by Bob Crawford Hartford Wolf Pack Diector, Media Relations and Broadcasting
The Pack had a rough week, with the injury bug continuing to bite hard and the road not treating the club very well. The Wolf Pack dropped three divisional games and came out of the weekend as close to third place as to first in the Atlantic Division. Luckily for the Pack, the schedule lightens considerably here as the All-Star break approaches, and they'll have to play only one game in an 11-day span. Hopefully for the team, that will allow for many of the injuries to heal and for those who remained among the healthy to get re-focused on what made them so successful prior to the just-concluded long string of road games.
Last week started in Manchester, where the Wolf Pack had already won two games on the year, and had handed the Monarchs nearly 50% of their total of five home defeats. The Pack were a perfect 3-0-0 vs. Manchester, with three one-goal victories, but they were unable to make it a perfect four for four. The Monarchs, it turned out, were just about as banged up as the Wolf Pack, missing key players like Yanick Lehoux, Tom Kostopoulos and Brad Smyth, but some of their lesser-known individuals came up with big games. George Parros crashed the net hard all night and had two goals, Chris Schmidt assisted on the game-winning goal, and Joe Rullier netted the tally that put Manchester ahead to stay.
The Monarchs outshot the Pack 40-22 in the contest and the Pack were forced to make a goaltending change for the second straight game. The Wolf Pack's netminding had been so uniformly magnificent, it seems to stick out like a sore thumb when Jason LaBarbera and Steve Valiquette aren't virtually unbeatable. They have been facing a significantly larger number of quality scoring chances as of late, though, and in some of the recent games it has been looking as though the strain has worn on them somewhat. The smart money says they will take advantage of the time off these next two weeks and get back to the top of their games.
Friday found the Wolf Pack in Providence, and that game turned out to be the first of two shutouts-against. Interestingly, the Pack wouldn't give up a single goal five on five in those two losses, but the penalty-kill continued to be stuck in a rut, and the power play surrendered a shorthanded goal in Sunday's afternoon defeat in Lowell. Friday's game was one of those that tests a team's fortitude, and although the Wolf Pack came out on the short end of a 3-0 score, they showed a good sense of togetherness in the numerous scraps that broke out in what turned out to be the most penalty-filled game in Wolf Pack history. The Pack players had each other's backs throughout the game, and certainly came out of it with a newly-enhanced sense of rivalry with their adversaries from Rhode Island. Unfortunately for the Pack, part of what touched off all the rough stuff was Ken Gernander and Bryce Lampman getting hurt, and the loss of those two regulars left them severely depleted going into Lowell on Sunday.
Sunday's makeup of the snowed-out game of two weekends before was a ragged affair for much of it, with an unusually-early 2:00 start time, the Lock Monsters having played the night before and the Pack missing many of their key cogs. The Pack still managed to get 37 shots in the contest, but their finishing touch was absent, and they allowed Lowell 39 shots on goal. It definitely was not a total breakdown, but special teams certainly let the club down, as Lowell notched a shorthander in the first period and two power-play goals in a span of 15 seconds in the third on the way to a 3-0 victory. The loss was the first in regulation for the Wolf Pack in four meetings with the Lock Monsters this year and that's saying something, considering the depth of talent that is featured on the Lowell roster.
Those special teams, especially the penalty-kill, were a real strength prior to the last week or so. No doubt the team will use this influx of down time to hone those elements in practice, in addition to resting the bumps and bruises and allowing the guys to shrug off what has looked recently like a little onset of burnout.