NORFOLK, Va. – The formula at this time of year is to win with defense and goaltending.
“That’s defense, goaltending and competing,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Hynes said Friday. “Everybody’s playing for something at this time of year.”
Pens goalie Peter Mannino is taking care of his part of the equation.
Mannino turned back 19 of 20 Norfolk shots and got goal support from Josh Archibald and Chuck Kobasew in giving the Penguins a 2-1 win Friday, keeping Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, six points behind fourth-place St. John’s. The Pens are also only a point behind Binghamton in the East Division race.
St. John’s and Binghamton also won Friday.
Mannino is nearing the end of a month in which he has won six times and not given up more than two goals in any of his nine starts.
“He’s played well and I like the way our team is playing defense right now,” Hynes said. “We try to play a sound game, but every team is going to have breakdowns. He’s just been able to make the save when we have ours.”
There weren’t many in the Penguins’ eighth win in their 11 March games, with another tonight against the Admirals.
Mannino got enough offensive support in the first 20-plus minutes to win it.
Archibald, thwarted twice in his first professional start on Wednesday against Providence, wouldn’t be denied in Game No. 2. Archibald was trailing the play when Dominik Uher raced down the ice with the puck and took Norfolk’s Kevin Gagne to the left wing side.
That left Archibald alone to receive the puck and beat Admiral goalie John Gibson for a 1-0 lead at 14:05 of the opening period.
The goal portended a bright future for the Pens, who were 20-0-2-1 when leading after a period.
“He had a couple of shots at Providence, but tonight it was nice to see him get his first goal,” Hynes said. “You can see that he has some good instincts for finding the right spots to get chances.”
The Pens also benefited from stout penalty killing unit earlier in the first. With Harry Zolnierczyk and Brian Dumoulin in the box for various transgressions, Wilkes-Barre killers frustrated Norfolk’s power play for 1:31 of a 5-on-3 advantage, surrendering two shots and getting help from pucks that bounced over three Admiral sticks, loitering on the doorstep and set to take advantage of goalie Peter Mannino.
Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk traded second-period goals.
The Penguins took a 2-0 lead with only 47 seconds played when Norfolk’s Jesse Blacker tried to clear a puck from his zone, and it ended up tangled in the legs of linesman Mark Hamlett at the blue line.
Andrew Ebbett scooped up the puck and headed to the left wing, from which he launched a shot. Closing fast, Chuck Kobasew tipped the puck past Gibson.
It was Kobasew’s seventh goal and eighth point in six games since being sent down from Pittsburgh. The assist extended Ebbett’s points streak to 10 games (three goals, 10 assists), longest ongoing run in the AHL.
“He’s excited to play,” Hynes said of Kobasew. “He wasn’t having a great year with Pittsburgh (with only two goals) and he’s down here trying to get his game going. He’s a real high-character guy. He wants to play.”
Playing on a line with Ebbett doesn’t hurt.
“For sure,” Hyne said. “They’re really consistent, and it’s nice to see them get rewarded for their work.”
But Norfolk countered with a strong individual effort by Emerson Etem, who took a pass from David Steckel and headed in alone toward what appeared to be a well-defensed WBS goal.
Etem shook off Dumoulin’s stick, spinning the defenseman around, and backhanded the puck past Mannino to make it 2-1.
The goal came at 12:34 and was scored on the first Admiral shot of the period.
From there, Norfolk generated little in losing its third game in a row and falling farther behind some of the competition for Eastern Conference playoff spots. The Admirals are in eighth.
“We’re really not paying much attention to that,” Hynes said. “We’re just trying to win games and get points.”