WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli would’ve liked to have seen how his team performs at even strength, but he got plenty of looks at the power play and penalty kill during Saturday’s season opener against the Charlotte Checkers.
And those looks on the special teams weren’t all good.
The Penguins allowed a power play goal and two shorthanded tallies as they lost to the Checkers, 5-2, to open the 19th season in franchise history. Daniel Sprong scored a power play goal and Thomas Di Pauli connected shorthanded to account for both Penguins goals.
The Penguins started strong with Sprong’s power play goal — a blazing wrist shot over the shoulder of goaltender Jeremy Smith — to take a 1-0 lead early in the first period.
Charlotte answered with a goal late to send the game tied 1-1 into the second period, and that’s when things went awry for the Penguins.
Counting a late slashing penalty to Christian Thomas that carried over into the second period, the Penguins put Charlotte on the power play five times in the frame. The Checkers connected once, but while the Penguins killed penalties their star forwards — Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese — sat on the bench.
To make matters worse, the Penguins were down to five defensemen, as Zach Trotman exited the game early.
“With all the penalties we didn’t get into a rhythm,” Donatelli said. “Guys weren’t getting on the ice and a lot (of times), we had to burn out with the penalty kill.”
But the penalty kill time wasn’t all bad for the Penguins as Di Pauli scored a shorthanded goal when he snuck behind the defense and put home the rebound from his initial shot.
Di Pauli’s goal made it 2-1 in favor of the Penguins, and on the same penalty kill Tristan Jarry came up big when he stacked the pads to thwart off several Charlotte shots.
In the last two minutes of the period the Checkers jumped out to a lead with a pair of goals. Phil Di Guiseppe scored on the power play at 18:24, and when the Penguins went on the man advantage 10 seconds later, it was Charlotte that capitalized. Jean-Sebastien Dea entered the offensive zone and dished the puck to Sprong inside the blueline. Sprong didn’t pick up the pass and Charlotte raced down on a two-on-one rush with Lukas Bengtsson defending. Warren Foegele beat Jarry to finish the rush and give the Checkers a 3-2 lead to close out the period.
The Checkers out-shot the Penguins 23-9 in the period and Donatelli wasn’t happy, particularly with a few of the sticking penalties that occurred in the offensive zone.
“Anytime you take an offensive zone sticking penalty, it’s lazy. We just have to be smarter,” he said. “We have to clean (the penalties) up. You can’t be 10 minutes shorthanded in a period. It took our momentum away.”
The problems continued for the Penguins in the third period with more penalties, mistakes and another Charlotte shorthanded goal.
With the Penguins on the power play midway through the period, Thomas dove in an attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone, but missed and sent Foegele on a breakaway. Foegele beat Jarry five-hole and put the Penguins down 4-2, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton failed to convert on three straight power plays to drop the season opener.
• D Ethan Prow, D Kevin Spinozzi, RW Patrick McGrath, C Gage Quinney, D Dylan Zink, RW Ryan Haggerty and LW Freddie Tiffels were scratched for the Penguins. D Jeff Taylor, D Jarred Tinori, C Troy Josephs and C Colin Smith were out with injuries.
• Zach Trotman exited Saturday’s game early and did not return. Donatelli didn’t have an update after the game.
• The start of the game was delayed 10 minutes due to a technical issue with the arena lights.