WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Sure, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton penguins top line of Riley Holzapfel, Trevor Smith and Chad Kolarik have combined for 11 goals and 27 points in the last seven games, but it doesn’t mean they’ve been charged with providing the bulk of the offense.
At least not lately.
The top line has produced consistently, while the Penguins have seen other faces step up to appear on the scoresheet and provide some valuable offensive depth.
That’s what happened during Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Hershey Bears - the Penguins 40th win of the season and fifth straight victory.
“Five in a row, 11 out of 12 points - that’s a pretty good two weeks,” Kolarik said. “Peaking at the right time.”
The Holzapfel-Smith-Kolarik line produced a pair of goals, while Paul Thompson and Brian Dumoulin also added scores, along with two assists from Brian Gibbons.
Add it all up and the Penguins have a pretty balanced offensive attack as they head into the final weeks of the season. More importantly, they are closer to clinching a playoff spot. That can happen next weekend with a win and a Norfolk loss or two Admirals losses.
Head coach John Hynes said the lack of secondary scoring earlier in the season resulted in a roller coaster ride for the Penguins, but lately things have been right on track.
“It’s why this year has been so up and down. If our big guys were going, odds were we win. If they weren’t, and we didn’t get that secondary scoring, at times it caused us to struggle,” Hynes said. “But right now guys are starting to play their best and most consistent hockey.”
On Sunday, after the Bears gained an early 1-0 lead, Thompson evened things up after Jayson Megna made a beautiful backhand pass through his legs at the corner of the net. Thompson was wide open at the far post and slammed the puck home to make it 1-1. The goal was Thompson’s 18th of the season and second in two games while Megna now has points in three straight games.
With less than two minutes left in the opening frame, the Penguins blueline accounted for the next goal - on the power play, thanks to a Brian Dumoulin slapshot from the high slot that deflected off Hershey goaltender Philipp Grubauer and into the net.
“It’s nice to chip in and score a goal like that, especially on the power play,” Dumoulin said. “Both units have been going well as of late and you see a lot of guys stepping up now.”
Carrying a 2-1 lead into the second period, Kolarik scored his 27th when he took a pass from Smith and got off a quick shot in front to make it 3-1.
As if to put an exclamation point on why they’re the top line, Holzapfel and Kolarik teamed up for another goal just 58 seconds into the third period. On their fourth power play of the night, Holzapfel ripped a shot that deflected off a Hershey defender to Kolarik, who was alone in the left faceoff circle. Kolarik one-timed the puck into the net for his 28th goal and a 4-1 lead.
The Penguins power play has scored six times in the last three games (6-for-16).
Hershey did make it interesting with a pair of goals in the second half of the third period to make it 4-3, but Brad Thiessen regained control of his net to stop several late chances and preserve the win.
“We knew that was going to happen but we managed it well enough to get the win,” Hynes said of Hershey’s late push. “We feel good about our game right now and where our team is at. The feel in the locker room and the camaraderie within the team is very positive right now.”
- For several minutes in the third period, Kolarik’s second goal put him in a tie for the league scoring lead with four other players until Hershey’s Jeff Taffe picked up an assist to move ahead by one. With 63 points on the season, Kolarik does have a realistic chance to claim the scoring title. “Sure, why not?” he said. “You know about it because everyone’s tweeting about it and it’s hard not to read about it. If it happen it happens, but I’d rather win the championship to tell you the truth.”
- D Clark Seymour, D Reid McNeill, RW Chris Minella, C Chris Barton, C Phil Dupuis (injury), LW Steve MacIntyre and D Harrison Ruopp were scratched for the Penguins.
- Beau Bennett, who was a healthy scratch on Saturday, was recalled by Pittsburgh before Sunday’s game.
- The Penguins finish the season series against the Bears with a 5-6-1-0 record, having won four of the last five meetings. Holzapfel led the Penguins with seven points against the Bears, while Kolarik was tops with four goals in six games.
- With a Portland loss on Sunday, the Penguins are three points ahead in fifth place in the conference, and trail Binghamton 87-84 for the fourth spot.
Hershey 3 Penguins 4
Hershey 1 0 2 — 3
Penguins 2 1 1 — 4
Scoring – 1. HER, Dmitry Orlov 2 (Potulny, Wellman) 1:54. 2. WBS, Paul Thompson 18 (Megna, Gibbons) 12:13. 3. WBS, Brian Dumoulin 6 (Collins, Gibbons) power play 18:26. Penalties – HER, Wellar (interference) 7:54; WBS, Farnham (diving) 7:54; HER, Byers (roughing) 15:36; HER, Potulny (hooking) 17:11.
Scoring – 4. Chad Kolarik 27 (Smith, Holzapfel) 3:43. Penalties – WBS, bench-served by Payerl (too many men) 4:27; WBS, Smith (slashing) 12:47; WBS, Gibbons (high-sticking) 14:11; HER, Byers (slashing) 19:57.
Scoring – 5. WBS, Chad Kolarik 28 (Holzapfel, Grant) power play :58. 6. HER, Ryan Potulny 18 (Schmidt, Taffe) power play 11:14. 7. HER, Peter LeBlanc 11 (Genoway, Kundratek 13:48. Penalties – WBS, Samuelsson (slashing) 4:44; WBS, Gibbons (tripping) 10:47; HER, Orlov (slashing) 17:42.
Shots on goal
Hershey – 9-9-16-34
Penguins – 10-8-4-22
Hershey – 1 of 5
Penguins – 2 of 4
Hershey – Philipp Grubauer 12-7-2 (18 saves – 22 shots)
Penguins – Brad Thiessen 15-11-2 (31-34)
Hershey – G Philipp Grubauer, D Cameron Schilling, D Tomas Kundratek, LW Nicolas Deschamps, C Michael Latta, RW Garrett Mitchell
Penguins – G Brad Thiessen, D Joey Mormina, D Philip Samuelsson, LW Bobby Farnham, C Zach Sill, RW Jayson Megna
1. WBS, Chad Kolarik (two goals) 2. WBS, Brian Dumoulin (goal) 3. WBS, Paul Thompson (goal)
Referee – Dave Lewis, Darcy Burchell. Linesmen – Matt McNulty, Jud Ritter
Attendance – 7,125