The Hartford Wolf Pack did not put themselves in last place in the American Hockey League's Atlantic Division in one night, and they will not dig out of that hole in one night either.
However, going into PPL Center and defeating the powerhouse Lehigh Valley Phantoms 3-1 last Saturday could be a good start for the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers. Lehigh Valley started the game leading the Atlantic Division and had an eight-game win streak earlier in November.
Wolf Pack goaltender Magnus Hellberg made 31 saves against one of the AHL's most dangerous offenses.
"If we played the game we played [at Lehigh Valley], I'd be really happy," Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said of his goal for the rest of the season. "Certainly if you look at where we were two or three weeks ago, we've made some pretty good strides."
Meanwhile, the Wolf Pack were fresh off a painful home loss to the Albany Devils one night earlier. Hartford led 3-1 with 10 minutes remaining before Albany scored twice to set up a 4-3 overtime win. The Wolf Pack have four wins in their first 12 home games (4-6-2-0).
"It was a really good bounce-back and much needed because I know it's early in the year, but we've got to start to get some traction here and be able to string together some wins," Gernander said.
"We kind of had a realistic meeting [after the Albany loss]: 'This is what transpired [against Albany].'
"Then pregame was a little more optimistic: 'Here's where we were two or three weeks ago. Here is where we are today. We're trending upward. Let's keep pushing.'"
Statistics reflect Hartford's early struggles. They have scored 2.68 goals per game. Their 4.00 goals allowed per game is last in the AHL. Their power play ranks 22nd (15.6 percent) and the penalty kill is 27th (74. 3 percent).
Hartford had counted on a veteran like the 25-year-old Hellberg to ease some of the growing pains of a young lineup. But he's 5-4-3 in 14 games with a 3.17 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.
It has added up to a 6-10-3-0 record that the Wolf Pack will carry with them on the road for a two-game series against the Toronto Marlies this weekend.
Captain Mat Bodie is optimistic as well.
"It's just a matter of sticking with it and buying into the system," Bodie said. "With the way teams play, if you take a backcheck off, it can cost you. I think we've learned that lesson, and hopefully we can build on it."
SETTING THE PACE
The Atlantic Division continues to set an elite standard.
Atlantic Division teams have four of the top six point percentages in the AHL.
The Eastern Conference-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins recovered from a 4-0 loss at the Hershey Bears to start last week by earning three of four points from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in a home-and-home weekend series. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has allowed 1.95 goals per game, fewest in the AHL. They lead their division at the first quarter for the third consecutive season and have a league-best 28 points.
An 11-2-0-0 record in November was not enough to push second-place Lehigh Valley ahead of the Penguins. The month was the second-best in team history. The Phamtoms have been without goaltender Anthony Stolarz, who remains with the Philadelphia Flyers. Rookie Alex Lyon has taken over for Stolarz and is 7-3-1 with a 2.46 GAA and a .920 save percentage. The Phantoms' 3.63 goals per game are second-most in the league.
Sitting behind the Phantoms tied for third place at 26 points are Hershey and Bridgeport. They are two points out of first place, however.
Iowa Wild forward Teemu Pulkkinen earned the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending last Sunday. He had five goals and two assists in four games. His eight goals in 13 games tie him for fourth in the league.
The Milwaukee Admirals have a league-best .794 point percentage. … Toronto forward Brendan Leipsic leads the AHL with 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 18 games. … Forward Brendan Perlini of the Tucson Roadrunners has a league-leading 11 goals in 13 games. … Albany Devils forward John Quenneville has tied forward Jake Guentzel, who remains with the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the league lead among rookies. Each player has 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists). … Milwaukee's Juuse Saros remains with the Nashville Predators, but he leads all AHL goaltenders with a 1.59 GAA and .945 save percentage.
GAME TO WATCH
Hershey at Lehigh Valley (Dec. 2) -- The Bears make the short trip to visit the Phantoms for the first time this season. The long-time rivals have split their season series with each team winning once at Hershey.
ON THE MOVE
The Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets traded veteran AHL defensemen Monday. Cody Goloubef will join the San Antonio Rampage after Colorado acquired the 26-year-old; he had played 16 games with the Cleveland Monsters and had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 16 games. San Antonio's Ryan Stanton, 27, will go to Cleveland; he had a goal and three assists in 15 games for San Antonio. … Bridgeport added defenseman Ryan Pulock from the New York Islanders. … Edmonton Oilers defenseman Mark Fayne was assigned to the Bakersfield Condors after clearing waivers before being recalled Wednesday. He has played 386 NHL games. … Binghamton Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond is back with the Ottawa Senators after playing two AHL games last week. … Veteran center Kris Newbury was released by the Ontario Reign but signed with the Charlotte Checkers. His 788 AHL games lead all active players.
AROUND THE AHL
Albany will be without goaltender Scott Wedgewood for the rest of the season. He had surgery on his right shoulder Monday and will miss approximately six months. His absence will leave the Devils' goaltending duties with rookie Mackenzie Blackwood and Ken Appleby, who is in his second pro season.