HERSHEY, Pa. – The month of October is in the books, marking a successful return to regular season play across the American Hockey League, and most teams have completed seven games with plenty to discuss only a small percentage of the way through the new year. The sparkling success has been the second-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, followed by the Hershey Bears only a point behind them, and the winless Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Lehigh Valley enters November on an 0-5-2-0 skid for two points and last place in the Atlantic Division, four points behind seventh-place Providence in a bit of an early-season standings shocker. In that span, the Phantoms have been outscored 21-10 and have struggled across the board in most statistics, including a league-worst 6.3% power-play efficiency. Although the start hasn’t been where the team would like it to be, there are positives to build on as it enters November. In their 3-2 loss in overtime to the Syracuse Crunch, forward Morgan Frost tallied his first goal of the season, which helped the Phantoms collect a point in the loss. Forward Gerald Mayhew has performed as advertised early on, tallying three goals and an assist in seven games so far this season. The Phantoms have gotten good returns on their goaltending tandem of Samuel Ersson and Felix Sandstrom, who have shared the crease in seven games. Ersson has a 2.74 goals against average and a .892 save percentage, while Sandstrom has a 2.79 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. Lehigh Valley plays seven straight games against the Atlantic Division to open the second month of the season, and breaking their winless streak against those teams will be crucial to recovering in the standings.
Meanwhile, the success of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins has been the highlight of the Atlantic Division as the team brings a five-game point streak (4-0-0-1) and a 5-1-0-1 record into November, getting the better of four overtime or shootout decisions during that time. The Penguins have gone beyond regulation in four of seven games played and five one-goal decisions in that time. Full credit goes to their goaltending tandem of Louis Domingue and Filip Lindberg, who both rank among the best goaltenders in the AHL after one month. Lindberg, the former seventh-round selection of the Minnesota Wild in 2019, has a 1.71 goals against average and a 0.942 save percentage in four games played in his rookie season, while Domingue has a 1.44 goals against average and a .955 save percentage in two games played. Valtteri Puustinen has led the way with eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games played, and rookie forward Sam Poulin has registered a goal and three assists for a strong start to his professional career. Much of the Penguins’ success is credited to their ability to score in the three-on-three overtime sessions and mask a few lost leads in that span, and the story going into a new month will be to see if they can sustain this early success.
Finally, in Hershey, the Bears trail the Penguins by just one point in third place courtesy of a mark of 4-1-1-1 with 10 points on the season. It’s been a mixed bag for the team, with head coach Scott Allen mentioning several times in his postgame remarks that he believes his group has another level to reach. The team has gotten strong goaltending from Zach Fucale and Pheonix Copley; the former leads the AHL with a 0.96 goals against average and a .963 save percentage, while the latter sits at a 2.91 goals against average and a .891 save percentage. The Bears enter the month with points in four straight (2-0-1-1), with all four games going beyond 60 minutes. Hershey’s strength has been in its defense, only allowing 17 goals while tallying 19. It’s a foundation the team will be looking to build upon this month despite some key absences due to injury, missing Bobby Nardella, Riley Sutter, and Kody Clark due to injury, as well as Brett Leason and Aliaksei Protas to recall for Washington in their own injury struggles. Hershey’s depth will be tested in the new month, and it will be a vital storyline to see if top players like Garrett Pilon, Mike Sgarbossa, and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby can carry the scoring as they did in October.
The title for top team in Pennsylvania rests in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s favor after one month, by virtue of three wins by the Penguins over the Phantoms in October. Hershey sits in second place with a win over Lehigh Valley early in the month, and the Phantoms have just one point with an overtime loss to the Penguins. The season series between the Bears and Penguins does not get underway until December, where the two teams will play six times in a busy set of games, and November will only have three games total featuring only PA teams facing off. In total, the Keystone State foes will clash 38 times before all is said and done in late April.
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