WILKES-BARRE TWP. — It doesn’t seem to matter if the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are throwing a lot of shots at the goalie or are approaching with crafty, little sporadic spurts of offense.
None of the pucks the Penguins are putting on net are going into the cage lately.
And it’s a big reason why Wilkes-Barre/Scranton suffered its fourth consecutive loss.
Meanwhile, a couple of guys named Andrew — Miller and Poturalski — assisted on each other’s goals in a 2:10 span of the second period Friday as Charlotte held the Penguins in check, winning 2-1 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I thought their goalie made some big saves,” Penguins coach Clark Donatelli said of Charlotte’s Jeremy Smith, who stopped 22 of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 23 shots. “We were a little out of rhythm because we took some penalties early.”
It was the second straight game the Penguins were punchless, getting only a power play goal from — who else? — the team’s goal leader. Daniel Sprong netted his 11th of the season to cut Charlotte’s lead in half 37 seconds into the third period.
That broke a streak of more than 108 scoreless minutes for the Penguins, who were shut out by Lehigh Valley on Wednesday despite a 39-shot effort. And they hadn’t scored since Tom Sestito found the cage with 5:15 remaining in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss in Hershey.
But that only made another winless night more tolerable, if not more interesting, than Wednesday’s 5-0 flop against the Phantoms.
“Overall, (with) the compete level — we finished our checks, played fast, had some chances to score, our (penalty) kill was really good,” Donatelli said. “Overall, I think that’s one step forward with our effort and our compete.”
In the standings, it was two steps back.
The Penguins fell to 15-8-0-1, out of first place and into fourth in the AHL Atlantic Division with 28 points, after picking up just one over the last week. Providence, Lehigh Valley and now Charlotte have all passed the Penguins in the early season standings.
Still, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton showed signs of getting some momentum back.
With goalie Sean Maguire making his first start since April and turning away 28 of Charlotte’s 30 chances, the Penguins stayed within striking distance throughout the night.
“Mags gave us a chance,” Donatelli said. “I thought he was real good. He made all the saves when called upon. He gave us a chance to win.”
The Penguins nearly took advantage.
Miller took a feed from Poturalski with 13:40 remaining in the second period and whistled home the game’s first goal. Then Miller fed Poturalski on a power play with 11:30 to play in the period for an extra-man goal and a 2-0 Checkers lead.
That was all Maguire allowed, though, and Sprong’s power play goal with more than 19 minutes remaining in the game gave the Penguins hope.
That level of enthusiasm was raised even more when Smith skated out of his cage and into the left circle while trying to beat Penguins winger Ryan Haggerty to a loose puck late in the final period.
The two arrived at the same time and collided. A whistle blew, just as Haggerty sent a pass to Josh Archibald — down on a conditioning stint from parent Pittsburgh — and looking at an open net.
The charging penalty killed the play, and ultimately, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s best chance to tie the game, with 3:27 on the clock — as Archibald angrily slammed his stick to the ice while a few Penguins briefly protested.
“He (the official) says he (Haggerty) has to avoid him (Smith) at all costs,” Donatelli said. “He (the official) doesn’t feel he (Haggerty) made a big enough effort (to avoid Smith). I didn’t see it. We want the puck, but anytime you make contact with the goalie, you’re going to get called. It is what it is.
“Can’t hit the goalie.”