WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The Laval Rocket came into Wilkes-Barre on Friday as the highest-scoring team in the American Hockey League.
And they played like it.
But the Penguins played along, and with Daniel Sprong in the lineup they more than matched the Rocket’s firepower.
Sprong recorded his first pro hat trick and added an assist for a four-point night as the Penguins (3-2-0-0) beat Laval, 6-5, in overtime. Gage Quinney had a goal and an assist for his second straight multi-point game and Teddy Blueger scored the game-winner in overtime.
While Laval’s offense propelled them to four leads on the night, it was Sprong that kept the Penguins in it, scoring twice in the first period as both teams combined for six goals.
“We didn’t want to get into a track meet with them,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said. “We know they can score goals.”
And so can Sprong.
He went to work early when Quinney won an offensive zone draw. The puck slid back to Sprong, who skated into open ice and ripped a wrister for a 1-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
After that, both teams would exchange goals throughout the period. Laval scored the next two to go up 2-1, and then Sprong struck for the second time in the opening period.
With the Penguins on the power play with the faceoff in the offensive zone, Jean-Sebastien Dea won the draw back to Tom Kostopoulos, who wisely let it slide past him to a wide open Sprong. It took three seconds from Dea’s faceoff win until Sprong’s wrister ended up in the back of the net, forcing a 2-2 tie.
“I found the quiet area and they did a really good job finding me,” Sprong said of his teammates getting him the puck. “I just have to get it off quick.”
Laval would take the lead once again, but Kostopoulos tied it back up in the last minute of the period when he cleaned up a rebound in front.
Laval connected twice more on Tristan Jarry in the second period, but the Penguins stayed within one when Quinney tipped a Kevin Czuczman point shot. It was Quinney’s second point of the game — giving him multi-point efforts in both games of his AHL career, and Sprong’s assist on the play gave him three points for the second consecutive game.
But Sprong’s offense isn’t the only thing that’s clicking right now.
“We know he can score goals, but it’s his situational awareness away from the puck. He’s really working on his whole game,” Donatelli said. “The offense is going to take care of itself with him.”
Midway through the third Laval was called for consecutive hooking penalties, giving the Penguins a two-man advantage for 1:25.
There was never a doubt what Donatelli wanted his players to do.
The Penguins fed the puck to Sprong relentlessly, and it took a nice setup from Dominik Simon to Lukas Bengtsson to get him the puck in open ice. Sprong fired a shot past Laval netminder Charlie Lindgren for the power play goal and the first hat trick of his AHL career.
The tally also tied the game, 5-5, and eventually forced overtime.
That’s when Blueger and Simon, who were at the end of a shift, found themselves on a two-on-two in the Laval end. Blueger fired a shot that bounced off a defender, and he collected the puck to place a backhander into the net.
“I was pretty tired at that point so I just tried to get it to the net,” Blueger said. “It was a good character win. After we tied it we felt like it was coming because we kept getting chances.”
D Jeff Taylor (injury), D Ethan Prow, D Kevin Spinozzi, C Troy Josephs (injury), RW Zach Aston-Reese, RW Patrick McGrath, C Jarrett Burton, D Jarred Tinordi (injury), C Colin Smith (injury) and RW Ryan Haggerty were scratched for the Penguins. … Sprong now has seven goals and 10 points in five games. Is he waiting for Pittsburgh to call? “No. If the phone rings, the phone rings. There’s a good team up there and no injuries right now,” he said. … Donatelli said Aston-Reese, who had his wisdom teeth removed earlier in the week, could return to the lineup for Saturday’s home game against Hartford.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky