Ex-Penguins radio play-by-play man Tom Grace used to have a saying that seems apropos after the Penguins handed the Lehigh Valley Phantoms a 5-1 defeat tonight…
“It was OK if you like perfect.”
A roster stripped of four of its top six scorers due to call ups to Pittsburgh, injuries to key contributors here and the Friday afternoon trade of Philip Samuelsson to the Arizona organization and the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins play their best game in a while, if not all season.
Think about it for a second. These guys are professionals. The call-ups from Wheeling, guys like Sahir Gill, don’t want to go back to the ECHL and want to show that they belong at the AHL level. Guys like Tom Kuhnhackl and Conor Sheary want to prove that they are worthy of being next in line should the need for a call-up need to be made again in Pittsburgh. Mix in all these variables and you get the results that showed tonight.
Jeff Zatkoff vs. Rob Zepp
Lines looked like this…
Conor Sheary – J-S Dea – Josh Archibald
Dom Uher – Carter Rowney – Tom Kostopoulos
Tom Kuhnhackl – Sahir Gill – Adam Payerl
Pierre Leblond – Matia Marcantuoni – Bobby Farnham
Scott Harrington – Barry Goers
Reid McNeill – Derrick Pouliot
Nick D’Agostino – Alex Boak
Jeff Zatkoff – Matt Murray
First Period: The Penguins jumped all over the Phantoms in the first. Sahir Gill made an immediate impact with a nice goal line pass on the backhand to Tom Kuhnhackl who scored on the one timer to put the Penguins on the board first. Gill created unlimited chances for the Penguins on a later power play and was all over the place tonight. Slowly, as the period wore on, you could feel the momentum tipping the Penguins way. Later, Scott Harrington throws a shot on net that Tom Kostopoulos got a stick on to deflect in for a 2-0 Penguin lead. The Penguins were running the Phantoms all over the place, bottled them up and had them on tilt. The first period ended with the Pens on a 5-on-3 heading into the….
Second Period: Wilkes-Barre fails to score on the power play, but Tom Kostopoulos shovels a puck past Zepp on the far side to make it 3-0 Penguins. This was the Penguins captain first two goal game since January 10, coming against these same Phantoms, only when they were known as the Adirondack Phantoms.
Later, Adam Payerl uses his body to create interference in front of Zepp’s net and a puck squeaks to Conor Sheary who buries it short side to give the Penguins the 4-0 lead. That goal would send Zepp Over the Hills and Far Away. Enter Anthony Stolarz.
Third Period: Was a period where the Phantoms finally awoke and threw all that they could against the wall at Zatkoff and the Penguins. The first half of this period turned into a goaltender duel. Finally, the Phantoms broke through when Brett Hextall poked a puck past Zatkoff. An argument could have been had that the Phantoms played the puck with a high stick prior to the puck getting to Hextall but referee Tim Mayer never looked at a replay.
Derrick Poulot skated to the slot and went high on Stolarz to squelch any thoughts of a Lehigh Valley comeback late.
Three Stars: 3) Tom Kuhnhackl (goal, +1) 2) Conor Sheary (goal, two assists, +3) and 1) Tom Kostopoulos (two goals, +1)
Overall, an impressive win by the Penguins given the patchwork lineup John Hynes, one that you wish you could bottle up and use whenever the need arose.
Around the Division: Hershey dispatches the Bridgeport Sound Tigers by a score of 6-3. Someone other than Stan Galiev scored in that game, but Galiev scored the first two goals for good measure anyway….Binghamton continues to rack up points and goals with a 4-1 win in Rochester…Norfolk lost to Springfield 3-2. The Falcons have won a franchise record 10 games in a row.
Standings: Penguins 28 — Hershey 26 — Binghamton 23 — Lehigh Valley 20 — Norfolk 18
Conference: 1) SPR (33) 2) MCH (28) 3) WBS (28) 4) SYR (27) 5) ALB (27) 6) POR (26) 7) HER (26) 8) BRI (25)
Tonight’s postgame info graphic provided by Brian Coe & Company is here.
SendToNews Highlights: How about YouTube instead?
Wheeling Update: The Nailers felt the brunt of the call-ups and injuries also, but that didn’t stop them from beating the Utah Grizzlies at home tonight by a score of 5-2.
Penguins are back home Saturday against the Bears. Gameday setup will be at 3 p.m. here on the blog.
Let’s Go Pens!