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Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season in Review: December
by Jen Dobias

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took the ice in 2012-13 for their 14th season of play and looking to come on top of the rough and tumble East Division. With the NHL lockout providing the backdrop for the first half of the season, the Penguins seemed to find their stride over the final two months of the regular season en route to their 11th consecutive Calder Cup Playoff appearance.  Over the next few weeks, we will recap Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s season, month-by-month. 

If November was smooth sailing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, December was most definitely a grind. After winning 10 out of 12 games in November to climb within striking distance of the top spot in the East Division, the Penguins came tumbling back down to Earth during a December that saw them drop 10-of-12.

Already on a four-game winning streak to start the month, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ran it to five with a 5-3 win over St. John’s on Dec. 1.  Defensively, it was one of the more complete of the young season for the Penguins, limiting the IceCaps to only 16 shots.  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton nevertheless found itself in a dogfight despite staking a 2-0 lead less than four minutes into the first on goals by Simon Despres and Warren Peters.

 Jason Jaffray brought the IceCaps to within one at 18:50 in the first and Raymond Sawada tied things up 3:45 into the second. The Penguins recaptured the lead on Dylan Reese’s power play goal with only 20 seconds left in the period.

Early in the third, Benn Ferriero netted an insurance tally that would prove to be the eventual game-winner.  Riley Holzapfel later secured a 5-3 win with an empty netter.

The well would quickly dry up for the Penguins as they would not taste victory again for another three weeks.  The highs of the season-best five straight wins would be followed by the doldrums of a six-game losing streak.

The frustrating stretch began innocently enough with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Hershey Bears on Dec. 7 that saw Eric Tangradi force the game past regulation with a power play goal early in the third.  Kevin Marshall’s rebound goal at 3:18 of the extra session made victors of the visiting Bears. 

The next day, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Portland Pirates was perhaps foretelling of things to come.   All seemed fine at the midway point of the contest with the Penguins holding a 3-0 cushion on goals by Trevor Smith, Jayson Megna and Holzapfel.  Just over two minutes later, Chris Brown started a Pirates rally that would send the game into the shootout. 

Jordan Martinook and Oliver Ekman-Larsson each scored over a span of 3:48 in the third period to even the match.  Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had a chance to turn the tide with a four-minute power play later in the frame, but could not convert.  Another man-advantage that failed to produce during the overtime capped off a tough 0-for-7 night for the Penguins power play.  In the shootout, relief goaltender Mike Lee held four Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players off the scoresheet, while Rob Klinkhammer and Chris Connor helped complete the comeback for Portland. 

On Dec. 12, Bobby Butler’s career night led the Albany Devils to a 6-3 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Butler tied a franchise record with five points (4g-1a) in the game, joining Matt Halischuk and David Clarkson as the only AHL Devils to accomplish the feat. 

A return to division play did nothing to help the Penguins’ fortunes, losing to Binghamton, 3-1, and Syracuse, 4-0, on back-to-back nights.   

Things looked promising though against the Senators on Dec. 19 with Bobby Farnham and Philip Samuelsson each netting their first goal of the year to help Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to a 3-0 lead after two periods of play. 

But Wilkes/Barre-Scranton could not weather Binghamton’s onslaught in the third. After allowing 33 shots in the first two periods, the Senators limited the Penguins to just six shots in the third and took 14 of their own. Binghamton scored four unanswered and Shane Prince’s second of the game with less than three minutes left would be the game-winner.

Three days before Christmas, the Penguins got an early gift: a triumph at Syracuse to get them back into the win column. Paul Thompson drew first blood for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with his power play tally 3:57 into the first, ending a 0-27 drought with the extra attacker.

Only 14 seconds after Syracuse evened the score, the Penguins regained their lead when Joey Mormina forced a turnover and beat Crunch goalie Dustin Tokarski for his first goal of the year. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Syracuse each scored in the second to make it 3-2, which would be the final.

Not only did the win snap the Penguins’ skid, it also made head coach John Hynes the all-time wins leader in franchise history (116).

After a short Christmas break, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton looked to end the calendar year on a positive note during a home-and-home series with the Bears.  In the first game, Braden Holtby turned aside 33 Penguin shots to lead Hershey to a 2-0 shutout win. In the second, the Bears rushed out to a three-goal margin and never looked back in a 4-1 victory. 

On Dec. 29, the Penguins salvaged a point in falling to the Norfolk Admirals overtime, 3-2.  After Brian Gibbons gave Wilkes-Barre/Scranton an early advantage, the Admirals responded with two goals in the second period. Less than minute after Norfolk took its lead, Smith won a faceoff over to Megna, who slipped the puck under Igor Bobkov’s leg to tie the game.

After a scoreless third, the game went to overtime, where it ended quickly. Ferriero was sent off for hooking just 27 seconds into the extra frame and Patrick Maroon capitalized on the resulting power play to give the Admirals a 3-2 win.

The Penguins closed the month with a 2-1 loss to the Crunch. Brad Thiessen was strong in net for the Penguins, stopping 33-of-35 shots, but it was not enough. The Penguins failed to solve Crunch goaltender Dustin Tokarski until the very last second of regulation. Tokarski made 19 saves in the win.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s eight-game run through the division to finish the month saw the team go 1-6-1-0.  In a December that was few on bright spots, Smith led the team with eight points (4g-4a) to bring his season total to 20 points, including a team-leading 11 goals.

The Penguins saw their season record fall to 14-14-2-1, but the turn of the calendar to 2012 would provide a stark difference to the final month of 2013.

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