WILKES-BARRE TWP. – It wasn't that long ago that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins spent the month of December posting loss after loss.
They finished the month losing 10 out of 12 and needed an abrupt turnaround to get back into the playoff race.
That's exactly what they're accomplishing in January, winning six of nine in large part thanks to goaltender Brad Thiessen, who has been in net for five of those wins.
On Wednesday Thiessen did his part again, stopping 26 shots to blank the St. John's IceCaps 3-0. It was the Penguins' fifth straight win and improves their record to 20-17-2-1, good enough for a tie for third place with Hershey in the East Division.
We're playing some good hockey right now, playing with some confidence, said Riley Holzapfel, who had a goal and an assist on the night. We need to keep that rolling to get back into the playoff race.
Thiessen's shutout continues a remarkable run for the veteran netminder. He has won five of his last six starts – three by shutout – and has only allowed five goals in the process, equating to a stellar .962 save percentage and a 0.83 goals against average.
When he's on his game, you can see that he finds pucks, sees the puck well and has that second-effort compete level, said head coach John Hynes.
The Penguins took the compete out of the IceCaps after jumping out to a three-goal lead in the first period.
Alex Grant struck first with a one-timer on the power play four minutes into the game. It was the Penguins' fifth power-play goal in the last 14 chances over the past five games.
The power play is doing some good things. They're confident, Hynes said. The fact that they're scoring now helps because we've been in a lot of close games.
Philip Samuelsson made it 2-0 when his slapshot from the point beat IceCaps goaltender Eddie Pasquale, who was screened by Dominik Uher in front.
Holzapfel rounded out the scoring when he put home a rebound with two minutes left to make it 3-0. The goal was Holzapfel's third in the last three games and it put an end to the night for Pasquale, who was replaced by Chris Carrozzi to start the second period.
While the Penguins managed only three shots in the second period, St. John's didn't generate much offense either. What scoring chances the IceCaps did have were stymied by Thiessen, including a nice sliding save on a Ben Maxwell shot from the corner of the net.
Thiessen was tested rarely in the third – the biggest coming on a John Albert shot from the slot that he saved with a flash of the glove.
The Penguins finished with six shots in the final two periods, but with Thiessen in net they negated the St. John's offense for the entire night.
Thiessen was all right if the game seemed a bit boring during the latter two periods.
I can understand that. But no excitement is probably good for us after going up by three goals, he said. It was nice to get out to a big lead. We've had leads like that in the past that have gotten away from us, so it was nice to limit their chances after that.
• Beau Bennett left the game in the second period and did not return for precautionary reasons. He had a minor injury today so it was more precautionary, Hynes said.
• D Carl Sneep, D Cody Wild, D Mark Eaton, F Tom Kostopoulos, C Phil Dupuis (injury) and C Warren Peters (injury) were scratched for the Penguins.
• Paul Thompson's assist on Riley Holzapfel's goal gives him five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in the last four games.
• Hynes was happy to have Tom Kostopoulos and Mark Eaton on the roster and said they will both play this weekend. Both guys have a lot of experience and are known as character guys. They bring leadership, he said. They're two guys that not only have ability to play over 600 games in the NHL, but the way that they got there is something you want around guys at this level.
• Hynes on if Kostopoulos will wear a C while with the Penguins. I haven't thought about that yet. He's a leadership type of guy. Right now it's about getting his game going and let's see where it takes us.
Penguins 3, St. John's 0
Period: Scoring – 1. WBS, Alex Grant 2 (Holzapfel, Smith) power play 2:32. 2. WBS, Philip Samuelsson 2 unassisted 12:23. 3. WBS, Riley Holzapfel 12 (Thompson, Smith) 17:41. Penalties – STJ, Maxwell (tripping) 1:30; WBS, Gibbons (tripping) 3:49; STJ, Cormier (roughing) 12:53.
Second Period: Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, Dumoulin (closing hand on puck) 18:49.
Third Period: Scoring – None. Penalties – STJ, Petiot (tripping) 7:30; STJ, Klingberg (unsportsmanlike conduct) 17:40; STJ, Machacek (misconduct) 17:40.
Shots on goal: St. John's – 10-6-10-26, Penguins – 12-3-3-18
Power-play Opportunities: St. John's – 0 of 4, Penguins – 1 of 4
Goaltenders: St. John's – Eddie Pasquale – 11-15-2 (9 saves - 12 shots); Chris Carrozzi (start of the second period) 6-6, Penguins – Brad Thiessen – 8-7-1 (26-26)
Starters: St. John's – G Eddie Pasquale, D Derek Meech, Richard Petiot, LW Jason Jaffray, C Maxime Macenauer, RW Raymond Sawad, Penguins – G Brad Thiessen, D Joey Mormina, D Alex Grant, LW Riley Holzapfel, C Trevor Smith, RW Paul Thompson
Referee – Trevor Hanson, Chris Cozzan.
Linesmen – Bob Fyrer, John Everett
Attendance – 4,203