Transactions first, again. DeSmith, Corrado, Pedan and Wilson all go up to the NHL, Wydo goes back to the ECHL and Anthony Peters (who was previously with the Penguins) and Adam Morrison (most recently of Wheeling in the ECHL) come in as goalies on PTOs. Injury wise, Bengtsson, Kostopoulos, Prow and Sestito all remain out, and DiPauli and Leighton join them on the injury list. A back to back for the Baby Penguins with Hartford at home on Friday night then Saturday night is a road game in Hershey.
Friday Night (12/22/2017)
Hartford Wolf Pack (Home) – 5-1 Win
McKegg gets back into the lineup alongside Taylor and Spionzzi dressing to deal with the call ups to WBS, with McGrath also returning. Peters gets the start in net. A chippy start to this game including a fight between Trotman and Graves saw the Penguins jump out to a 1-0 lead on a delayed tripping call that Smith drew and finished off by tipping in a Sprong one timer fed to him by Taylor who got his first AHL point of his career with the secondary assist. Hartford did tie the game at 1 with under a minute left as sustained pressure in the WBS defensive zone resulted in Pionk finding Whitney on the backdoor wide open who finished with aplomb. WBS then proceeded to take over the game after McGrath managed to accrue 27 penalty minutes in one fight and somehow not leave the Penguins shorthanded, as Sprong added to his assist in the 1st with 2 goals in the second, both assisted by Adam Johnson, sniping each goal into oppsite top corners of the Hartford net. One came from a McKegg dump in that Johnson turned over and fed to Sprong in the slot who shot over Mazanec’s glove, and the second came from Sprong himself forechecking on a Hartford D who turned the puck over to Tinordi who fed Johnson in transition, who performed a nifty drop pass that Sprong then ripped over the blocker of Mazanec and subsequently trash talked a Hartford forward who tried to check him after his shot. A more reserved 3rd from WBS saw Peters making 13 saves to give him 27 saves from 28 shots on the night. In between his good work, the Penguins got a shorthanded goal from Aston-Reese who received a pass off the boards from Blueger after he single handedly cleared the zone off a defensive draw, then ZAR shot 5-hole on Mazanec to give the Pens a 4-1 lead. The win was all but put to bed after Sprong completed the hat trick with an empty netter after good work again from Blueger turned the puck over and Sprong shot from just outside the offensive zone and saw the hats rain from a packed Moheagan Sun Arena.
Saturday Night (12/23/2017)
Hershey Bears (Away) – 2-1 OT Win
A few transactions occurred, with Wydo and Gardiner coming up from Wheeling and Simon coming back down from Pittsburgh as Sprong finally gets the call up to the NHL that fans have been clamouring for (somewhat prematurely) for over a month. Simon immediately gets back into the lineup, alongside DiPauli and Prow who both return from injury and Wydo up from Wheeling, knocking McGrath, Quinney and Taylor out of the lineup. Peters gets the back to back starts. After an early PK for WBS, they took over the majority of the first period, including two deadly looking powerplays, but couldn’t find the back of the net before the buzzer and we entered the 2nd period looking for someone to break the tie. It took until 7:26 in the 2nd for the first goal of the game, and what a goal it was, with Aston-Reese finding himself space in the slot where he was fed the puck by JS Dea and ZAR sniped the puck bar down to give WBS a lead that held until the 2nd intermission as they take a 1-0 lead into the 3rd period. However, the 3rd period started off poorly for the Penguins with Graovac scoring 3 minutes into the 3rd and Hershey continued to pile on the pressure as a result of 2 minors taken by the Baby Penguins. However, at about 10 minutes, momentum changed and at 16:21, Dea was adamant he had put the puck into the net off a scramble. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the referees initial ruling of no goal was confirmed by a review. Despite this, WBS kept up their pressure that they had generated until just over 2 minutes left when Summers took an ill advised interference penalty to give Hershey a great opportunity to win. After some good chances for Hershey, they took a tripping penalty to even the game at 4 on 4 30 seconds into their powerplay. A dramatic end to regulation saw a 4 on 2 for Hershey dissipate just as Summers stepped out the box, which then led to Summers getting a breakaway opportunity that was thwarted by Vanecek and we headed to OT tied at 1. In OT, after some perimeter passing by both teams, Dominik Simon broke in 1 on 1 against a D, used him as a screen and sniped it into the opposite corner to Aston-Reese to give WBS the 2 points and the W on the night.
1) This was the rebound weekend the Baby Penguins would have been looking for, and what a pair of performances it was. Absolutely blowing away Hartford on the scoreboard and then dominating large parts of the game against a strong Hershey team, this is a great response from a team that had something up with it for the last 10 games. Hopefully WBS can build off this and go on another long streak like they did earlier in the year.
2) While I don’t fully understand why Simon was demoted when Sprong was recalled given he looked better than a number of regular NHL Penguins, but what the NHL loses by not having Simon is the AHL’s gain as Simon looked as good as he ever has in the game at Hershey. He was consistently forechecking, turning pucks over, laying the body and made numerous great plays with the puck to get himself free or find an open team mate. If he keeps playing this way, it’ll be hard to not keep him on the NHL roster. I’ll admit, I was down on Simon’s upside in the NHL, but I have been converted.
3) You have to give a stick tap to Anthony Peters. He once again answered the Penguins call on a PTO and stopped 47 of 49 shots he saw over the weekend and looked strong throughout, especially early in the 3rd period of the Hershey game when Hershey started to pour on the pressure. With Matt Murray seemingly not far away from returning, you have to think that Peters’ time with the Penguins was short again, but it’s a nice person to have available should the Penguins ever encounter another goalie situation.