Penguins Can’t Hold On To Lead
WILKES-BARRE TWP. —Few things can demoralize an opponent more than scoring a goal in the final five seconds of a period.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins did it twice on Wednesday to take a 3-1 lead against rival Lehigh Valley. But as has happened all too often lately, they couldn’t hold on to the advantage.
The Phantoms blitzed the Penguins for four goals in the final 20 minutes, including the winner by Tyrell Goulbourne with 1:02 left, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton let two important points slip away in a 5-3 loss at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Credit Lehigh Valley for rebounding after Teddy Blueger scored off a fluky end-wall bounce to conclude the second period, but the Penguins aided their opponent’s cause with multiple defensive breakdowns.
“I don’t think we managed the puck; they got two goals off turnovers in the neutral zone,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said. “On the tying goal, the guy’s all alone in the front of the net standing by himself. Then on the game winner, all we had to do was touch the puck, keep it going up the wall and we lose the battle. Next thing you know, he’s got two whacks at it.
“They scored four goals all different ways. There’s no excuse for that.”
Tristan Jarry was great in net for most of the game and made 27 saves, but misplayed a bouncing puck off the faceoff following Goulbourne’s go-ahead tally that went into the net and prevented any chance of a Penguins rally.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (15-13-4-1) appeared to be in control after getting two goals from Ben Sexton, who snapped a 23-game season goal drought, and Blueger’s buzzer-beater. However, the Phantoms exploded for 14 shots out of the second intermission to seize back control.
Taylor Leier started the surge with a redirect in front at 2:38, and Connor Bunnaman sneaked free behind Macoy Erkamps and picked the top right corner on a breakaway at 13:23 to tie it.
It was an up-and-down game overall for the Penguins defensive corps, which contributed on all three of the team’s goals but also committed a number of poor exit passes that resulted in Lehigh Valley chances.
With the game in the balance late, Goulbourne was able to camp in front of the net and get his two shots on Jarry’s right doorstep. The netminder stopped the first, but Goulbourne didn’t miss all the open net.
“Once (Leier’s goal) went in, we needed to put a stopper on it,” Czuczman said. “But for whatever reason, we couldn’t put some shifts together to swing the momentum.
“It’s kind of creeping into our game lately. Happened in Syracuse (on Saturday), blowing the two-goal lead, too. I don’t know; I don’t have the exact reason for it, but it’s unacceptable right now.”
Wednesday marked the ninth game in a row the Penguins have had to play from behind at some point.
The Penguins are also dealing with a lot of injuries, particularly on the blue line with Ethan Prow sitting out Wednesday, but Donatelli said that’s not an excuse for the team’s inability to keep leads.
Goulbourne also scored in the second period, and Alex Lyon made 29 saves to get the win in net for Lehigh Valley (18-9-1-2).
In the short term, the loss is frustrating with two more divisional games ahead this weekend. But looking ahead to the playoff chase, Czuczman said the points the team has squandered of late could come back to haunt it in the spring.
“It’s now where you can kind of set yourself apart, and it hurts losing like that, not even getting a point out of it. I think we’ve got some some stuff to clean up on, but we’re doing a lot of good things.”
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