Series Preview: Hartford Wolf Pack (1) vs. Worcester Sharks (4)
Thursday April 16th 2009, 12:58 am

When the Hartford Wolf Pack face off against the Worcester Sharks to start their Atlantic Division Semifinal series at 7 p.m. tonight in Hartford, they’ll be squaring off against an organization they’ve never faced in the playoffs.  And despite the 12-point disparity in standings points, the two teams match up pretty evenly, ensuring the series won’t be a cakewalk for the number one seed.

The Wolf Pack finished the regular season with a 46-27-3-4 record for 99 points while the fourth place Sharks concluded their campaign with 87 points and a 42-35-1-2 record, setting a franchise mark for wins in a season in the process.  The two teams split their eight game regular season series, with the Wolf Pack earning a slight edge thanks to a shootout loss in their first meeting back on October 22nd.  Presumed playoff starting goaltender Matt Zaba was only in net for two of those eight games, however, and was the victor in both, holding the Sharks to just one goal in each meeting and putting up an impressive .972 save percentage in the process.  Miika Wiikman faced Worcester six times and went 2-3-0-1 with a 3.13 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.  Head-to-head the Pack outscored the Sharks by a single goal, 23-22, and had a slight advantage on both the power play and penalty kill, converting on 7 of 40 power play opportunities (17.5%) while killing off 39 of 46 (84.8%) for the Sharks.

Three of the four Wolf Pack losses came early in the season, before the Pack took off on their 19-4-1-1 season-ending blitz, but the Sharks ended on a high note themselves, going 8-2-0-0 in their final ten games and handing Hartford one of only four losses they suffered in the final two months of the season.  Worcester goalie Thomas Greiss finished the season with a franchise record 30 wins, plus 24 losses, 2 shootout losses and a pair of shutouts.  His 30 wins were good for fifth in the league, while he ranked 15th in goals against at 2.47.  Against Hartford the 24-year old German was 3-3-0-0 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. Greiss was backed up by Taylor Dakers, who surrendered four goals in his lone game against the Wolf Pack, a 4-1 Worcester loss.  ECHL call-up Kyle Jones staffed the net for a game as well, surrendering three goals while earning a 4-3 Worcester win.

Offensively, the Wolf Pack was led against the Sharks by P.A. Parenteau’s four goals and eight assists, followed by Artem Anisimov’s four goals and six assists, with each collecting their points in eight games.  Patrick Rissmiller only faced the Sharks five times, but put up two goals and four assists for six points in those games.  Tom Cavanagh lead Worcester with five goals and four assists in six games played, while Derek Joslin put up three goals and four assists for seven points in eight games.  Neither player finished in the top five in scoring for the Sharks, however.  The distinction of being the team’s leading scorer went to Captain Ryan Vesce (24-47-71 in 67 games) who held a whopping 27 points lead over second place Lukas Kaspar (17-27-44 in 65 games).

Bits and bobs: Rissmiller spent six seasons in the San Jose organization and played college hockey in Worcester at Holy Cross… The Sharks only other post season experience came in 2007 when they were knocked out in the first round… The Wolf Pack holds the active record for consecutive playoff appearances with 12 straight years of post-season play, but has gotten past the first round only once in the last four years…  Vesce finished 13th in AHL scoring and led the league in overtime goals while ranking second in game winning tallies with nine, one ahead of Anisimov’s eight… Rookie Frazer McLaren led his team in penalty minutes with 181, fourth among AHL rookies but 58 minutes behind Wolf Pack rookie Devin DiDiomete who ranked fourth over all and second amongst first-year players… Worcester veteran defenseman Patrick Traverse tied for 11th in scoring among defensemen with Wolf Pack rookie Sanguinetti, each with 43 points… Worcester led the league in shots at 35.25 per game and ranked 2nd lowest in shots against per game at 26.81…  The season series got nasty in just its second meeting when referee Chris Ciamaga lost control of a game on Halloween after missing a series of calls including an elbow to Sanguinetti’s head that temporarily felled the young defenseman.  Tempers flared on the ice and the benches, as the teams’ assistant coaches got into a shouting match over the glass between the benches.  The Pack earned four misconducts in the game. (highlights)… Dane Byers was injured in that same game when he collided with teammate Tommy Pyatt.  Byers could complete his rehab from the ACL surgery that necessitated by the hit and return sometime during the series… Parenteau will not be available to start the series and his status is uncertain as he recovers from a concussion that caused him to miss five of the final six games of the season… Cavanagh, Vesce, Jamie McGinn and Brad Staubitz all returned from call-ups to the parents Sharks in the final week of the season; McGinn has already been called back to San Jose… The Wolf Pack added Rangers 2008 3rd round draft pick Tomas Kundratek on an ATO contract after his junior team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, were knocked out of the Western Hockey League playoffs; it’s unclear whether the 19-year old defenseman will see playing time right away…  The Hartford Courant kicks off its playoff coverage with a look at Anisimov’s fast track to the NHL.

2008-2009 Season Series in Review
Oct. 22  -  Hartford 4 @ Worcester 5 (SO)  [highlights]
Oct. 31  -  Worcester 4 @ Hartford 2  [highlights]
Nov. 7  -  Worcester 4 @ Hartford 3  [highlights]
Dec. 12  -  Worcester 1 @ Hartford 4  [highlights]
Dec. 14  -  Hartford 2 @ Worcester 1  [highlights]
Mar. 4  -  Worcester 1 @ Hartford 3  [highlights]
Mar. 13 -  Hartford 4 @ Worcester 2  [not available]
Mar. 15  -  Hartford 1 @ Worcester 4  [not available]

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