WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Facing the hottest team in the league with one of your best defensemen as a healthy scratch seems like a risky proposition.
But that risk can be reduced if the team plays a complete, disciplined game for a full 60 minutes. And that's exactly what the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins did in Wednesday's 2-1 defeat of the Springfield Falcons.
Rookie Beau Bennett, who had one goal in 12 games coming in, scored twice and Jeff Zatkoff came within two minutes of a shutout to lead the Penguins.
The win is the Penguins' fifth in their last six games and improves their record to 7-6-0-0, good enough for a second-place tie in the East Division.
Springfield came in to the contest with seven wins in their last 10 games with one of the AHL's most potent offenses, but the Penguins weren't intimidated.
They had a plan.
We didn't want to give them multiple opportunities to get going, coach John Hynes said. They are a high-end offensive team and they're power play was hot.
We played a defensive game.
The Penguins only allowed the Falcons two power plays on the night and kept them off the board both times.
At the start, however, it was the Falcons that had to deal with a hot offense as the Penguins outshot them 13-3 in the first period. Despite not registering a goal, the surge set the tone for the Penguins.
You just know your not doing it for nothing. It's an investment in the second period, Bennett said. They're going to go in eventually.
Bennett made sure that was the case when he scored his first of the night by ripping a wrist shot from the left corner into the top of the net at 8:20 of the second period.
Riley Holzapfel's pass set up Bennett's first goal, and later his shot on net led to the rookie's second score of the night.
With less than five minutes remaining in the period, Holzapfel sent a shot on net that Springfield goaltender Curtis McElhinney stopped, but allowed the rebound to sail toward the left corner.
That's where Bennett was stationed again, and he promptly sent the puck back into an open net for his second goal of the night and a 2-0 Penguins lead.
That's kind of where I found my niche in juniors and a little bit in college, Bennett said of his success from the left corner.
The scary thing is, as good as Bennett's shots were they likely will get better. He missed most of last season in college sidelined by a wrist injury.
It's coming slowly but surely. I still want to work on it, Bennett said.
Zatkoff was steady all night, making several key stops to keep Springfield off the board. In the second period he slid across the crease to make a skate save on Springfield's Cam Atkinson at the corner. In the third period he flashed a glove to stifle a Tomas Kubalik breakaway.
The Falcons did manage a score late in the third to make it 2-1, but couldn't muster anything else past Zatkoff, who stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced.
In fact, Zatkoff said the Falcons' goal actually benefited the Penguins.
I thought it refocused us if anything, Zatkoff said. I don't think they even got in the zone after that. The guys did a good job shutting it down from there.
The Penguins limited Springfield to 26 shots on the night without top defenseman Brian Strait, who was a healthy scratch.
Hynes it's not so much about who is or isn't in the lineup as it has to do with everyone being on the same page for 60 minutes.
The players in the lineup tonight played a committed game, he said. It goes to show we have a pretty deep group and when we play a committed game, regardless of who's in the lineup, we should have success.
• Zatkoff has allowed six goal in his last fives starts and has four wins in the span.
• After going 0-for-1 on the power play Wednesday, the Penguins are now 0-for-18 in the last four games with the man advantage.
• Hynes said Strait and F Brian Gibbons were both healthy scratches. Strait leads the team with 26 penalty minutes, but Hynes said that wasn't a factor in the decision.
• Other scratches for the Penguins included D Joey Mormina, C Zach Sill (upper body), C Jayson Megna (lower body), D Alex Grant and LW Steve MacIntyre.
• Former Penguins captain Ryan Craig was scoreless with two shots in his return to the Mohegan Sun Arena.
First Period—Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, served by Holzapfel (too many men) 6:17; SPR, Prout (fighting) 10:47; WBS, Veilleux (fighting) 10:47; SPR, Ruth (hooking) 12:08.
Second Period—Scoring – 1. WBS, Beau Bennett 2 (Holzapfel, Kuhnhackl) 8:20. 2. WBS, Beau Bennett 3 (Holzpafel, Reese) 15:28. Penalties – WBS, Bortuzzo (interference) 1:21; SPR, Calvert (fighting) 19:39; WBS, Thompson (fighting) 19:39.
Third Period—Scoring – 3. SPR, Tomas Kubalik 4 (Holden, Calvert) 18:17. Penalties – SPR, Craig (cross-checking) 11:08; WBS, Holzapfel (cross-checking) 11:08.
Shots on goal—Springfield, 3-12-11-26; Penguins, 13-11-8-32
Power-play Opportunities—Springfield 0 of 2; Penguins 0 of 1
Goaltenders—Springfield, Curtis McElhinney 8-2-1 (30 saves-32 shots); Penguins, Jeff Zatkoff 5-5-0 (25-26)
Starters—Springfield, G Curtis McElhinney, D Tim Erixon, D Dalton Prout, LW Matt Calvert, C Nick Drazenovic, RW Cam Atkinson; Penguins, G Jeff Zatkoff, D Philip Samuelsson, D Brian Dumoulin, LW Eric Tangradi, C Trevor Smith, RW Benn Ferriero
Three Stars—1. WBS, Beau Bennett (two goals) 2. WBS, Riley Holzapfel (two assists) 3. WBS, Jeff Zatkoff (25 saves, one goal allowed)
Referee—Ryan Hersey. Linesmen—Scott Adams, Jud Ritter