WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Wednesday’s game against the Syracuse Crunch featured an interesting matchup between netminders. The Penguins started rookie goaltender Eric Hartzell, who has been almost unbeatable in January, while the Crunch went with Kristers Gudlevskis, who will be playing for Latvia in the 2014 Olympics.
In the end, Hartzell was the one who played like there was a gold medal on the line, stopping all 20 shots he faced to lead the Penguins over the Crunch, 4-0. The win was redemption for a 4-2 loss the Penguins suffered the last time they faced the Crunch at home on Jan. 8.
The shutout is Hartzell’s third of the season and his goals against average dropped to an impressive 1.75 on the season. In the month of January alone, Hartzell is 5-1 with a 1.24 GAA and a .949 save percentage. In his last eight starts, Hartzell has allowed two goals or less.
“I feel great about it,” Hartzell said about beating Gudlevskis with a shutout. “Watching him tonight he’s a really sound goaltender.”
While Hartzell was stellar in net, the Penguins made his life easier by jumping out to an early lead and never looking back.
The Penguins got to work right away with a goal just two minutes into the first period. Gudlevskis collected a shot and appeared to have the puck covered as he knelt on the ice, but the whistle never blew. Paul Thompson skated into the crease and dug the puck out of Gudlevskis’ skates and gave it enough momentum to cross the line for a 1-0 lead.
Head coach John Hynes said the goal was the perfect remedy for last Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Hershey.
“Coming off a shutout, sometimes when you get a gritty goal like that it loosens everything up a bit,” he said. “That’s how you get out of those little funks.”
At the midway point of the period, Tom Kostopoulos made it 2-0 when he tipped a Philip Samuelsson point shot past Gudlevskis to make it 2-0.
“It’s always nice playing with a lead. It’s good for our confidence as a team and we’ve done well this year with a lead,” Hartzell said.
With Wednesday’s win, the Penguins are now 13-0 when leading after the first period and 15-0 when leading after the second.
Syracuse did generate a couple of scoring chances in the second period and tested Hartzell at times.
The best opportunity came when Crunch winger Philippe Paradis sent a hard redirect right in front of the crease. Hartzell slid over in plenty of time to make the save and smothered the puck to prevent a rebound.
Harry Zolnierczyk made it 3-0 with a highlight goal in the third period. Skating deep into the Syracuse end, Zolnierczyk cut into the low slot with Syracuse defensemen Joey Mormina and Artem Sergeev on his back. As he was falling to the ice, Zolnierczyk was able to flip a shot over Gudlevskis’ glove and into the top corner for his 14th goal of the season.
Zolnierczyk said the shot was the result of a “little bit of luck” but Hartzell, who watched the play form the other end, was clearly impressed.
“Unbelievable. The kid’s a hot pistol,” Hartzell said. “I love watching him play.”
The scoring didn’t end there.
Minutes after Zolnierczyk connected, Denver Manderson scored his first AHL when he put home a cross-ice feed from Kostopoulos to put the game out of reach, 4-0.
According to Zolnierczyk, a big reason why the Penguins were able to jump out to an early lead and never give it up was Hartzell’s play in net.
“There’s nothing better than knowing your goalie is on his game,” Zolnierczyk said. “(Hartzell) has been top notch lately and that’s a big boost of confidence going into a game knowing your goalie’s going to have the first save.”
• C Zach Sill (injury), C Zack Torquato, C Adam Payerl (injury) and D Barry Goers were scratched for the Penguins.
Penguins 4, Syracuse 0
Scoring – 1. WBS, Paul Thompson 4 (Carman, Leblond) 2:11. 2. WBS, Tom Kostopoulos 16 (Samuelsson, Despres) 12:23. Penalties – SYR, Rankin (holding) 9:11; SYR, Mormina (roughing) 12:37; WBS, Samuelsson (unsportsmanlike conduct) 12:37; WBS, Zolnierczyk (high-sticking) 12:37; SYR, Rankin (tripping) 14:30.
Scoring – None. Penalties – SYR, Connolly (interference) :26; WBS, Zlobin (tripping) 2:58; WBS, Mikkelson (high-sticking) 19:17.
Scoring – 3. WBS, Harry Zolnierczyk 14 (Dumoulin) 1:31. 4. WBS, Denver Manderson 1 (Kostopoulos, Despres) 7:51. Penalties – SYR, Witkowski (hooking) 3:37; WBS, Hartzell (high-sticking) 10:00; SYR, Paradis (roughing – double-minor) 12:31; WBS, Samuelsson (roughing) 12:31
Shots on goal
Syracuse – 5-8-7-20
Penguins – 12-4-6-22
Syracuse – 0 of 4
Penguins – 0 of 5
Syracuse – Kristers Gudlevskis 10-8-2 (18 saves – 22 shots)
Penguins – Eric Hartzell 9-3-1 (20-20)
Syracuse – G Kristers Gudlevskis, D Matt Taormina, D Luke Witkowski, LW Jon DiSalvatore, C Vladislav Namestnikov, RW Brett Connolly
Penguins – G Eric Hartzell, D Philip Samuelsson, D Simon Despres, LW Harry Zolnierczyk, C Nick Drazenovic, RW Dominik Uher
1. WBS, Eric Hartzell (20 saves, shutout) 2. WBS, Tom Kostopoulos (goal, assist) 3. WBS, Denver Manderson (goal)
Referees – Jon McIsaac, Ryan Murphy. Linesmen – Jud Ritter, Bob Fyrer.
Attendance – 4,574.