HERSHEY,PA- In Wilkes-Barre’s last visit to Giant Center back on December tenth, the Penguins jumped on the Bears with three early goals. Tonight, it very well could have been a similar story had it not been for Vitek Vanecek. The second-year Bear stopping shots left and right in the first and all night long facing 38 shots.
The Bears, on the other hand, have become prone to looking for the perfect shot. A team starved for goals relied heavily on its goalie and did little other than moving the puck around instead of shooting in the first. The Bears finished with six shots to the Penguins 15 in the first period.
The Penguins were held in check until the 12:34 mark of the second period. Colby Williams attempting to clear the puck from behind his net turned the puck over. Jean-Sebastian Dea and Ryan Haggerty exchanged passes before finding Zach Aston-Reese in the high slot. Aston-Reese uncorked a rocket that went bar down and in. Once again the Bears were burned by a defensive zone turnover.
Hershey with the help of a couple of consecutive power plays responded by making a concerted effort to get pucks to the goal. The Penguins did their darnedest to deny Hershey clean looks and perfect passing. The Bears has some great looks and managed to double their shot production from six to 12 in the second but had nothing to show for it. Anthony Peters was the goalie that shined in the frame stopping all 12 shots he faced.
Fortunes would change early in the third. Battling down low, the Bears found a way to get the puck up to Lucas Johansen. Johansen sent the puck back down to Riley Barber behind the net. Barber took a hit but it couldn’t stop him from centering a pass to Tyler Graovac in front. Graovac one-timed the tying goal home for his fourth goal of the year.
“I think we all have that little bit of chemistry, (Walker) has his speed, Barbs has some good eyes, great shot. If I can just feed them, stay in the middle and support them we’ll get some chances,” said Graovac on playing with Nathan Walker and Riley Barber.
Vanecek continued to have the answers for the Penguins shots and pressure. One play, in particular, a puck squeaked through and appeared to be heading over the line. Vanecek alertly grabbed off the line at the last second. It was reviewed but ruled no goal.
— Sin Bin Bears (@SinBinBears) December 31, 2017
He also made a crucial stop with Chris Summers coming out of the box. With ten seconds to go Vanecek stoned summers to send it to overtime.
In overtime, Hershey had to kill 11 seconds of 4-on-3. They managed to do so and possessed the puck for the majority of the extra time. The Penguins would not allow them to get to the middle. When Wilkes-Barre got control, they skated up the ice and thanks to a slight pick by Colin Smith on Colby Williams, Dominik Simon had the clear lane to snipe the game-winner on Vanecek for the 2-1 win.
Vitek Vanecek had a nice bounce-back game from Wednesday in Bridgeport in which he allowed three goals on 20 shots. He stopped 37 of 39 shots he faced tonight and his record stands at 5-4-1 with a 2.40 GAA and 0.908 SV%.
Nathan Walker made his home debut after returning from the NHL and made his presence felt. He threw some big hits and created a couple of good chances.
Hershey turned the tide of the shot battle after the second period by outshooting Wilkes-Barre 12-6. The third period was a much different story. The tying goal was just one of three shots in the final 25 minutes of the game, none of which were in overtime. Being outshot 17-3 in the crucial moments is a tough way to win.
Hershey’s power play misfired on six opportunities tonight. While they had some good passing, they had trouble getting enough pucks on net. In the past five games, the power play unit is struggling mightly going 1/18.
With the 2017 slate of the schedule complete, Hershey went 6-7-1 in the month of December. Their overall record continues to hover around .500 at 15-16-1-3, 34 points, good for sixth in the Atlantic Division.
“We just got Walker back, I just came 10-12 games ago. It takes time to gel with a team, the first couple games are a little slow sometimes but I feel like we’re just finding our identity now,” noted Graovac. “I think we have shown what we can do and we’re just on the edge of building and we’re right there.”
Hershey is next in action next Saturday, January 7 as they’ll host Charlotte at Giant Center Saturday and Sunday. They’ll have an unusually long break and players will be allowed to fly home to see their families.
“Losing games like tonight where you have some open nets and you have a two-on-one/three-on-one, you don’t sleep after that ones. So mentally you get away from it, you see your family. Obviously, you want to keep building off these games because we’re right there. I’m not worried at all, this is a great squad, the guys are great ever since I got came here. Everyone’s been so supportive and comfortable,” said Graovac.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has less time to rest as they’ll take on Bridgeport at home on Wednesday night, January third. The two teams will not meet again until January 24th.