This was written Tuesday, but appears to have gotten lost in the trade deadline shuffle over at SNY’s Rangers Blog, so I’m re-posting it over here.
The losses continued to pile up for the Hartford Wolf Pack last week, but there were a few silver linings to be found amidst the black clouds that have hovered over the franchise in recent weeks.
The Pack lost all three of the games it played, each by single goal, to fall below the .500 mark to 26-27-4, but two of the defeats came in overtime, earning the Pack two extremely valuable points. And so as the AHL enters its final full week before Clear Day rosters must be submitted, the Wolf Pack finds itself in the seventh spot in the eight team Atlantic Division, 11 points behind the fourth place Lowell Devils. Yet thanks to the lopsided division alignment in the AHL’s Eastern Conference this season, and the poor play of the bottom half teams in the East Division, the club remains only two points out of the final cross-over playoff position.
The week started on a high note, with the Wolf Pack welcoming veterans P.A. Parenteau and Mathieu Dandenault back from extended absences. Parenteau returned from a concussion — his second in less than a year — that had kept him out of the lineup for 16 games over a five week span. Without its top offensive producer, Hartford’s record was a dismal 4-10-2-0. Dandenault, meanwhile, had been missing since Thanksgiving weekend with a groin injury, an absence of 36 games.
With Parenteau and Dandenault back in the fold, the Wolf Pack started the week the closest they’ll be to full health for the remainder of the campaign. Only Michael Sauer (shoulder), Brent Henley (knee) and Mike Hoffman (shoulder) remain sidelined, but all three have undergone surgeries that have brought a premature end to their season.
Despite having their top offensive player and most experienced blueliner back on the ice, goals were still hard to come by when the Wolf Pack hosted the Springfield Falcons on Friday night. Springfield entered the contest at the bottom of the league standings with an 18-31-9-3 record, having lost its eight prior games. Ryan Garlock got the Pack on the board first, scoring midway through the second period, but the Falcons were able to tie things up with 8:30 remaining in the third to force overtime. Once in extra time, the Oilers’ AHL affiliate needed only 12 seconds to decide the game, scoring the game winner with a a wrist shot from the right side boards that tipped off of Hartford starter Matt Zaba’s glove and into the net.
Saturday brought a carbon copy of Friday’s game — another 2-1 overtime loss — this time to the Portland Pirates. After a scoreless first period, the Pirates got on the board first, at 11:39 of the second. Dale Weise responded 1:04 later to knot the score at one, where it would stay through the remainder of regulation.
When you’ve got the second to last ranked penalty kill in the league, staying out of the penalty box is key. Failing to do so proved the Pack’s undoing on Saturday. Portland’s first goal had been scored with Jared Nightingale serving a two minute instigating penalty after he overreacted to a hit on Garlock along the boards. In overtime, a well-earned roughing penalty called on Dandenault — a guy who’s meant to provide a calming, veteran presence on defense — set up a four-on-three advantage. The power play, Portland’s sixth, led to Tyler Ennis’ seventh goal in five games against Hartford this season.
After picking up an assist on Friday’s lone Wolf Pack goal, Parenteau was completely neutralized against his former team on Saturday, and made his frustration apparent with three separate minor penalties. The soon-to-be 26-year old rebounded on Sunday, falling just short of equaling the entire Devils squad in a 4-3 Lowell victory. The hat trick was Parenteau’s second of the season and second in his Wolf Pack career. Linemate Corey Locke and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti each picked up a pair of assists in the loss.
Chad Johnson got the call for the second straight game on Sunday, but after a fairly solid, 23-save performance on Saturday, the rookie once again struggled against Lowell. Johnson surrendered three goals on the first seven shots he faced, including goals on the first two shots of the second period. Hopefully the addition of veteran backup Alex Auld in New York will spell the end of the yo-yo ride the 23-year old rookie has been on since early December, and allow him time in Hartford to rediscover the impressive form he displayed earlier this season.
With his hat trick on Sunday and an assist on the Wolf Pack’s lone goal on Friday, P.A. Parenteau has four points in his first three games back from injury. The fifth-year pro has picked up 36 points in his abbreviated 29 game season, and will be a crucial piece of the puzzle if the Pack are to make the playoffs for the thirteenth straight season.
Jordan Owens earned himself an NHL contract with the Rangers last summer after two strong seasons of improvement in Hartford on a minor league deal. But the heart-and-soul winger has just a single assist in his last 11 games, and his 19 points put him well off last season’s 37-point pace. His lack of production earned him a seat in the press box as a healthy scratch on Saturday.
Wolf Pack General Manager Jim Shoenfeld and his coaching staff get just two opportunities to see their club in action before the AHL’s version of the trade deadline — Clear Day — hits next Wednesday.
The Pack make a rare road trip north of the board to face the North Division-leading Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday at 7:00pm before continuing a short was up the Lake Ontario coast to Toronto, where they’ll face the Marlies at 4:00pm Sunday. The Bulldogs currently own the second best record in the AHL, at 39-14-3-5 and were the winners in the two teams’ only previous meeting this season, 4-1. The Wolf Pack emerged victorious from its only previous encounter with the 24-28-5-5 Marlies, 6-1, back in December.
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