SYRACUSE, N.Y. — No punch, no goals, no happy bus ride home.
Just a 1-0 blanking at the hands of the Syracuse Crunch, now the top team in the AHL, before 4,145 at the ONCenter to show for their trouble.
Amassing just nine shots through the first 40 minutes, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins wasted a solid 26-save effort from goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who actually saw his glittering goals against average (now 2.01, second best in the AHL) go down.
In the view of Pens’ coach John Hynes, it was a tale of two tilts.
“The first half of the game,” said Hynes, before stepping into the dressing room for a lengthy post-game “chat” with his club, “we didn’t spend enough time in the offensive zone to compete and give ourselves a chance to get chances. The last half, we had some chances, but they didn’t go in.”
Even those wouldn’t be considered of the Grade-A variety.
The Pens managed but four shots in the opening period, the most dangerous of which was Brian Gibbons’ shorthanded breakaway at 8:06.
Gibbons attempted to head fake Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins (20 stops), but was thwarted when he failed to get off a solid shot.
Syracuse grabbed the lead at 2:01 of the second stanza, when Philip-Michael Devos unloaded a slapshot from the top left circle that sneaked past Zatkoff and under the crossbar.
It was Devos’ fifth goal of the season.
“It was ultimately going to come down,” said Hynes, “to which team was going to get off to a better start. They go to their game faster than we did.”
The stanza was livened with 33 seconds left in it, when Pens defenseman Philip Samuelsson traded punches with J.T. Brown, with no clear winner to be declared.
The Pens mustered up 11 shots in the third period, but were unable to prevent Desjardins from racking up his fifth shutout of the season, and third in eight games since being traded from the Hamilton Bulldogs.
• The Pens were without their leading scorer Chad Kolarik who had registered six points (3g, 3a) on the team’s recent New England swing.
“He’s day-to-day”, said Hynes, without saying whether Kolarik was injured, benched or something else.
Speaking of Kolarik’s absence, Hynes said, “it would be a loss depending on how he was going to play. If he was going to be all-in and compete, then he would be an effective player. When he plays a certain way and does certain things, he is effective.”
• Winger Paul Thompson slid up to take Kolarik’s spot on the top line.
• The Pens’ shot disparity reached 16-4 early in the second period (on its way to 19-9) when Hynes opted to use his one timeout.
“The shift after the goal was horrendous,” Hynes said. “It got to the point where we had to regroup.”