By Mike O’Brien and Samantha Patterson
After beginning their season in October with a six-game winning streak, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins ended the month with two losses that cut short one of the best starts in team history. All eyes, however, turned to the opening weekend of November which featured a home-and-home series against the Penguins’ biggest rival – the Hershey Bears.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took the ice on November 1 against the Bears for the first half of the weekend series, and twice overcame one-goal deficits to force overtime in a 2-2 contest. The Penguins picked up the decisive goal with 24.7 seconds left in the extra period to claim a 3-2 victory, and helped one player reach a milestone in the process. Tom Kostopoulos assisted on Brendan Mikkelson’s overtime winner (his second OT goal of the young season), giving the Penguins captain the 300th assist of his pro career.
The Penguins carried the momentum down to Chocolatetown the following day and were able to sweep the series with a 4-2 win at GIANT Center. Hershey owned the 2-0 lead going into the second period, but the Penguins got on the board at 4:15 of the frame as Chris Conner scored his fourth goal of the season. This started a surge that culminated with Tom Kuhnhackl giving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a 3-2 edge with 47.1 seconds remaining in the middle frame. Jeff Deslauriers pushed his record to 7-0-1 on the season with a 22-save performance and the Penguins remained undefeated in regulation on the road at 5-0-0-1. The weekend marked the first time the Penguins had swept a home-and-home series versus Hershey since December 26 and 27, 2000.
The Penguins hosted the Syracuse Crunch on November 6, hoping to extend their two-game winning streak. Andrew Ebbett scored for a second time in the contest at 12:47 of the third period to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead. But Syracuse’s Evan Rankin responded with 4:22 remaining to force overtime and, after a scoreless OT, it was the Crunch that prevailed in the shootout for a final score of 4-3.
Two days later, two of the best defensive teams in the league took part in an old-fashioned bar burner as the Penguins fell to the Albany Devils, 6-5, at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The score was 5-3 in favor of the Devils after two periods of play, but the Penguins’ Mike Carman and Chris Connor knotted the game at the start of the third with goals only 46 seconds apart. Despite Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s efforts, Mike Sislo’s power play goal at 11:45 of the third rounded off a hat trick for the forward and a victory for the Devils.
On November 10, the Penguins traveled north to face off against former captain Ryan Craig and the Springfield Falcons. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was able to overcome a 3-1 deficit against the Falcons, beginning with a tally on the man-advantage by Brian Dumoulin with just 35 seconds left before the second intermission. Simon Despres then netted his second goal of the contest for the Penguins, tying the game at 12:36 of the third. Craig did in his former team though, sending the visitors away without a point after banging in a rebound with 2:43 left in the contest and giving Springfield a 4-3 victory.
The Penguins looked to put an end to their first three-game winless streak of the season when they visited the Syracuse Crunch on November 15. Despres helped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton get off to a fast start with a goal and two assists as the Penguins built a 3-0 cushion. The Crunch made a game of it, but Brian Gibbons added a tally at 1:41 of the third to go along with his two assists as the Penguins skated to a 5-3 win over Syracuse. The victory pulled Wilkes-Barre/Scranton into a tie for first place in the East Division with the Binghamton Senators. Deslauriers saved 24-of-27 shots to raise his record to 8-2-2 on the season.
The following day, the Penguins returned home to take the ice against the Bears once again. This time it was Hershey that jumped ahead, 1-0, just 1:55 into the contest on Derek Whitmore’s goal. But the Penguins answered only five minutes later as Brian Gibbons scored his second shorthanded goal of the season. With 1:01 left before the first intermission, Nick Drazenovic scored to put the Pens in front, and Jayson Megna gave Wilkes-Barre/Scranton some insurance at 18:43 of the third, making the final score, 3-1.
The Penguins continued their winning streak on November 20 in Rochester thanks to some reinforcements from the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. With just 3.9 seconds left until the first intermission, Kostopoulos tipped home Scott Harington’s shot to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Later, Wheeling call-ups Denver Manderson and Cody Sylvester both made an impact in what were their AHL debuts, as Manderson found Sylvester for the eventual game-winner at 4:38 of the second period. Though Kevin Porter converted on the power play two minutes later to cut Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s lead in half, Megna tallied the empty-netter late in regulation to ice the match. Megna’s goal was his third in three games and sixth of the season.
The Penguins returned to Mohegan Sun Arena on November 22 for a two-game set against the St. John’s IceCaps. Wilkes-Barre found the net first when Harry Zolnierczyk scored at 13:23 of the first. St. John’s quickly found the equalizer only 2:44 minutes later when Travis Ehrhardt put one past Penguins goalie Jeff Deslauriers and, with 4:04 remaining in the second, Patrick Cormier scored giving the IceCaps a 2-1 lead that would hold through the third period. Eddie Pasquale finished with 31 saves, including 14 in the third period, to lift St. John’s to the victory.
The next night it appeared like it would be more of the same as Eric O’Dell’s power play goal for the IceCaps stood as the lone tally through two periods. That was until Tom Kostopoulos tied it during a power play at 5:20 of the third and Bobby Farnham followed 29 seconds later with his first goal of the season. O’Dell struck again on the man-advantage at 13:57 to level the match, 2-2 but, less than three minutes later, Andrew Ebbett recorded a power play marker with 3:23 left to give the Penguins the lead for good. Zach Sill and Jayson Megna poured it on as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton totaled five goals in the third period en route to the 5-2 win. Eric Hartzell made his AHL debut in goal, turning away 29-of-31 shots for the Penguins.
The evening before Thanksgiving did not give the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins much to be grateful for in a road match-up versus the Adirondack Phantoms. Power play goals by Kris Newbury and Kostopoulos had the game even at 1-1 after one period of play. Petr Straka and Chris VandeVelde each sent a puck past Jeff Deslauriers in the second period to build a 3-1 margin for the Phantoms. Adirondack goalie Yann Denis made sure the lead stood with 27 saves on 28 shots.
The Penguins returned from a brief holiday respite to host the Binghamton Senators on November 29. Harry Zolnierczyk’s goal at 4:14 in the second proved to be the only tally needed against the Senators on this night, as Eric Hartzell made 25 saves for the first shut-out of his AHL career in a 1-0 decision.
The Penguins were back at GIANT Center the next night for their fourth meeting of the month versus Hershey. And for the fourth time, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would have to come from behind versus the Bears as they trailed, 2-0, after two periods. Getting help from their third and fourth lines, the Penguins started the rally when Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond rifled home his first of the season at 3:33 of the third. Mike Carman tied things up for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, scoring against his former team with 5:15 left in regulation, sending the game into overtime. Though it seemed like both teams would make it out of the extra period, the Bears’ David Kolomatis swept a loose puck home with 6.6 seconds left to give Hershey a 3-2 win.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton came out of November with a 13-5-1-2 record and remained in a first-place tie in the division with the Senators. Brian Gibbons continued his assault on the AHL leader board, entering December tied for fourth in the league with 24 points (7g-17a). November also saw Gibbons make his NHL debut on Nov. 18 and posted a goal and an assist versus the Anaheim Ducks. Connor, Despres, Ebbett Megna, and Sill also saw time in the NHL with Pittsburgh during the month. With a rash of injuries for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s parent club, the call-ups would continue in December, where the AHL Penguins looked to continue their success through the first half of the season…
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