2011-12 Season in Review: April
by: Mike O'Brien
Like most teams in the American Hockey League in any given season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins went through their ups and downs during the course of the 2011-12 campaign. The peaks for the Penguins were definitely higher than valleys as they finished second in the East Division and skated to the fourth-best record in the league. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at the highs and lows for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as we break down the season month-by-month. If you missed March, check it out here. For the best photos from the month of April, click here.
A fantastic March almost certainly set up the Penguins for a postseason berth, but there was still work to be done during the final month of the regular season. The East Division and Eastern Conference belonged to the Norfolk Admirals thanks to their ridiculous winning streak. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, however, was in the driver’s seat for home-ice advantage in the first round and was able to secure exactly that for Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against whom else? The Hershey Bears.
Best Win – 3-0 W vs. Connecticut – 4/7/12
In a short month when playoff position has been largely determined beforethe last weekend of the regular season, momentous wins are somewhat hard to come by. Anytime can pick up a shutout against a potential playoff opponent, however, you can chalk it up as a quality victory.
On a Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena, Penguins goalie Scott Munroe was brilliant in recording his fifth shutout of the season.
An evenly-matched first period saw Wilkes-Barre/Scranton jump ahead, 1-0, on a goal by Simon Despres at 12:16. In the second, the Penguins dominated, holding the Whale to just four shots and building a 3-0 cushion courtesy of markers by Bryan Lerg and Jason Williams.
Munroe had to be more than solid in a third period that saw Connecticut surge and hold a 12-6 shot advantage. When the final buzzer sounded though, Munroe had made 27 saves and held the Whale scoreless.
He recorded shutouts in all three starts against the Whale during 2011-12, making 82 saves overall – the lone blemish coming in the 1-0 shootout loss on October 9.
Toughest Loss – 2-1 L at Norfolk – 4/3/12
For the most part, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s defense did what it needed to do against Norfolk in this final meeting of the regular season. They held the high-flying Admirals offense to two goals and just 23 shots. What it couldn’t prevent were the problems that plagued the Penguins all season versus the Admirals: allowing a first-period lead and stopping their power play.
True to form, Norfolk went up, 1-0, at 8:09 of the first period on a power play goal by Michel Ouellet. Bryan Lerg’s 25th goal of year, coming with 5:37 left in the second, allowed the Penguins to head into the final frame knotted at one with a chance to steal a game on the road.
Instead, a delay of game call on the Penguins with 8:02 remaining in regulation put the Admirals on a 5-on-4 advantage and they would convert on Mark Barberio’s tally. A late push by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton could not produce the equalizer.
Norfolk made it 23 straight victories and took eight of out ten versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the season.
Defining Game - 4-2 W vs. Hershey – 4/6/12
As it became clearer that the Penguins and Bears were headed for a likely first round match-up, this game had the opportunity to not only set the tone for the series, but also help Wilkes-Barre/Scranton inch closer to home-ice advantage.
Though the Bears were without offensive weapons such as Keith Aucoin, Jacob Micfliker and Cody Eakin, the Penguins would still have their hands full with a potent Hershey roster.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton controlled the first 28 minutes of the hockey game, outshooting Hershey 13-4 in the first period and taking a 1-0 with 52 seconds left in the period on Geoff Walker’s power play goal.
Brandon DeFazio later outworked two Bears defenders down low at 7:42 of the second to sneak a backhander home and push Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s lead to 2-0.
Less than three minutes later, Kyle Greentree evened the contest in a blink of an eye. The Bears’ right-winger beat goalie Brad Thiessen twice in a span of 41 seconds and the game was deadlocked once again.
The score would remain 2-2 until late in the third period when the Penguins received their ninth power play of the contest. With 6:02 left, Ben Street redirected his team-leading 27th goal of the season past Dany Sabourin for the game-winner. Nick Petersen added an empty-netter on the man-advantage several minutes later to complete the scoring.
It was perhaps a little harder than Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would have liked against a somewhat delepted Hershey roster, but it allowed them to return into the win column against the Bears and gain some momentum heading into their upcoming series.
MVP of the Month – Bryan Lerg
The Penguins co-MVP posted a point in each appearance in April for a total of two goals and three assists. Lerg finished the regular season tied for the team-lead with 27 goals and seconds with 53 points (27g-26a).
Mike O’Brien is Director of Communications and Color Analyst for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He has over ten years of sports broadcasting experience and has worked with the Lowell Devils of the AHL, the ECHL’s Trenton Titans and, in the collegiate ranks, the Boston College and St. Lawrence University men’s hockey teams. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins: 2011-12 Season in Review will return in two weeks after the NHL Entry Draft where we will explore the Pens' playoff run.