WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins entered Friday’s game against the Hartford Wolf Pack missing six players who were called up to Pittsburgh, five that are injured and another in Switzerland competing in a tournament.
But they still had Daniel Sprong.
Sprong recorded his second hat trick of the season, beginning with a pair of goals in the second period that broke a 1-1 tie en route to a 5-1 win. Zach Aston-Reese and Colin Smith added the other two goals while Anthony Peters stopped 27 shots for his second AHL win and first with the Penguins.
With Casey DeSmith in Pittsburgh and Michael Leighton injured, Peters was summoned from the ECHL on Thursday to make his fourth start with the Penguins.
To make his night easier, the Penguins focused on limiting Hartford’s shots.
And they also had to focus on killing off Hartford’s power plays, as the Wolf Pack had four man-advantages in the opening two periods while the Penguins had none.
At the end of the second period, the Penguins were accomplishing every task, limiting Hartford to 15 shots, killing off all four power plays and, most importantly, building a 3-1 lead.
Both teams exchanged goals in the first period as Sprong earned his first point of the night when Smith tipped his slapshot into the net.
In the second, Sprong took control of things, with a little help from Adam Johnson. On Sprong’s first goal of the night, Adam Johnson beat a Hartford defender to a loose puck and swept it to Sprong, who was alone in the slot and buried a shot in the top corner.
Later in the period, Johnson dropped a pass back to a trailing Sprong, who stepped into an open area and blazed a wrister into the net for a 3-1 lead.
“(Johnson) made two great plays and I was just in the right spot,” Sprong said, adding the key to the point was a swing in momentum that occurred after Patrick McGrath dropped the gloves with Hartford’s Scott Kosmachuk.
At the other end of the ice, buoyed by a two-goal lead, Peters steadied the ship by controlling rebounds and smothering pucks.
“I know things haven’t necessarily been going great here and there’s been a lot of changes,” Peters said. “But whether you’ve been here all year or just coming in, you have to do your job.
The Penguins faced a crucial test in the third period as Hartford went on its fifth power play of the night, trailing 3-1. But Aston-Reese kept the momentum on the Penguins’ side when he rushed in for a breakaway and connected for a shorthanded goal.
After Hartford pulled goaltender Marek Mazanec for the extra attacker with more than three minutes remaining, Sprong sent a shot from the neutral zone into the empty net for the hat trick and a 5-1 win.
With a game on Saturday in Hershey, the Penguins have rekindled their confidence in the wake of the recent roster turnover. Head coach Clark Donatelli has already decided that Peters will be back in net against the Bears.
“It’s a big win tonight. It’s a great start but what do we do with it now?” Peters said. “It’s a big game tomorrow.”
• Missing from Friday’s lineup were forwards Dominik Simon, Garrett Wilson, defensemen Frank Corrado and Andrey Pedan and goaltenders Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry, who are all up with Pittsburgh. Injury scratches included Thomas Di Pauli, Tom Sestito, Tom Kostopoulos, Michael Leighton and Lukas Bengtsson while Christian Thomas is away playing in the Spengler Cup.