That the Pack came out slow and sluggish in their fourth game in five nights, the day after an emotional win over their nearest Atlantic Division competition, missing two veteran leaders in Andrew Hutchinson and Hugh Jessiman, probably shouldn’t be a surprise. All good things come to an end at some point, and for the Pack tonight brought the end of a streak in which they went 12 straight games without being beaten in regulation. That it happened against Bridgeport also shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as the Tigers, and particularly goaltender Joey McDonald, really seem to have the Pack’s number this season. This was the 5th win in 6 games this season for the baby Islanders (2 in the shootout), after dropping 9 of 10 games to the Pack last season.
I was only able to listen to the first period on the radio while driving home from the Garden after the Rangers game, but things got off to a bad start early, when just 32 seconds into the game referee Tudor Floru called simultaneous penalties on Ivan Baranka (Holding) and Corey Potter (Tripping), putting the Pack down two men right off the first shift of the game. That left the Pack without their two top defensemen (in the absence of Hutchinson, who sat out the game with “muscle soreness”). It took just over a minute for Bridgeport to get on the board on the 5-on-3. And just two minutes after that they built up the lead to two. By the time I got home and turned on the video feed during the first intermission, Bridgeport had built up a 3 goal lead on an 8-5 advantage in shots, in what proved to be a rough night for goaltender Miika Wiikman, who, in making his first start in 6 games, saw his GAA drop from first in the league to 4th. I didn’t see the first three goals, so I can’t really comment on his performance, but Pack play-by-play man Bob Crawford did comment later that none of the goals Wiikman let in seemed soft to him. It just seemed that the entire team failed to put in their best effort in the first period.
The Wolf Pack came out much stronger in the second and managed to get on the board when Dane Byers scored on a delayed penalty call which he drew as he carried the puck into the zone. He passed the puck off to Greg Moore, who fed P.A. Parenteau for the initial shot, which McDonald stopped. But Byers was left alone in the slot to pick up the rebound and tuck it in just inside the right goal post. It was the 5th consecutive game in which he scored a goal (he has 6 in the span), which is a season high for a Wolf Pack player and a career high streak for Byers. It was also the only time the Pack would get on the score board, though the dictated the pace of play through the majority of the second two periods.
But the Pack’s dominance wouldn’t keep Bridgeport from adding a fourth goal in the 3rd period. At the 9:44 mark of the period the Tigers had a rare shift where they were able to apply pressure and keep the Pack pinned in their own zone, and the Pack failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities to clear the puck. On one such attempt, Bridgeport forward Justin Bourne was able to get the puck at the blueline and feed it down to Trevor Smith, who was all alone right in the slot and was able to put the puck past Wiikman. The goal, which came after a number of game-breaking saves by Bridgeport goalie McDonald, took the wind out of the Pack’s sails. Although they managed to outshoot the Tigers 13-5 in the second, and 15-5 in the third, they couldn’t get the puck past McDonald, who’s been very strong in each of the games he’s faced the Pack in this season.
There was a scary moment in the 3rd when Pack defenseman Michael Sauer, playing in his first game back after missing 3 with a slight knee injury, and Bridgeport winger Pascal Morency skated towards the end boards in the Pack’s zone to retreive a dump in. As they approached the boards they came together, and Sauer used his size and strength advantage to shrug off Morency, who fell awkwardly into the boards. He stayed down on the ice as Bridgeport’s Jeremy Coliton challenged Sauer (in what was a short-lived fight) and was eventually put on a backboard and removed from the ice on a stretcher. There was no word on his condition by the end of the broadcast.
The Pack’s power play, ranked 3rd in the league heading into the game, was held scoreless in 6 attempts, very obviously missing the presence of the AHL’s leading scoring defenseman. In Hutchinson’s absence, Ivan Baranka seemed to pick up the bulk of the extra minutes. Jordon Owens returned to the line up in place of Hugh Jessiman, who I suspect was injured, though no reason for his presence on the scratch list was given by Crawford. Tommy Pyatt also returned to the lineup after missing three straight games as a healthy scratch, taking Bruce Graham’s place in the lineup.
2. Byers (18 ) (Parenteau, Moore) 9:10
Byers – Moore – Parenteau
Hossa – Anisimov – Bourret
Dupont – Korpikoski – Ouellette
Owens – Pyatt
Baranka – Potter
Liffiton – Taylor
Pock – Sauer
Wiikman / Montoya
1. Steve Regier
2. Joey MacDonald
3. Trevor Smith
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