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2011-12 Season in Review: March

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 February, check it out here.  For the best photos from the month of March, click here.
A tough February saw the Penguins keep their heads above water heading into the final full month of the regular season.  March was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s time to shine.  Though they would fail to be able to keep pace with the Norfolk Admirals and what would be a ridiculous 28-game winning streak to finish the season, the Penguins went 9-4-0-0 to all but assure themselves a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Best Win – 4-1 W vs. Worcester – 3/17/21
It was St. Patrick’s Day which means much merriment, joy and, of course, fights.  The Sharks came into town leading the league in major penalties and the gloves would stay on for a little while at least. 
When Alexandre Picard made it 1-0 for the Penguins at 6:10 and Ryan Craig pushed the lead to two less than two minutes later on the power play, you could tell it was only a matter of time. 
That time specifically was 11:17 of the first period.  Brandon DeFazio and John Livingston threw down and Carl Sneep and Matt Pelech quickly followed on the ensuing faceoff.  After the officials had cleaned up the sticks and gloves and restored order, the puck had not even dropped on the next draw before Geoff Walker and Curt Gogol stepped into the ring. 
There was also some actual hockey played that night as well.  Picard tallied power play goals at the end of the first and at 7:07 of the third to complete the Penguins’ first regular season hat trick since Nick Johnson accomplished the feat on Dec. 29, 2010 against Syracuse.
Picard’s second goal of the night put Wilkes-Barre/Scranton up by a score of 3-0 and chased starter Tyon Sexsmith from the game.  On the other end of the ice, Scott Munroe made 27 saves for his third win in his last four games. 
Toughest Loss – 2-0 L vs. St. John’s – 3/24/12
Even during such a successful month, there were several candidates in this category.  This one stands out not only because the Penguins had been shutout, 1-0, in the game prior by the Adirondack Phantoms, but also that the IceCaps completely outclassed Wilkes-Barre/Scranton early in March by a score of 5-2. 
The Penguins looked to prove that that match was merely an aberration and the weekend sweep of St. John’s in Newfoundland back in January was much more indicative of the way this season series should go. 
In this game, however, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton just was unable to get the offense going.  IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale wasn’t forced to make too many grade-A saves during the 27 shot he faced, but came up big when he had to. 
Aaron Gagnon notched the only goal needed for St. John’s with 21 second remaining in the first and Jason Gregoire added another for good measure early in the second. 
It was a rematch against a strong conference rival and a potential playoff opponent and the Penguins simply fell flat. 
Defining Game - 4-3 SOW at Springfield – 3/11/12
The last three-game road trip through New England for the Penguins came in November and though they took three out of a possible six points, it could hardly be chalked up as a success.  In addition, the shootout had largely been a house of horrors all season for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
This weekend would prove special though.
After coming from behind on Friday to beat Providence and fending off a Bridgeport rally to win in – you guessed it – the shootout, the Penguins traveled to Springfield on Sunday for the final game of the weekend.
Funny thing about three games in three days is that most people think the effects can be seen from the start of the game.  In reality, fatigue usually doesn’t set in until the final period, which made this victory all the more impressive. 
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton definitely had their legs early as Alexandre Picard gave his team the lead just 1:56 into the game.  That lead lasted all of 20 seconds thanks to the Falcons’ Nathan Longpre.  Luckily, it only took another 1:21 for captain Ryan Craig to put the Penguins back on top.   The score was already 2-1 and the match wasn’t even four minutes old.
In the second period, Springfield left winger Alexander Giroux showed why he has been a force offensively and on power play for so many years in the league.  He struck 11 seconds into Springfield’s first man-advantage to tie the game.   Aided later in the frame by an eight-minute power play, Giroux put the Falcons ahead, 3-2, for the first time that afternoon.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s penalty kill line officially read 4-for-6 in the game, but the stats don’t tell the story of the job they did.  To allow only a single power play goal during the lengthy man-advantage and be able to stay within one goal when the Penguins returned to full strength early in the third set the stage for their eventual  win.
After going scoreless in their previous four chances, the Penguins man-advantage finally struck and tied the score with 5:07 remaining on Alex Grant’s wrist shot from the blueline.
In the shootout, Patrick Killeen allowed only Cody Goloubef’s goal in the first round before shutting the door the rest of the way.  Shootout heroes all weekend, Cal O’Reilly and Colin McDonald converted once to complete Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s perfect run through New England.
MVP of the Month – Ben Street
Street put together another fantastic month skating on the line with Nick Petersen and Geoff Walker – the Penguins’ best line during the last six weeks of the season.  The Vancouver, BC-native totaled eight goals and six assists in 13 games, while also reaching 25 goals on the season.

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.




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