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Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season in Review: November
by Leah Cover

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. 

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had a tough beginning to their 2012-13 season going 2-5-0 in October, but the  slow start was quickly forgotten thanks to a monster November that saw the Penguins win 10-of-12 games.  Leading the turnaround was goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who allowed only 11 goals in nine games while posting three shutouts.  Trevor Smith (6g-3a), Beau Bennett (4g-5a) and Riley Holzapfel (3g-6a) led the offensive charge for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in November with nine points each.

Zatkoff’s impact was felt in the first very first game of the month when he faced off against his former team, the Manchester Monarchs on Nov. 2.  The power play provided the offense on goals in the second period from Eric Tangradi and Dylan Reese.  Zatkoff kept a perfect slate with 33 saves on the night as the Penguins skated to a 3-0 win.   

Two days later in Bridgeport, Paul Thompson broke open a 1-1 tie with a natural hat trick in the second period.   Thompson’s first hat trick of his pro career along with a season-best 37 saves from Zatkoff led Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to a 5-3 victory over the Sound Tigers. Brian Gibbons enjoyed a big game as well, assisting on two of Thompson’s goals and adding a tally of his own.

The momentum continued at home with the Pens with a stunning shootout win, 1-0, over Binghamton on Nov. 7.  The game remained scoreless at the end of overtime play and headed to a shootout that would last eight rounds.  Tom Kuhnhackl potted the deciding tally and Zatkoff denied 6-of-8 Senators shooters for his second shutout of the month and the first-ever 1-0 shootout victory in team history.

The happy feelings were short-lived after the Penguins fell to their rival, the Hershey Bears, that Friday by a score of 3-1.  Bears goalie Braden Holtby kept Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at bay, making 38 stops as the Penguins owned 39-21 shot advantage in the contest. 

Undeterred by the loss to Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would spark another three-game winning streak the very next night with a match-up against Portland.   The Penguins jumped out in front to an early 3-0 lead as Riley Holzapfel’s marker and back-to-back goals by Trevor Smith accounted for the offense. The Pirates slowly battled back over the final forty minutes of regulation to eventually even the score on Alexandre Bolduc’s tally 3:39 into the third.  The Pens went to the shootout once again where goalie Brad Thiessen shut the door on the Pirates, while Benn Ferriero and Eric Tangradi were able to convert for the 4-3 win.

On Nov. 14, in the second match-up of the season with Springfield, the combination of Holzapfel and Bennett was responsible for both Penguins goals.  Holzapfel recorded the primary assists on Bennett’s second and third goals of the year as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton held off the Falcons for a final score of 2-1.

Forty-eight hours later, the Penguins hosted the Sound Tigers to complete a five-game home stand.  As Paul Thompson victimized Bridgeport with a hat trick earlier in the month, Eric Tangradi did the same with a three power play goals in a 3-1 win for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  Smith and Ferriero added two assists to help the Penguins finish their home stand with a 4-1 record.  

The Pens’ win streak was cut short again as Wilkes-Barre /Scranton fell to Hershey for the second time in November, 4-1. Garrett Mitchell’s two-goal game, including a shorthanded penalty shot conversion, was the driving force in the Bears’ third straight win over the Penguins.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got their chance at redemption on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and would so with a flourish in a 4-0 shutout of Hershey.  Jeff Zatkoff needed only make 15 saves for his third shutout of November and the Penguins put forth a 2-for-8 performance on the power play as the embarked another stretch of wins to finish the month.   

After the Thanksgiving holiday, the Penguins were back on the ice on Saturday to host the Toronto Marlies for their first meeting since Mar. 4, 2011.  The game went without a goal for two periods until the Marlies went up early in the third period on Will Acton’s tally. Within three minutes, Wilkes-Barre responded with a goal by Simon Despres and later secured the game-winner with 2:49 remaining on Paul Thompson’s man-advantage tally that made the final score, 2-1.  

Without a day to rest, the Pens were back in action the next day in Albany. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton yet again was able to defeat the competition in their third shootout of November, 5-4.  A back-and-forth affair, in which rookie Tom Kuhnhackl posted a career night with two goals and an assist, eventually gave way to a shootout, where Brad Thiessen was money yet again.  The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder denied all five Devils shooters and Jayson Megna tallied the lone goal of the shootout to lift his team to victory. 

The Penguins ended November as strong as they began it thanks to a 5-3 decision over the Syracuse Crunch on Nov. 30.  As they had done many times throughout the month, Smith and Holzapfel carried the offensive load. Smith’s pair of goals and Holzapfel’s three points (1g-2a) helped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton put the finishing touches on a fine November.  Jeff Zatkoff made 23 saves even notched an assist to cap off his exceptionally strong month in goal. 

For his efforts, Zatkoff was named CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month, going 8-1-0 in nine appearances with a 1.21 goals-against average, a .955 save percentage and three shutouts. 

More importantly, the Penguins climbed back into the thick of the East Division standings, entering December with a 12-7-0-0 record, tied for second place and just two points out of the top spot.      


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