The Hartford Wolf Pack stormed out to a 4-1 first period lead, then had to hold on as a depleted Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins squad closed to within a goal before Corey Locke scored his second of the game to complete the scoring at 5-3 and give the Pack its seventh win in its last nine games.
Locke also added a pair of assists to increase his league-leading point total to 29, seven points ahead of his nearest competitor. Dane Byers and Dale Weise each added a goal and an assist, while Jordan Owens put up two helpers.
The points put Byers on the scoresheet for the seventh straight game, tying P.A. Parenteau for the team’s longest point streak of the season, furthering the argument that Byers should join his Wolf Pack teammate with the parent club in New York.
Goaltender Matt Zaba, between the pipes for the first time since October 10th, made 21 saves to earn his first win of the season.
The goals came fast and furious in the first period, with Hartford scoring a pair of power play goals 30 seconds apart starting at 8:59. With Penguins defenseman Brian Strait and forward Joe Vitale in the box on overlapping penalties, Bobby Sanguinetti passed the puck down the boards from the right point to Locke, stationed at the bottom of the circle. The three time AHL All-Star threaded a pass through the slot to Weise, who smacked the feed into the open side of the net from the left post for his fifth of the season.
With Vitale still in the box, rookie Paul Crowder earned his fourth of the year when his centering pass from the right corner deflected in off a Penguin defender’s skate past netminder John Curry to give the Pack a two goal lead at 9:29.
The Wolf Pack would capitalize on its top-ranked power no fewer than three times in the game, going three-for-six to improve its conversion rate to 26.5% overall, and an even more impressive 32.7% on home ice.
The baby Pens made it 2-1 at 12:53 when Strait’s flip shot from the point deflected right to Tim Wallace, stationed alone on Zaba’s doorstep. Wallace was able to cut across the top of the crease and flip a backhander over the sophomore goaltender’s pad to cut the Pack’s lead in half.
Not to be deterred, the Wolf Pack’s top line of Byers, Locke and Owens added another pair of quick goals starting at 15:34. With the line dominating down low, Byers’ centering pass to Owens from behind the net was blocked. But the puck came right back to the fourth year pro, and he was able to thread a pass through the crease to Locke at the right post. Locke scored the easy goal into the open side of the net to give the Pack a 3-1 lead.
Byers picked up a goal of his own 1:56 later after Owens forced a turnover just inside the Penguins blueline. The scrappy winger dished the biscuit off to Byers, who wristed a shot over Curry’s shoulder at 17:30 to give the Pack a comfortable 4-1 lead.
Comfortable is exactly what the Wolf Pack became, and it cost them on the scoreboard. After the home side failed to convert on a 1:13 two man advantage at the start of the second period, the Penguins used the momentum gained on the kill to once again halve the lead when Robert Bortuzzo put a screen shot past Zaba at 2:55.
That proved to be the only scoring in an evenly played second period. The two teams each put up nine shots apiece in the frame, after the Wolf Pack had taken an 11-5 lead in that category in the first.
After taking their game to a Penguins defense corps that was missing four starters in the first period, the Pack played most of the second and half of the third as if they were trying to hang on to the lead, rather than increase it. That changed after Wade Brookbank deflected Dustin Jeffrey’s point shot past Zaba at 9:48 of the third to cut the Wolf Pack’s lead to one goal.
Awakened by the prospect that they might actually lose the game, the Hartford’s power play went back to work at 11:35 of the period. Rookie Evgeny Grachev took the puck off the left half boards, showing great patience has he stickhandled around a Penguins defenseman and fed it through the slot to Locke, who one-timed it past Curry for his 11th of the season. With the goal, Locke took over the team lead in goals from Parenteau and moved into a tie for tops in the league with Norfolk’s Brandon Bochenski.
This time the Pack didn’t sit back, and as a result the Penguins never really threated the rest of the way.
The win improved the Wolf Pack’s record to 11-7-0-1, moving then into a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Lowell Devils. After a rare Friday night off, the team will wrap up the week on the road in Syracuse at 7:30pm on Saturday.
1. HFD Weise, (5) (Locke, Sanguinetti), 8:59 (PP)
1. HFD Crowder, (4) (Dupont), 9:29 (PP)
1. WBS Wallace, (4) (Strait, Haddad), 12:53
1. HFD Locke, (10) (Byers, Owens), 15:34
1. HFD Byers, (4) (Owens, Locke), 17:30
2. WBS Bortuzzo, (1) (Caputi, Sill), 2:55
3. WBS Brookbank, (1) (Jeffrey, Boulerice), 9:48
3. HFD Locke, (11) (Grachev, Weise), 11:35 (PP)
Byers – Locke – Owens
Grachev – Dupont – Weise
Couture – Garlock – Soryal
Crowder – Ambuhl
Heikkinen – Sanguinetti
Potter – Williams
Dandenault – Urquhart
Zaba / Johnson
1. Corey Locke
2. Dale Weise
3. Jordan Owens
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