Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season in Review: March
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.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins entered March in third place in the East Division at 29-23-2-1 and having won five of their last seven. The month featured a six-game, nine-day trip through New England that provided important points for the Penguins as they made their playoff push.
The first day of March did not go auspiciously for the Penguins as Hershey scored three goals to chase Brad Thiessen from the net in the first nine minutes of regulation. The bright spot of the 3-2 loss to their division rival was Tom Kostopoulos netting his 100th goal in a Wilkes/Barre-Scranton uniform while on the man-advantage late in the first.
A duel between goaltenders Jeff Zatkoff and Albany’s Maxime Clermont would be decided in a shootout on Mach 2. Trevor Smith gave the Penguins an early edge with a power play goal 9:25 into the opening frame, but Darcy Zajac went on to net the equalizer with less than five minutes remaining before the second intermission. Neither found the back of the net through the third period and overtime as Zatkoff finished with 27 saves and Clermont turned aside 29 for the Devils.
With the score knotted at one through three rounds, Kostopoulos slipped the go-ahead goal underneath Clermont’s pads. Joe Whitney responded by firing a top-shelf bullet past Zatkoff to send the shootout into sudden death. Adam Payerl’s wrist shot beat Clermont in the top of the sixth round and Zatkoff secured the 2-1 win by stoning Steve Zalewski.
After finishing their quick home stand on a high note, the Penguins headed to the Northeast for the next week and a half.
Tempers flared in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s game against Providence as both teams combined for 93 penalty minutes. A scoreless and chippy opening frame led to second period that saw 15 total penalties including five fights.
The game’s first goal came at 5:58 of the third when Craig Cunningham converted for the Bruins on the power play. Graham Mink put the game out of reach with a 5-on-4 marker with just over four minutes left in regulation. Providence goalie Michael Hutchinson made 20 saves in the 2-0 shutout.
The Penguins showed few signs of wear and tear after the physical Bruins game. On the strength of goals by Joe Morrow and Jayson Megna, they charged out to a 2-0 lead in the first period the next day against Portland.
Late in the second, the Pirates scored two goals in a two-minute span to tie the game at two. They then took their first lead of the game as Chris Brown went in on a breakaway and netted his second goal of the game less than two minutes into the final frame. Having been victimized by a Portland rally earlier in the season, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton flashed its own bit of comeback magic.
Within three minutes of Brown’s go-ahead goal, Sill slipped the puck under Portland goalie Mike Lee’s pads to knot the match. The Penguins peppered Lee with 15 shots in the third but could not hit the back of the net and the game would head past regulation.
Thanks to Chad Kolarik’s heroics, the overtime lasted only 38 seconds. Using carryover power play time from the third period, the Penguins started out on the man-advantage. Kolarik’s shot hit a Portland defender and ricocheted into the net, lifting the Penguins to a 4-3 win.
The Penguins played more bonus hockey the next day, going to a shootout against Manchester. The Monarchs opened up a 2-0 lead in the first period and tacked on a third goal while down a man 7:21 into the second.
With less than four minutes left until the second intermission, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton came roaring back. Kolarik got the Penguins on the board 28 seconds before Bobby Farnham pushed the puck past Manchester goalie Martin Jones and suddenly the Penguins were within one.
Even though Andy Andreoff put the Monarchs back up by two at 5:28 of the third, Sill’s unassisted goal brought the Penguins back within a goal at the midway point of the period. With less than five minutes to go in regulation, Kolarik found Dylan Reese in the high slot, who beat Jones to tie the game.
After a back-and-forth overtime, the game went into a shootout. Zatkoff denied all four Manchester shooters while Holzapfel and Smith scored for the Penguins to put a bow on the 5-4 comeback win.
Playing their third game in three days, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ran out of gas in a 5-1 loss to the Worcester Sharks on Mar. 13. The Penguins hung tough through a scoreless first period, but the Sharks would race away in the final forty minutes thank in part of a 4-for-8 effort on the power play.
Two days later in the rematch against Worcester, it was the Penguins turn to put up a five-spot. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton went into the first intermission holding a 1-0 lead, and they lengthened their margin to three early in the second thanks to goals 23 seconds apart from Kolarik and by Thompson. Only 14 seconds later, Yanni Gourde struck for the Sharks’ first goal. Holzapfel’s goal with 3:25 remaining to the second intermission put the Penguins back up by three.
With Worcester within a goal in the final minute of regulation, consecutive penalties on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, along with the extra attacker for the Sharks, gave the home team a three-man advantage for 35 seconds. The Penguins’ penalty kill held up and Warren Peters tacked on the empty-netter to seal a 5-3 win.
After hanging on for the win against Worcester, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rallied for one against Portland the next day. Bolstered by two early goals in the span of 30 seconds, the Pirates went to the locker room at the end of one holding a 2-0 advantage.
The Penguins responded with three unanswered goals in the next two frames to steal the win from Portland’s grasp. Brian Dumoulin’s power play tally near the halfway mark of the second gave the Penguins new life. At 1:13 of the third, Penguins captain Joey Mormina pushed home his own rebound to even the score at two. Smith tallied his 18th goal of the year halfway through the third to cap the 3-2 come-from-behind win.
After scoring three or more goals for five straight games, offense was at a premium for the Penguins on Mar. 20 against the Syracuse Crunch. Philip-Michael Devos scored the game’s only goal two minutes into second period and Cedrick Desjardins made 20 saves to shutout the Penguins.
With its season-high seven-game road stretch finally at an end, the friendly confines of Mohegan Sun Arena failed to provide a return to good fortune. Facing Norfolk on March 23, the Penguins could only muster one goal against goaltender Frederik Andersen and the Admirals defense. The Admirals, on the other hand, received a three-point performance Kyle Wilson (1g-2a) in skating to the 4-1 victory.
The offense came back to life against Binghamton the following Wednesday as the Penguins raced out a 3-0 lead in the first period. Smith’s goal at 11:35 was the first of three in a five-minute span, as Kolarik and Thompson quickly also found the back of the net. Even though the Senators netted the next two goals of the game, Brian Gibbons extended Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s edge to two with a power play goal at 14:42 of the third. Kolarik (1g-1a) and Holzapfel (2a) led the Penguins attack in the 4-2 win.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would finish the month with shootouts in back-to-back games. The Penguins and Bruins traded goals throughout regulation and the game went through the overtime tied at two. In the shootout, neither team was able to solve Brad Thiessen or Providence’s Niklas Svedberg through the first six rounds
Even though Chris Collins scored in the top half of round seven, Justin Florek answered back to extend the shootout. After Svedberg turned aside Payerl’s effort, Christian Hanson beat Thiessen to lift Providence to the 3-2 win. Defenseman Dylan Reese scored both of the Penguins goals during regulation (2 PPG), while Thiessen made 26 saves in the loss.
As was the case in the Providence game, the Penguins and Senators went back-and-forth during the first 60 minutes of hockey and headed to overtime with the score, 2-2. Kolarik netted his 25th goal of the season and Smith also tallied his 20th for the Penguins. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s big guns went to work in the shootout as Kolarik, Holzapfel and Smith all scored to help their team to a 3-2 win.
The Penguins went 7-5-0-1 in the month, bringing their record to 36-28-2-2. Sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference Standings, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton looked to secure a spot in Calder Cup Playoffs and improve its postseason seeding with just eight games left in the month of April.