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2011-12 Season in Review: December

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 November, check it out here
Through the first two months, the Penguins season had been largely comprised of both extended strings of success and defeats.  As mentioned above, the wins were piling up more than the losses, but just when it seemed as if Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was going to kick things into high gear, the team took a step back.  Some of this was due to the rash of call-ups and injuries suffered by the Penguins organization on a whole, but while there were many positives in the first half, fans and the team knew that there was the potential for much more…
Best Win – 4-2 W vs. Bridgeport– 12/31/11
When Head Coach John Hynes and the rest of the staff talk about playing Penguins hockey, this game would probably serve as a prime example. 
The first 20 minutes of hockey would fail to produce any goals for either team, but the second period belonged to the Penguins as they exploded for four goals.  Zach Sill led the offense with two markers, but the Pens also received contributions on even-strength goals by Eric Tangradi and Bryan Lerg.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was able to roll all four lines and completely stifle Bridgeport’s flow out of their own zone.  By the time the game was over, the Penguins allowed only 16 shots to the Sound Tigers – including three in the final period.  Even when Kael Mouillierat pulled Bridgeport within two goals midway through the third, there was the general feeling that the Penguins had this one in hand.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton skated away the victory and closed out December with a 7-4-0-0 record.   The team headed into the new year in third place in the East Division, just three points behind first-place Hershey
Toughest Loss – 6-0 L vs. Hershey – 12/27/11
Nothing complicated about this one as it was point night for the Bears.  Thirteen players found their way onto the stat sheet for Hershey in a waxing of the Penguins at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. 
Before Wilkes-Barre/Scranton could blink, Tomas Kundratek and Julien Brouillette made the score 2-0 just five minutes in for the Bears.  Down by three after the first period, the Penguins actually allowed just three shots in the second, but could not cut into the Bears’ lead.
Jacob Micflikier tallied one on the power play at 6:26 of the third and Cody Eakin added a pair to complete the scoring and record Hershey’s third win in four games on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s home ice.
Defining Game – 2-1 L vs. Albany – 12/19/11
Granted the Penguins’ blueline corps were lacking regulars Robert Bortuzzo, Simon Despres, Joey Mormina and Alexandre Picard, but lack of personnel wasn’t the problem in this particular match.  Rather it was two gaffes and the failure of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s offense to dictate play against what was, at least on paper, an inferior opponent.  It was microcosmic of the Penguins’ woes that plagued them during 2011: mistakes at the worst time that always seemed to end up in the back of their net and the lack of consistent offense from game to game.
Largely, the defense did its job.  The Penguins limited Albany to just 26 shots and held the opposition scoreless on six power play opportunities.  Even though it was a 0-0 tie after the first period, the team couldn’t feel confident as the Devils held a 12-5 shot advantage and dominated the offense zone play.
After a Penguins turnover at center ice, Mike Hoeffel broke through at 7:49 of the second with his first goal of the season and gave Albany the 1-0 lead.  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would finally show urgency in the third period and tie the score on Ben Street’s tally 2:18 into the frame. 
With the game hanging in the balance late in the third, an errant pass led to an icing call on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and a draw in the defensive zone.  On the ensuing face-off, Darcy Zajac won the puck cleanly back to Hoeffel who fired a quick shot that clipped off a stick and over the shoulder of goalie Scott Munroe for the deciding tally.
The victory was Albany’s first in 15 tries versus Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  Streaks aside, this had the feel of the game that was ripe for the taking for the Penguins, but ultimately netted zero points for the black and gold.
MVP of the Month – Colin McDonald
After his third straight month of strong numbers, McDonald established himself as the Penguins’ most consistent offensive threat through the first half of the season.  The fourth-year pro registered three goals, six assists and a +11 rating in eleven games. 

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