2011-12 SEASON IN REVIEW: OCTOBER
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.
Best Win – 3-1 W at Hershey – 10/22/11
A win over your fiercest division rival is sweet. A convincing one is even sweeter. After starting their four-game road trip on the right foot with a victory in Springfield the night before, the Penguins looked to continue their success against the Bears at GIANT Center.
A power play goal by Brian Gibbons just 3:36 into the contest set the tone early even though Hershey would end up outshooting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 17-14 in the first period. Gibbons’ goal would be only time the Penguins converted on the man-advantage in nine opportunities, but they were able exert their will during 5-on-5 play after the first intermission.
In the second frame, the Penguins held the high-powered Hershey offense to three shots and extended their lead to 3-0 thanks to goals 3:26 apart by Simon Despres and Bryan Lerg.
Boyd Kane foiled Brad Thiessen’s shutout bid with 3:19 left in regulation, but the game was in hand for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as they made it seven straight wins on Hershey’s home ice.
Toughest Loss – 1-0 SOL vs. Connecticut – 10/9/11
The Penguins’ second game of the season easily had to be the most frustrating defeat during the first month of the season. In a goaltending duel between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Scott Munroe and Chad Johnson from the Connecticut Whale, the Penguins came out on the wrong side of a 1-0 shootout loss.
Fresh off a 3-2 defeat by the Hershey Bears in the season opener the night prior, the Penguins dominated in all three zones against the Whale. Some detractors may point to opportunities lost with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton going 0-for-7 on the power play that included a full two-minute man-advantage in overtime, but it was Johnson that was ultimately responsible for the Penguins’ undoing. The team pumped 41 shots in on net – including 18 in the second period – but the Whale netminder stopped them all
In the shootout, Connecticut converted on three of its four chances and Johnson stopped 3-of-5 to give his team the win. Despite facing 24 shots, Munroe came up with some big saves to hold the Whale scoreless through overtime and deserved a better fate in his first action of the season. Instead he will be the answer to this trivia question: Who is the only Penguins goalie to record a shutout in his first start, but not get a win?
Defining Game – 3-0 W at Springfield – 10/21/11
Beginning the season with four of their five games at home, the Penguins did not get off to the start they were expecting having registered only one victory. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would hit the road for a four-game stretch that helped turn the month around.
The Penguins rode into Springfield looking to erase the memories of ugly losses in their last two contests including a 7-4 defeat at the hands of the Falcons the previous weekend. On this Friday night, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would demonstrate the kind of gritty and opportunistic effort that would be the hallmark of their play on the road for the majority of the season.
A scoreless tie was finally broken with 2:27 left in the second period when Geoff Walker scored on the power play. Eric Tangradi notched an insurance goal midway through the third period and Bryan Lerg potted the empty-net shorthanded goal to secure the win for the Penguins.
The team managed just 23 shots, but limited the Falcons to 26 to help goalie Brad Thiessen pick up his first shutout of the season.
MVP of the Month – Bryan Lerg
After being held pointless for the first two games of 2011-12, Lerg closed out October with a seven-game point streak. The fourth-year pro registered six goals and six assists to lead the Penguins, while also notching two shorthanded goals.