WILKES-BARRE TWP.—With Brad Thiessen in Pittsburgh, starting goaltender Scott Munroe hobbling off the ice in the second period and the game scoreless, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins pinned their hopes for a win on a netminder who a total of 19 minutes of experience in the American Hockey League.
Rookie Patrick Killeen, 21, did manage to keep the Penguins in Saturday's matchup against the Syracuse Crunch, but they couldn't muster a win. The Crunch scored twice on Killeen in the second period to defeat the Penguins 2-1.
The loss drops the Penguins to 32-17-2-5 and into second place in the East Division, two points behind the Norfolk Admirals, who defeated Hershey on Saturday.
After an evenly-matched first period that saw both teams go scoreless, adversity struck the Penguins when Munroe exited the game with an injury three minutes into the second period.
Killeen entered the game for the Penguins, making only his first appearance of the season.
Entering a scoreless game near the halfway point wasn't an easy thing to do.
"I don't have a lot of experience in the American League and it's always tough when you come in halfway through a game," said Killeen, who has played in 33 games for Wheeling in the ECHL.
"Anytime your going in it's a little bit of nerves, but mostly excited. You want to pick up where (Munroe) left off and give the team a chance to win.
Killeen did just that, but he got off to a rough start.
On the first shot Killeen faced, Syracuse connected during a two-on-one when Dan Sexton deposited a cross-ice pass into the far side of the net for a power play goal to make it 1-0.
Killeen wasn't rattled.
"You can't dwell on a goal like that. I was kind of aware that it would've been a tough save, but I had to move on and stay confident," Killeen said.
The Penguins tied it up minutes later when Ryan Craig swiped home a loose puck in front during a power play to make it 1-1.
With eight seconds left in the period, Killeen had a shot skip over his leg to give Syracuse a 2-1 lead.
The goal turned out to be the game-winner, and it's one that Killeen would like to have back.
"The second one was a tough one," he said. "I know it wasn't great, and unfortunately it's what cost us."
The Penguins and the soldout home crowd held their breath in the third period when Killeen was shaken up after making a series of saves during a scrum in the crease. If Killeen had to leave the game, head coach John Hynes said the team didn't have an emergency goaltender to take his place.
"Hopefully I could come up with something good," Hynes said. "(Goaltender coach Mike) Bales is here. We'd have to get him on a PTO quick."
Despite a Syracuse defense that had been stingy all night, the Penguins generated a ton of pressure late in the third period, narrowly missing on a Jason Williams shot from the slot with three minutes left, followed by a Colin McDonald swipe at a loose puck near the post.
Crunch goaltender Antero Niittymaki stayed cool in net to keep the Penguins off the board in the period and finished the game stopping 35 of 36 shots.
After the game, head coach John Hynes didn't have an update on Munroe's status but said the team would be able to find another goaltender, if needed, by today's 3 p.m. matchup against Norfolk.
If Killeen gets the nod, he said he's prepared to make his first AHL start.
"It's usually easier (to start). You know what's coming," he said. "I'm just going to be ready to go. I've been playing hockey my whole life. It's nothing different. I just have to be ready for it."