WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Ryan Haggerty insists it was a team effort.
Still, when he and his linemates account for all of the goals and assists on three of the four scoring plays, Haggerty’s line had a lot to do with Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The win is the fifth straight for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (12-2-0-1), and they have now registered at least a point in each of the last 12 games. In fact, the Penguins are 11-0-0-1 in their last 12, and their .833 win percentage is tops in the American Hockey League.
“It’s important that we’re off to a good start,” said head coach Clark Donatelli. “We’re here to develop players, and if we’re developing players that means we’re winning a lot of hockey games.”
Things were looking pretty good for the Penguins on Wednesday when Haggerty scored just 31 seconds into Wednesday’s game.
Taking a feed down low from Jean-Sebastien Dea, Haggerty stickhandled around the Lehigh Valley defense and lofted a backhand shot over Alex Lyon for a 1-0 lead.
The Penguins seemed poised to build toward their 12th straight contest with at least a point.
But minutes later, they hit a roadblock when Lehigh Valley scored twice in quick succession. The first tally came not long after Lehigh Valley’s power play expired and the Phantoms still maintained control in the zone. Corban Knight beat Casey DeSmith to tie the game, 1-1, and less than two minutes later Greg Carey’s goal gave the Phantoms a 2-1 lead.
Byt the end of the first period, the Phantoms had the lead and they also outshot the Penguins 16-5.
‘We come out and had a good minute,” Donatelli said. “Then the momentum changed and we couldn’t get it back. Our guys struggled getting through it.”
The Penguins got back to their game in the second period, thanks in part to the line of Haggerty, Dea and Zach Aston-Reese.
Using his speed, Haggerty created a two-on-one rush into the Phantoms end and slid a pass across to Dea, who connected on a shot under the crossbar to make it 2-2. Aston-Reese earned the other assist on the play.
Late in the period, Colin Smith scored on a wrister from the slot for a 3-2 advantage as the Penguins outshot the Phantoms, 18-7.
The Penguins shut down the Phantoms int he final period, and Haggerty scored into an empty net to seal the 4-2 win. And, of course, Dea and Aston-Reese earned the assists. The line combined for three goals and nine points on the night, accounting for all of the Penguins’ scoring aside from Smith’s game-winner.
“I think from the first game I got in, play with Reese and Dea, we play really well together,” Haggerty said. “We balance each other out. We play as a unit, and that’s the biggest thing.”
• The Penguins were without several regulars, including captain Tom Kostopoulos, Tom Sestito, Garrett Wilson, Thomas Di Pauli and Ethan Prow. Kostopoulos, Sestito and Wilson have been ruled out for this weekend. Prow’s status is still unknown, Donatelli said, and Di Pauli could return this weekend. To provide depth, Freddie Tiffels has been recalled from Wheeling.