The Hartford Wolf Pack returned to the friendly confines of the XL Center in Hartford on Friday, hoping some home cooking could put an end to their six game winless streak. But despite excellent goaltending by recently returned Chad Johnson, the result was little different than it was last weekend, as the Pack fell 5-2 to the Portland Pirates.
The night started well enough for the Pack, which managed to take a 1-0 lead at 15:14 of the opening period with the first of two shorthanded tallies it would score in the game. Ryan Garlock forced a turnover at the Pack blue line to initiate a two-on-none with Dane Byers, who had been named the fifth captain in Wolf Pack franchise history prior to the game. Garlock fed Byers, who sent the puck back to the former Chicago Blackhawks draft pick for his second goal of the season.
The Pack ended the opening period with a one goal lead and a 8-7 advantage in shots, but as has happened so often lately, the team collapsed in the second frame. Only the superb goaltending of recently returned Chad Johnson prevented the score from getting out of hand. The 23-year old rookie couldn’t stop them all, however, and at 15:05 Cody McCormick knotted the score with a wrist shot from the left circle after picking the puck out of Corey Locke’s skates after the Wolf Pack’s leading scorer blocked a point shot from Portland defenseman Mike Kostka.
After surviving a second period which saw them get outshot by a margin of 15-3, the Wolf Pack surrendered a quick goal in the third to to give the Pirates their first lead of the game. With recently demoted defenseman Matt Gilroy in the box for tripping, McCormick was credited with his second score of the game when he deflected defenseman Dennis Persson’s shot from the left point. Johnson was able to stop McCormick’s deflection, but the rebound pinballed off Wolf Pack defenseman Corey Potter’s skate and over the goal line for a power play marker at :57.
The Wolf Pack answered back with its second shorthanded goal of the game at 4:10. Gilroy carried the puck up ice on a two-on-one with Brodie Dupont, feeding the third year pro for a shovel shot which Pirate netminder Jhonas Enroth was able to stop. But as his momentum carried him behind the goal line, Dupont was able to dive for the rebound and put it up and over Enroth from a sharp angle to knot the score at two.
The shorthanded tally gave the Pack ten for the season, tops in the league.
As the puck was crossing the goal line, Mark Mancari jumped Wolf Pack forward Dale Weise, earning an instigator penalty and giving the Wolf Pack a power play that would be washed out by an Andres Ambuhl high sticking call 44 seconds later. Capitalizing on the extra space as the two sides skated four-a-side, rookie scoring leader Tyler Ennis was able to curl in off the boards and beat Johnson with a perfectly placed laser beam to top-corner, glove side. The goal gave Ennis six points in three games against the Wolf Pack this season, and earned his team a 3-2 advantage on the scoreboard at 5:57 of the period.
German-born Philip Gogulla extended the Portland lead to 4-2 when he put a shot off Pack defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti’s skate and past Johnson at 10:27.
Another high sticking penalty by Andres Ambuhl at 16:38 allowed the Pirates to kill off all but the finally 1:12 of regulation with ease. Back at even strength, the Pack were unable to muster another goal, instead surrendering an empty netter when McCormick’s stretch pass bounced off teammate Brad Larsen in the neutral zone and fluttered into the empty net.
The struggling Pack power play finished the game 0-for-3, and now has scored just once in 30 opportunities stretching over nine games.
The victory allowed the Pirates to leapfrog the Pack in the Atlantic Division standings. Hartford is now just a single game over .500 at 13-12-1-2, a record good for seventh place in the eight team division.
The Pack are back in action on Saturday night when they host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at 7:00pm.
- Justin Soryal is expected to miss 4-6 weeks after suffering facial fractures in a fight with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin tough guy Jesse Boulerice last Saturday. To fill the role vacated by Soryal’s fists the Wolf Pack signed AHL journeyman and former UCONN Husky Mike Hoffman to a professional tryout contract.
- Locke was presented with his crystal Reebok/AHL Player of the Month award prior to the start of Friday’s game. Since winning honors for November, Locke has just two assists in four games in December and he’s been held off the scoreboard in five of his last seven contests. Despite the relative scoring drought, he remains at the top of the AHL leaderboard with 35 points in 28 games, however.
1. HFD Garlock, (2) (Byers), 15:14 (SH)
2. POR McCormick, (7) (Kostka, Gragnani), 15:05
3. POR McCormick, (8) (Persson, Wanvig), 0:57 (PP)
3. HFD Dupont, (5) (Gilroy), 4:10 (SH)
3. POR Ennis, (9) (Cowan, Gragnani), 5:57
3. POR Gogulla, (5) (Whitmore, Wanvig), 10:27
3. POR Larsen, (2) (McCormick, Schutz), 19:37 (EN)
1. Cody McCormick
2. Marc-Andre Gragnani
3. Kyle Wanvig
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