Three days ago the Portland Pirates rode their power play to a 4-2 victory over the Hartford Wolf Pack at the XL Center in Hartford. On Saturday it was the Wolf Pack that won the special teams battle, topping the Atlantic Division-leading Pirates 6-2 in Portland on the strength of two power play goals, a shorthanded marker, and a second straight game of flawless penalty killing.
It was only the second regulation loss Portland has surrendered in sixteen games this season. Even more impressive is that it was done with backup goaltender Matt Zaba — who hadn’t played since earning a win over the Albany River Rats on November 1st — in goal because of an undisclosed injury to starting netminder Miika Wiikman.
The Pirates put the Pack on their heels early, firing off 6 of the first 7 shots on goal in the game. They took an early lead at 3:32 of the first period when Portland left wing Jimmy Bonneau carried the puck down the right wing boards and threw a backhander towards the front of the net, where Felix Schutz was waiting to deflect it past Zaba on the stick side.
But Hartford roared back with five unanswered goals, starting at 13:18 of the period. The Pack were given just one of the four power plays awarded in the first frame, and they capitalized on their lone opportunity when Michael Sauer scored his first goal of the season with a low, hard shot from the blue line that deflected off a Pirate defenseman to beat Portland netminder Adam Dennis and tie the score at one.
Devin DiDiomete, who returned to the line up after watching Friday’s game from the press box as a healthy scratch, scored his first professional goal and point just over three minutes later when he deflected a Brian Fahey point shot past Dennis. The Wolf Pack took the 2-1 lead to the locker room at the end of the period, having outshot Portland by a 12-9 advantage.
With the Pack’s penalty kill languishing at 26th in the league after Wednesday’s loss to the Pirates, Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander re-vamped his PK units for Friday’s game against Lowell. The most noticeable changes were the additions of P.A. Parenteau, who’d seen occasional duty on the PK during his time in Hartford, and Artem Anisimov, who’d taken only a handful of shifts on the penalty kill prior to Friday night’s game. On Saturday, the re-vamped PK not only thwarted all six Portland power play attempts, remaining perfect over twelve attempts in the last two games, but it earned the team the eventual game winning goal. Anisimov broke the puck out of the Pack zone, passed it off to defenseman Vladimir Denisov as the two crossed the Portland blue line, and crashed the net, arriving just in time to deflect Denisov’s shot from the right circle past Dennis on the stick side at 7:30 of the second period.
Justin Soryal added his third goal of the season with under three minutes to go in the period when Patrick Rissmiller picked a Pirate pocket as the Portland side was attempting to break out of their own zone. Rissmiller fed Soryal, who found himself in on a 3-on-1 down low and beat Dennis cleanly with a wrist shot from the right circle. The period ended with the score 4-1 in favor of the Pack, despite the Pirates’ 11-8 shot advantage.
At 9:03 of the third the Wolf Pack added their second power play goal. After receiving a perfect cross-ice pass from Parenteau, defenseman Corey Potter faked a shot, skated around the Portland penalty killer who’d dropped to block it, and unloaded a hard snap shot to beat Dennis through a screen.
After falling down by four goals, the Pirates began to apply more pressure, and built some momentum with a power play whn Anisimov went off for holding at 9:26. The Pack penalty kill held them off, but in the twelfth minute of the period the Pirates managed to pin the Pack in their own zone. At 12:39, with the Pack scrambling, Portland defenseman Michael Funk was able to stuff in the rebound of left wing Colin Murphy’s shot, cutting the Pack’s lead to three.
Portland center Colton Fretter killed his team’s momentum two minutes later when he was whistled for high sticking Pack defenseman David Urquhart, who was shaky in his return after sitting for the past four games as a healthy scratch. Pack forward Matthew Ford finished the scoring by notching his first AHL goal and point just 39 seconds after the penalty expired when he wristed in the rebound of a shot by Jordan Owens.
Portland finished the period with a 9-8 lead in shots on goal, for a 29-28 advantage in the game. Zaba earned his second win of the season and improved his AHL record to 2-1-0-0. His 27-save performance earned him first star of the game honors.
- Brandon Sugden and Bonneau dropped the gloves in the final seconds of the second period. Bonneau held on to Sugden for dear life, threw a few quick rabbit punches and then wrestled the Pack forward to the ice.
- Maxime Daigneault (no relation to Pack assistant coach J.J.) was recalled from Charolotte of the ECHL to back up Zaba in Wiikman’s absence.
- Center Mike Ouellette and defenseman Ethan Graham took seats in the press box as healthy scratches.
- The Wolf Pack’s 6 goals marked their highest single-game scoring output this season.
- The Pack received only 3 power play opportunities to Portland’s 6, but they scored on 2 of them.
- Tonight marked Fahey’s second 2-assist game in his last three games.
- Rissmiller, who played center on Friday for the first time since being assigned to Hartford, has 6 points in his 5 games in Hartford.
- Anisimov’s shorthanded goal was the Pack’s first of the season. He has points (3g, 4a) in 5 straight games.
- Greg Moore currently holds the Pack’s longest point scoring streak, with points (4g, 3a) in 6 straight games.
1. Schutz (5) (Bonneau, Gragnani) 3:36
1. Sauer (1) (Potter, Parenteau) 13:18 (PP)
1. DiDiomete (1) (Fahey, Rissmiller) 15:32
2. Anisimov (5) (Denisov, Fahey) 7:30 (SH)
2. Soryal (3) (Rissmiller) 17:09
3. Potter (2) (Moore, Parenteau) 9:03 (PP)
3. Funk (1) (Murphy, Gerbe) 12:29
3. Ford (1) (Owens, Pyatt) 17:32
Owens – Rissmiller – Parenteau
Ford – Moore – Soryal
Dupont – Anisimov – Weise
DiDiomete – Pyatt – Sugden
Potter – Sanguinetti
Fahey – Denisov
Urquhart – Sauer
Zaba / Daigneault
1. Matt Zaba
2. Brian Fahey
3. Patrick Rissmiller
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