January 4, 2023 Nick Hart


WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins started 2023 the same way they ended 2022: with a win.

The Penguins defeated the Charlotte Checkers, 5-3, on Wednesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (15-9-2-3) utilized clutch performances from its top two lines to secure victory in the team’s first contest of the New Year.

For the third-straight game, Sam Houde opened the scoring for the Penguins. Houde was sprung on a breakaway by Alex Nylander and then placed a sneaky wrist shot to the back of the net just 73 seconds into the game.

Charlotte tied things up with a shorthanded goal from Connor Bunnaman and then seized a 2-1 lead thanks to Henry Bowlby with 40.9 seconds left in the opening frame.

The Penguins pulled even on a power-play goal at 12:33 of the second period. Valtteri Puustinen placed a wrist shot perfectly into the far-side top corner of the Checkers net for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.

Houde scored again and put the Penguins ahead, 3-2, when a backdoor pass ricocheted off his equipment and across the goal line with 2:59 left in the second stanza.

Alex Nylander joined in on the scoring with a bullet shot at 4:43 of the third. Nylander’s marker proved to be valuable insurance, as the Checkers pulled within one midway through the final frame. During a Charlotte power play, Santtu Kinnunen snapped his stick in half when uncorking a slap shot, but the slow-moving puck pinballed off a Penguins defender and in.

With their goalie pulled and extra attacker on the ice, the Checkers fought feverishly to tie the game. Jonathan Gruden stepped up for a gutsy shot block on a heavy drive by Charlotte’s Grigori Denisenko, and Gruden’s block led directly to an empty-net goal by Drake Caggiula.

Taylor Gauthier improved to 2-0-0 in the AHL by making 24 saves. Checkers goalie Alex Lyon turned away 27 bids throughout the night.

Five different Penguins produced multi-point games, them being Houde (2G), Caggiula (1G-1A), Nylander (1G-1A), Puustinen (1G-1A) and Filip Hållander (2A).

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s next game is a rematch with Charlotte on Friday, Jan. 6. That game is also an Eyewitness New Fan Friday, featuring select draft beers on sale for $2 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. Puck drop between the Penguins and Checkers is 7:05 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.

Individual game tickets and season-ticket packages for the 2022-23 season are on sale now. Full-Season, 22-game, 12-game, Flexbook and Premium Seating plans are available by reaching out to the Penguins directly at (570) 208-7367.

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