WILKES-BARRE, PA – Blown leads. Bad bounces. Losing to teams that on most nights, they would blow out of the building. These were the hallmarks of a streak that had seen the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins go from a team that was the AHL’s best, to a stretch of 4-5-1 in their last ten games.
On Wednesday night, it seemed the schedule had broke in their favor. Rolling into the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza were the Springfield Thunderbirds, owners of the worst record in the American Hockey League’s Atlantic Division.
Daniel Sprong scored twice, Zach Aston-Reese added three assists, and Casey DeSmith made 24 saves in his return to the lineup after a stint in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins carried play in the first, peppering Samuel Montembeault with 15 shots. It wasn’t until the latter half of the period, however, that scoring opened up. Andrey Pedan’s second of the season gave the Penguins a lead at 14:55. After Aston-Reese won a board battle, Ryan Haggerty found Pedan with a beautiful cross-ice pass, and he uncorked a shot that beat Montembeault glove high.
The lead was very short lived. Goals by Maxime Fortunus and Maxim Mamin 89 seconds apart gave Springfield a 2-1 lead headed to the first intermission.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton came out flying in the second, but Montembeault kept them off the board, including going cross-crease to stop Aston-Reese in tight early. The Penguins’ Failure to clear the zone extended Springfield’s lead to two. A Chase Balisy shot from the circle took a deflection in front and beat DeSmith high.
After that, it was all Penguins.
Greg McKegg tallied his first AHL goal of the season 4:07 later, taking the Aston-Reese rebound of a Christian Thomas shot and stuffing it past a down and out Motembeault at 12:50.
Less than three minutes later, Sprong’s laser from the left circle off an incredible feed by Colin Smith through traffic, tied the game at three.
The Penguins’ broke Springfield’s will in the third.
Sprong’s second of the game, and team-leading 14th of the season came at 5:07 when he finished off a goal-mouth feed from Garrett Wilson. The Penguins’ lead became two when Haggerty beat Montembeault after a failed Springfield clear 3:17 later. Wilkes-Barre native Patrick McGrath’s first of the season was an empty-netter off of a blue line turnover by the Thunderbirds’ Jayce Hawryluk with 1:07 left to close out the scoring.
3) WBS – Zach Aston-Reese (Three Assists)
2) WBS – Andrey Pedan (Goal, Assist)
1) WBS – Daniel Sprong (2 Goals)
Up Next: The Penguins travel to the Constitution State to take on the Hartford Wolf Pack Friday at 7:05 P.M.