WILKES-BARRE TWP. — When Kevin Czuczman slammed his stick on the ice after his shot sailed wide of the net during the second period of Wednesday’s game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, it was clear he was frustrated.
At the end of the game, the entire Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team felt frustrated after losing 5-4. The loss was the third straight defeat to the division rival Phantoms, and the fourth in the last five games for the Penguins.
In fact, in the 14 games since the Penguins (16-10-2-1) won five in a row back in November, they are 4-8-2-0.
“Absolutely there’s frustration,” coach Clark Donatelli said. “We’re losing tight games and we’re playing good teams.”
The Phantoms, who moved into second place in the Atlantic Division, got on the board just three minutes into the opening period on a questionable play. Lehigh Valley’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel checked Jean-Sebastien Dea into goalie Casey DeSmith, leaving the net open for a T.J. Brennan shot.
“Someone hits (Dea) into our goalie, he goes down and they score. No one saw it,” Donatelli said. “Putting ourselves behind like that, it’s tough.”
Things got even tougher as the Penguins started to pile up the penalties, giving the Phantoms three power plays in the first period.
Lehigh Valley made it 2-0 on a goal during the third power play, but the scoring was far from over.
During a second period the featured little defense but plenty of odd-man rushes and turnovers, the Penguins scored three times. Goals by Colin Smith and Gage Quinney made it 2-2 at the midway point, but Lehigh Valley scored twice in the next two minutes for a 4-2 advantage.
As the Phantoms broke into the Penguins’ zone with ease throughout the period, DeSmith came up with several big stops to keep his team in the game. Garrett Wilson brought the Penguins to within a goal when he finished a breakaway, but Lehigh Valley still led 4-3 heading into the third period.
“They were getting guys behind us and our D were getting beat,” Donatelli said, adding his team did a good job of generating scoring chances. “We still had a chance. We were there.”
DeSmith was a big reason why the Penguins always had a chance during the game. Despite allowing two Lehigh Valley goals in the second period, the damage could’ve been worse.
“Casey played really well. He made three or four really good saves on some of those breakaways and two-on-ones,” Donatelli said. “He really gave us a chance to win.”
The Phantoms gained a two-goal lead in the last two minutes of the third period when Phil Varone scored with the Penguins’ net empty, but Adam Johnson narrowed the gap to 5-4 when he scored with 12 seconds left.
Despite the current rough stretch, Donatelli said his team is improving.
“Every mistake we make, or turnover, as it’s going right not it ends up in the back of our net,” he said. “We’re in one. If we manage our mistakes we’ll be OK.”
• The only lineup change was Freddie Tiffels in for Patrick McGrath. Other scratches for the Penguins were: D Jeff Taylor, D Ethan Prow (injury), D Kevin Spinozzi, F Greg McKegg, F Thomas Di Pauli, F Tom Sestito (injury), F Christian Thomas, F Tom Kostopoulos (injury) and D Lukas Bengtsson (injury).