SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The best thing that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins saw as their bus pulled away from the Onondaga County War Memorial on Friday night was February in the rear-view mirror.
That tough month was capped with a 4-0 loss to the Syracuse Crunch, which rode a 30-save performance by Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback and two goals from defenseman Matt Taormina to a convincing win.
The loss left the Penguins limping out of February with a 3-5-2-1 mark. The momentum of a 6-5 win over Hershey on Tuesday – which snapped a six-game winless streak – was sapped by a sub-par effort against the Crunch.
“It was a tough month. But it was a learning month for us,’’ said Penguins captain Tom Kostopoulos. “I think we learned more in February than we did all year. We put ourselves behind the eight-ball not getting wins. But I feel like it was one of those things we had to do to make us better as a team.
“We need everyone going every night. We have to play hard, a dirty style every night. If we’re not playing that way, we’re not going to win games.’’
Syracuse sunk the Pens with two goals in the first and two more in the second. The Crunch knocked out starting goalie Jeff Deslauriers early in the second after he allowed three scores on eight shots.
Deslauriers was replaced by Peter Mannino, who was recalled by the Pens from Wheeling of the ECHL earlier Friday. Goalie Eric Hartzell was sent to Wheeling in return.
Taormina knocked out Deslauriers with his second goal of the game, at the 5:23 mark of the second. Taormina put a shot on net that deflected off two Penguins out front and past Deslauriers for a 3-0 Syracuse edge.
“You get down by three, we felt like (Mannino) would be able to come in at the time and give a change to the team,’’ Penguins coach John Hynes said.
But just 1:27 after Mannino made his entrance, Syracuse’s Drew Olson slammed a behind-the-net pass from linemate Evan Rankin into the left side of the Penguins net to pump the lead to 4-0.
“We made some mistakes and they wound up in the back of our net,’’ Hynes said. “I give a lot of credit to Syracuse. They played strong throughout the game.’’
Syracuse scored on its first bid of the game, at the 2:02 mark of the opening period. Crunch forward Richard Panik took a neutral zone turnover and served up an offering from along the right boards to Tanner Richard breaking down the middle of the Pens’ zone.
Richard was all alone and had plenty of time to line up Deslauriers before solving him high stick side.
“We were loose in some areas tonight. They took advantage of it,’’ Pens defenseman Brendan Mikkelson said. “Things didn’t go our way in that first period.’’
Panik also set up the Crunch’s second goal of the first. He chased down the puck in the neutral zone and flipped it to Taormina cruising into the Pens’ end. Taormina snapped a shot from the right side that caromed off Deslauriers and hit paydirt with 41.5 seconds left in the period.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton pushed to respond to the Crunch’s tone-setting. The Penguins outshot Syracuse 11-6 in the first but Lindback, on a weekend conditioning assignment from the Lightning, refused to give them a sniff.
“I felt it could have easily been 2-0 for us 10 minutes in, but he was playing well,’’ Kostopoulos said. “Their goaltender frustrated us pretty good. They played solid. The chances we did get, they didn’t give us any second chances.’’