ALLENTOWN — With a 2-0 lead in the second period, Lehigh Valley defenseman T.J. Brennan’s cross-check to Jarrett Burton’s nose left a puddle of blood on the ice and a wave of hope on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins bench.
Brennan was assessed a five-minute major for the cross-check he laid on Burton in front of the Phantoms net. With a chance to get back in it and a top power play unit featuring Daniel Sprong, it was inevitable what the Penguins would do.
For the first three minutes of the power play, they fed Sprong the puck relentlessly, and he fired it at will as the Phantoms failed to clear. At the end of the third minute, a rocket of a shot from Sprong hit the post, and that was as close as the Penguins would come. Penalties and a lack of power play success doomed the Penguins, who lost to the Phantoms 3-2 on Saturday in the second game of a three-in-three.
Head coach Clark Donatelli said penalties — the Penguins (1-2-0-0) were called for six — and a failure to harness momentum did his team in.
“We can’t let the momentum, whether it’s a kill or we don’t score on the power play, we can’t let those things change momentum,” he said.
Instead of tying the game or even chipping away at the lead, the Penguins failure on the five-minute power play handed the momentum over to the Phantoms.
The five-minute man advantage was the only power failure the Penguins suffered int he game. In the first period they wound up with 1:15 of a two-man advantage and barely managed to generate a scoring chance.
Zach Aston-Reese, who also mans the first power play unit with Sprong, said the five-minute power play was a big missed opportunity.
“That’s what you want. I thought we had good movement and got pucks to the net,” he said. “But not scoring on that is just like not scoring on the five-on-three power play. The killing team gets the momentum.”
For as much as the power play could be blamed for the loss, Donatelli and his players felt penalties were the bigger issue. They were called for six minors on Saturday and, after the first three games of the season, have now gone on the penalty kill 19 times.
“We’re still taking too many penalties and can’t get a rhythm going. It’s three games in a row now we’re taking lazy penalties,” Donatelli said. “These teams are too good. You can’t be killing all night.”
For their part, the Phantoms largely dominated the first two periods. They out-shot the Penguins 15-9 in the opening frame, getting on the board late with a goal from Matt Read in front.
In the second, aside from the stellar penalty killing, the Phantoms doubled their lead when Mike Vecchione beat Tristan Jarry to finish off a three-on-one rush.
Things kept unraveling for the Penguins to start the third period when they failed to clear a pair of Jarry rebounds and Greg Carey scored to make it 3-0.
Sprong did get a power play goal later in the period when the Penguins had 16 seconds with a two-man advantage. Sprong’s blast from the top of the left faceoff circle made it 3-1 with 15 minutes to play.
After several more penalties for both sides — including a penalty shot for Danick Martel that Jarry stopped, the Penguins clawed to within one when Garrett Wilson shoveled in a loose puck in front to make it 3-2 with 3:07 left.
“The team never quit. We had chances to tie it,” Donatelli said. “It’s just unfortunate we let ourselves get down 3-1.
- D Jeff Taylor (injury), D Ethan Prow, D Kevin Spinozzi, C Troy Josephs (injury), RW Patrick McGrath, C Gage Quinney, D Jarred Tinordi (injury), C Colin Smith (injury), RW Ryan Haggerty and LW Freddie Tiffels were scratched for the Penguins.
- Sprong now has a goal in each of the first three games, and they all have come on the power play.
- Burton stayed in the game after being cross-checked in the face. Donatelli said he’s fine and won’t miss any time.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky