Life prevented me from posting over the weekend, so my apologies for the lack of Wolf Pack recaps. I did make the time to sit down and write my weekly Wolf Pack round-up for SNY’s Rangers Blog last night, however. Normally I’d just link to it over there, but with everything else going on in Rangerland (Olli who?) it’s not scheduled to go live until sometime tomorrow. So I’m making the executive decision to post it over here as well — in part because I’ve regularly neglected my own blog in order to write for SNY’s, but mostly to call attention to the fact that the Wolf Pack will be playing the baby Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark tomorrow night. General admission tickets are only $15 for adults and $10 for kids, so Rangers fans really have no excuse not to head over to the Rock so we can outnumber the Devils fans like we usually do. ;)
The full recap comes after the jump.
Keeping Up With The Pack: Injuries, Losses Begin to Mount
When the Pack took the ice to face the Norfolk Admirals at the XL Center in Hartford last Wednesday, they did so without forwards P.A. Parenteau (concussion), Dale Weise (hand), and Mike Hoffman (shoulder-season), in addition to defensemen Corey Potter (concussion), Bobby Sanguinetti (lower body), Mathieu Dandenault (groin) and Brent Henley (knee-season).
Although Weise was able to return two nights later, when the Wolf Pack played host to the Lowell Devils, it turned out to be a case of taking one step forward and two steps back, as both defenseman Michael Sauer and forward Ryan Garlock were forced from the game with undisclosed injuries. Goaltender Steve Valiquette joined the long list of walking wounded the next morning when he suffered a fractured finger during the team’s morning skate.
In case you’ve lost count, that left the Wolf Pack short five defenseman, three forwards, and one goaltender as they prepared to host the division leading Manchester Monarchs for the fourth time in seven games on Saturday night. Given all that, is it really any surprise that the week ended with three straight losses, extending Hartford’s current streak of futility to a season-worst 0-4-1-0 and dropping them into a tie for fifth place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division?
To their credit, despite having the odds stacked against them, the Pack refused to roll over and accept defeat.
On Wednesday Hartford’s Heroes traded goals with the East Division’s Norfolk Admirals, carrying a 4-4 score into the final five minutes of regulation, only to give up the back-breaking game-winner with 2:46 to go. Captain Dane Byers, Paul Crowder, Kenny Roche and Corey Locke all tallied for the Pack. Roche, recalled by the Wolf Pack a week ago, also added an assist, and Locke added a pair of helpers of his own, giving him six points in his last six games. In goal, Matt Zaba had a rough night, surrendering five goals on 27 shots in the 5-4 loss, though he certainly can’t be faulted for the loss.
The sophomore goaltender had a much better night on Friday, but only after he was called off the bench to replace starter Valiquette. Valiquette, pulled from his second straight start, gave up two goals on nine shots in the first 8:41 of the game. The early deficit can’t be pinned entirely on the veteran backstop, however — the Devils had a huge territorial edge through the first nine minutes, outshooting their hosts 9-2.
Justin Soryal’s fight with Rob Davison roused the Pack from its slumber 1:47 after Valiquette was pulled. The second-year scrapper followed it up in the middle frame by scoring his first goal of the season on a deflection of Jared Nightingale’s point shot. In between, Byers added his fourth goal in five games, giving him 13 on the season. But the Devils regained the lead three minutes after Soryal knotted things up and held on through a scoreless third to take a 3-2 victory, despite a 19-11 Wolf Pack advantage in shots in the final period.
Neither Sauer or Garlock were able to finish Friday’s contest, though they didn’t appear to suffer obvious injuries during the game. The team hasn’t revealed any specifics for either player or how long they may miss. Both were playing important roles for the Pack, with Garlock a surprisingly solid contributor up front since being recalled from Charlotte in early November and Sauer performing usual duties as a minute-eating stalwart on defense.
And so it was, with only two of the defenseman who had started the season on the Pack blueline — Illka Heikkinen and Nigel Williams — that the Pack welcomed the Atlantic-leading Monarchs on Saturday. Zaba, who likely would have gotten the call in goal anyway after stopping 25 of 26 in relief a night earlier, had no choice after Valiquette suffered a finger injury during the morning skate. Miika Wiikman, the rookie who made Al Montoya expendable two seasons ago, got the call in Charlotte and was on the bench when the game got underway.
Hartford held off the Manchester attack through the first 35:16 of the game, but with so many players in the infirmary, its not surprising they eventually lost a war of attrition. John Zeiler got the visitors on the board in the second, and Jon Rhealt doubled the lead midway through the third. The Monarchs hammered away in the final period, outshooting the Pack by a 10-3 margin, but Zaba came up big time and time again, finishing with 33 saves in the game. The 2-0 decision gave the Monarchs a 5-3 edge in the season series, with two of the Wolf Pack’s three victories coming in extra time. In a quirk of the schedule, the two division rivals do not face each other again in the regular season — good news for the Pack, considering their recent record.
The week’s losses dropped the Wolf Pack’s record to 23-20-2-4 for 52 points, tying them for fifth place in the Atlantic Division standings with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but with two games in hand. While that’s not the ideal position for any team, it still leaves them solidly in playoff position.
Kenny Roche was drafted by the Rangers in the third round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but went unsigned at the conclusion of his college career at Boston University. In the three years since, he’s bounced around the ECHL and AHL and even spent a season in Germany. The 26-year old South Boston native has five points in his seven contests with the Pack this season, and four in his last four games.
He may only be a rookie, you’ve got to imagine that the Rangers organization was hoping for more from Evgeny Grachev this season. The soon-to-be 20-year old has just six points in his last 20 games, and has only hit the scoresheet four times in that span, with two of those contests being two goal performances. Grachev’s 23 points are just four ahead of fellow rookie and free agent signing Paul Crowder, who’s played one less game and hasn’t gone more than two games without a point since mid-December.
The Wolf Pack play their second game against the baby Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark on Wednesday. Game time is 7:00pm and general admission tickets are just $15 for adults and $10 for kids. See the Devils web site for more information.
From Newark the Wolf PAck board the bus for a trip south to visit the Norfolk Admirals for a pair of back-t0-back games Friday and Saturday night, both starting at 7:15pm.
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