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2011-12 Season in Review: January

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 December, check it out here
The coming of the New Year spawned an air of optimism for the Penguins.  Plagued by injuries and call-ups through most of 2011, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was finally to field its full line-up for the first time this season.   January didn’t necessarily get off to the best start, but by the end the Penguins had gone 8-3-1-0 to vault into first place in the East Division.
Best Win – 3-2 W at Norfolk – 1/10/12
After taking the series opener against the Admirals back on Nov. 9, the Penguins were on the wrong side of the ledger in the next four matches versus Norfolk.  On this night, however, the Penguins flipped the script, jumping all over the Admirals early and holding on for the victory.    
Rookie Paul Thompson enjoyed a breakout game, picking up his fourth and fifth goals of the season over a span of 16 seconds and putting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ahead, 2-0, at 5:25 of the first.  The Penguins would need Ben Street’s power play goal late in the period more than initially realized as the Admirals slowly climbed back into the game. 
Michel Ouellet’s tally at the 53-second mark of the middle frame seemed harmless enough, but the Penguins would need to muster all their strength to fend off Norfolk’s onslaught in the third period. 
The Admirals put the clamps on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton offense, holding them to just two shots through the final 20 minutes.  Radko Gudas shrunk the Norfolk deficit to a single goal and Norfolk would have a chance to even the match with two power plays in the final six minutes of regulation. 
The Penguins weathered the proverbial storm to pull out the win and start what would be a six-game win streak. 
Toughest Loss – 4-3 OTL vs. Providence – 1/25/12
A chance to make it seven wins a row for the Penguins fell by the wayside as they couldn’t overcome a flat start to the game against the Bruins. 
The tone was set only 42 seconds into the contest as Jordan Caron quickly put Providence ahead.  The lead stretched to 2-0 for the Bruins before Colin McDonald got Wilkes-Barre/Scranton within one three minutes before the first intermission. 
In the second period, the Penguins’ game was still devoid of the energy needed and the Bruins went back up by a pair thanks to a Trent Whitfield goal at 4:13.
After a lackluster forty minutes of hockey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton shifted into a higher gear in the third, outshooting Providence, 12-4.  The Penguins would also find the back of the net twice, tying the score on markers by Joey Mormina and Geoff Walker less than three minutes apart. 
The Penguins had all the momentum going into overtime and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they would find a way to pull out the win.  Instead, 27 seconds after the puck dropped on OT, it was Craig Cunningham taking advantage of a turnover in front of Brad Thiessen and backhanding the loose puck to the top of the net. 
Defining Game(s) – 6-4 W & 4-3 OTW vs. St. John’s – 1/14 & 1/15/12
Coming into 2012, the first-year IceCaps had established themselves as the one of, if not, the best team in the Eastern Conference.   Players and pundits alike had circled this weekend as a true test as to where the Penguins truly stood as a contender. 
Offensively, all facets clicked for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the weekend.  The team combined for 10 goals in two games, including a pair on the power play and an astounding four while shorthanded.  
The man of the hour for the Penguins was Ben Street, making a homecoming of sorts with half his family hailing from Newfoundland.  On Saturday night, the second-year pro changed the tide of the game with a shorthanded penalty shot goal late in the second period to make the score 3-2 for W-B/Scranton.  Street then assisted on Bryan Lerg’s shorthanded goal with nine minutes left in regulation that put the Penguins ahead for good.
In the second game, Street notched the game-winner at 1:33 of the overtime to give Wilkes-Barre/Scranton the weekend sweep and announce to the rest of the league that the Penguins were for real. 
MVP of the Month – Alex Grant
It was in January that Grant firmly established himself a prominent threat on the Penguins’ power play.  The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman compiled 13 points in 12 games during the month, 12 of which came on the man-advantage (3g, 9a).  Grant had a career game on Jan. 21 versus the Syracuse Crunch with five points (2g-3a) – all on the power play – in a 6-2 victory.

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