Veteran forward Jason Akeson scored two goals and his line-mate Phil Varone had both assists to help supply the offense in support of starter Chris Drieger and his 44 save performance, as the Binghamton Senators (13-17-2-1) defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-2 on the annual New Year’s Eve bash at The Floyd on Saturday night.
It was the team’s third straight win, as they finished off 2016 with a 8-3-1 record in the last 12 contests that has pulled them percentage points (with Rochester) behind the fourth place Toronto Marlies in the North Division, and five points out of the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins with the best record in the league (21-7-3-0), got out to an early lead as forward Sahir Gill scored his first of the season off a faceoff win, as his wrister beat Driedger with a partial screen from Sens’ defenseman Chris Carlisle as he was late in reacting.
Binghamton would tie it a little over four minutes later as Akeson recorded his first goal of the season for the Senators on the power play as his slap shot from the point, beat Penguins’ rookie goaltender Casey DeSmith, which looked to had been deflected off a Penguin player in front.
Akeson then gave the Senators the lead just 1:11 into the second period as he re-directed a pass from Varone along the wall while on one knee, as the puck quickly stymied DeSmith with its precision for his second of the game.
Buddy Robinson would increase the lead to two as he made good on his individual effort while stripping WB/S defenseman Cameron Gaunce with the puck in the slot and shot high past DeSmtih for his seventh of the season. Although Binghamton would be badly outshot in the second period 20-6, Driedger did his part with no rebounds and remained focused that sent the frustrated Pens into the intermission down 3-1.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would finally solve Driedger as forward Jake Guentzel recorded his team high 18th goal with his wrist shot near the blueline on the power play to cut the Pens deficit to one midway through the final period.
But the Senators would battle through to protect their one goal lead with some key blocked shots and excellent forechecking as the Pens were pressing hard to force a tie.
Varone had what looked like an opportunity to seal the victory with an insurance goal with DeSmith pulled for the extra attacker, but unselfishly tried to get the puck to Akeson for the hat trick but lost possession. It wouldn’t backfire though, as Driegder again was there during the waning seconds to preserve the 3-2 win.
POST GAME NOTES
- Penguins elected to pull DeSmith for the extra player on an ensuing faceoff deep in the defensive zone, but Nick Paul was able to win it over Guentzel with 3.6 seconds left in the third, as the puck slowly made its way to center ice but the horn sounded in time to end the game. Don’t ever recall seeing such a thing.
- Driedger (6-4-2-1, 2.75 GAA, 0.902 SV%) again was solid with him smothering the puck that resulted in no rebounds and many whistles as his confidence level is at an all-time high. I had stated earlier this season that he has to get some games in over Matt O’Connor and is capable to carry this team as a top 5 goaltender in the league. We are now seeing the results.
- Defenseman Ben Harpur had an assist for his 6th point in the last 8 games, as he continues to show steady improvement. He still has a ways to go but if he can continue to do his thing, that would be an added bonus to the defense.
- Staying with the defense, I thought Andreas Englund had a good night using his body and playing effective lane coverage. He’s got some talent that will definitely be on the radar for the NHL soon.
- Akeson and Varone read off one another very well and with the addition of Jack Rodewald, that line was buzzing all night. Francis Perron and Chad Nehring also stood out on the offense.
- Three Stars; 1st Driedger, 2nd Akeson, 3rd Varone.
- Akeson-Varone-Rodewald, McCormick-Paul-Blunden, Perron-Nehring-Robinson, Krushelnyski- -Gagne. Englund/Kostka, Sieloff/Harpur, Rumble/Carlisle, Lepine. Flanagan injured and Stortini a healthy scratch.
BSens kick off the new year next weekend with a home meeting with the St. John’s IceCaps on Friday followed by a road game on Saturday in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Happy New Year!