WILKES-BARRE TWP. – When Brian Gibbons scored a shorthanded breakaway goal late in the third period, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins had a chance.
But when the Hershey Bears answered back 49 seconds later for a two-goal lead, the Penguins had another frustrating loss.
Three third period goals by the Bears sent the Penguins to a 3-1 loss on Sunday – their fourth in a row. The loss is also the fifth straight to the Bears and wraps up a devastating weekend in which the Penguins lost three times, falling from second to fourth in the East Division and one point above St. John’s for the last playoff spot.
Before the weekend, the Penguins were just one point behind first place Binghamton.
“We aren’t where we thought we would be after these three games,” said Jayson Megna, who had one goal over the weekend. “We had a good opportunity to take over first place in the division and we’ve fallen a bit.”
The current losing streak is the longest of the season and all four defeats came at the hands of Binghamton and Hershey. While Sunday’s effort was better overall, the Penguins took little solace in the fact and focused more on finding a reason behind the losing streak.
“I think it’s in the room. It’s our care factor,” Megna said. “Coach has talked about that. It’s something you have to work on everyday. If you let it slip away, it’s tough to get back.”
After losing to the Bears 5-4 the night before, both teams played a tight two periods in Sunday’s rematch.
While things were tight defensively, there were a couple decent scoring chances from both sides.
In the first period, Hershey’s Dane Byers hit the post on a breakaway and, late in the second period, Brendan Mikkelson clanked the metal with a point shot during a Penguins power play.
And while both teams had chances in the third period, Hershey found the back of the net with some consistency.
Former Penguin Jeff Taffe tipped a Casey Wellman point shot to put the Bears up 1-0 at the midway point of the third, and then Ryan Potulny made it 2-0 when he snuck in behind the Penguins defense to put home a cross-ice pass.
Still, with seven minutes left, the Penguins were ready to mount a comeback.
Gibbons got it started when he picked up the puck in the neutral zone, raced in on Hershey goaltender David Leggio and backhanded a shot into the net for a shorthanded goal to cut the Bears’ lead to 2-1.
“The guys did a good job believing,” Gibbons said. “We weren’t hanging our heads or anything. Everyone believed we still had a chance to come back.”
That belief was dealt a blow less than a minute later. Hershey’s Michael Latta skated the puck to the corner and drew Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers out to the post. Latta then dished a pass to Peter LaBlanc who placed a shot into the open net for a 3-1 lead that stuck.
Compared to Friday and Saturday’s losses, head coach John Hynes said Sunday’s effort was a step in the right direction despite the outcome. But, he added, things still need to be improved.
In fairness, the Penguins were playing with a lineup that changed quite a bit during the break but didn’t have much practice time together. And they ran into two opponents who have been playing well of late.
“Our game was off coming into the weekend. When you start a weekend when your game’s not in order and you play these repetitive games against teams playing well, it’s difficult to get to your game,” Hynes said. “We’re in a little bit of rough water right now, but we’ll get through it.”
• LW Harry Zolnierczyk, D Brian Dumoulin (injury), C Zach Sill (injury), LW Anton Zlobin and D Harrison Ruopp were scratched for the Penguins.
Zolnierczyk was a minus-3 in Saturday’s loss at Hershey, while Zlobin hasn’t scored a goal in his last 10 games. Hynes said they were healthy scratches and the scratches were made as a way to inject energy into the lineup since their replacements – Tom Kuhnhackl and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, hadn’t played over the weekend.
• G Eric Hartzell, who left Saturday’s game in the third period, backed up Deslauriers on Sunday. Hynes said Hartzell had cramping issues on Saturday and is fine.
• The Penguins are winless in the three games since Megna and Gibbons returned to the lineup.
• The Penguins failed to get a point in a three-in-three weekend for the first time all season.
• The Penguins have now lost five straight to the Bears.
Hershey 3, Penguins 1
Scoring – None. HER, Wellman (roughing) 3:32; WBS, Despres (boarding) 7:41; HER, Latta (interference) 18:36.
Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, D’Agostino (delay of game) 10:44; HER, Gazley (slashing) 17:33.
Scoring – 1. HER, Jeff Taffe 14 (Gazley, Wellman) 9:05. 2. HER, Ryan Potulny 3 (Byers, Latta) 12:52. 3. WBS, Brian Gibbons 11 unassisted, shorthanded 15:57. 4. HER Peter LaBlanc 11 (Latta, Byers) 16:46. Penalties – HER, Watkins tripping) 5:44; HER, Watkins (misconduct) 10:43; WBS, Megna (Slashing) 14:29.
Shots on goal
Hershey – 6-8-8-22
Penguins – 10-9-8-27
Hershey – 0 of 3
Penguins – 0 of 4
Hershey – David Leggio 15-13-2 (26 saves – 27 shots)
Penguins – Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers 17-13-2 (19-22)
Hershey – D Patrick Wey, D Julien Brouillette, LW Nicolas Deschamps, C Ryan Stoa, RW Brandon Segal
Penguins – D Brendan Mikkelson, D Scott Harrington, LW Adam Payerl, C Nick Drazenovic, RW Tom Kostopoulos
1. HER, Ryan Potulny (game-winning goal) 2. HER, Jeff Taffe (goal) 3. WBS, Brian Gibbons (goal)
Referee – T.J. Luxmore, Terry Koharski. Linesmen – Jud Ritter, Jeff Walker.
Attendance – 5,896.