by Quinney. This tie game didn’t last long as, much like most of the WBS struggles this year, Lehigh Valley scored twice in 97 seconds to build a 4-2 lead, which Wilson then cut back to 4-3 17 seconds after. A wacky 2nd period was followed by an otherwise even, more relaxed 3rd period, in which the Penguins gave up an empty net goal before scoring with an empty net as Johnson finished off a nice play from Dea and Blueger. DeSmith once again got the start and continued to look a little shakey, making 30 saves on 34 shots as the Baby Penguins continue to tumble down the standings off the back of another loss.
1) Something is certainly up with the WBS Penguins. They’re definitely one of the deepest, most talented teams in the AHL, yet have a horrible habit of switching off, giving up chances in bunches and giving up goals just the same. The Binghamton game was a great example of this as they shed 3 goals in 7 minutes, the only time Binghamton looked alive in the game. I don’t know if this falls on the coaches, or an over reliance on veterans who probably aren’t giving it everything they have in a December game against a pretty weak team. Perhaps more rotational use of the younger, hungrier players would certainly come in helpful.
2) Neither DeSmith nor Leighton played badly, but they certainly weren’t as good as you’d expect with their history. DeSmith let up a pretty awful goal for Lehigh Valley’s 2nd, and Leighton was certainly struggling to track the puck at times against Binghamton. I expect both to trend up, but we’ll see how Leighton’s acquisition affects DeSmith’s confidence.
3) The Penguins powerplay, for all its firepower, is just awful. There’s no nice way of putting it. They give up the most shorthanded goals against at 8 (tied with Springfield), and they only click at 13% on the season despite their absurdly hot start. This is while having Sprong tied for 3rd for power play goals in the league at 7. There is a serious issue when it comes to this and this has to fall on Tim Army as the coach in charge of the powerplay. It’s at the point of being happy when the PP doesn’t give up a goal against. That’s not where you should be with the amount of money and talent in WBS.