by Bob Crawford
Wolf Pack Director of Broadcasting/Media Relationswww.hartfordwolfpack.com
Wow, what a turnaround! In the span of two games this past week, the Wolf Pack went from a team that couldn't seem to buy a goal to an offensive juggernaut. After back-to-back 3-1 losses in Wilkes-Barre Wednesday and Bridgeport Friday made it five straight defeats, the Wolf Pack broke out for three goals in the second period alone Saturday in a rematch with the Penguins, and went on to win 4-2. Then on Sunday against Providence, in their fourth game in five days, no less, all the Pack did was put six goals up on the scoreboard for the first time since the 76th game of 2002-03 and swamp a P-Bruins club that had allowed a measly seven goals in its previous five games by a score of 6-0.
They say scoring is contagious and lack of scoring is contagious, and we've certainly seen both sides of that old saw with the Wolf Pack the last couple of weeks. Coming into Saturday's game, the Wolf Pack had lit the lamp all of six times in the five consecutive losses, and two guys, Jamie Lundmark and Bryce Lampman, had combined for five of those tucks. Once Craig Weller scored a bad-angle goal on a first-period power play against last year's playoff nemesis Andy Chiodo, though, you kind of had a feeling the worm was starting to turn. And indeed, the floodgates opened in the second period, with Lucas Lawson getting his first of the year, Blair Betts his first since coming off the injured list, and perhaps most significantly, Layne Ulmer shaking off a season-long goal schneid with the Wolf Pack's fourth score of the game.
Ulmer went on to pot another one in Sunday's tilt, and I look for him really to do some damage in the upcoming weeks. He was a 60-goal-scorer in the WHL and after a slow start to his pro career, notched 22 with the Wolf Pack last year. You just don't lose that type of scoring touch overnight, and Ulmer, to his credit, kept generating plenty of nice chances for himself through this slump early in this season. He had six assists before he scored his goals, so it's not like he'd been invisible, but I bet you that whereas he couldn't seem to get a break before, now that he's gotten the first two they start hitting him in the rear end and going in.
I was wondering going into Sunday whether the success the night before was a fluke, but after being back on their heels a bit in the first period against the Bruins, the Wolf Pack showed with gusto that they were definitely back on the beam. After Ulmer had shaken his doldrums against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, both Dominic Moore (13 games) and Chad Wiseman (14 contests) snapped long goal-scoring droughts on Sunday, and Blair Betts became only the second Pack player on the year to put up a three-point game, as his goal started a four-goal second period burst and he also added a pair of assists. Lost under the avalanche of offense was Jason LaBarbera's second straight win and second shutout of the year. LaBarbera only had to stop 22 shots, just 12 after the first period, and did not get a Star for the whitewash, but he really had to be sharp in the first frame to prevent the Bruins, who were 4-1-1 in their previous six coming into the game, from getting the jump. LaBarbera turned away several prime opportunities on early Providence threats, and if one or two of those had gone in, it likely would have been a very different game. Ken Gernander also chipped in two assists in that game, playing on a line with Betts and Wiseman. Kenny doesn't have a goal yet on the season, and I know that's eating away at him, but he usually saves his goals for when the team needs them the most. Soon it's going to be his turn to have the puck start bouncing his way, and you'll see him click for a few overtime game-winners or key third-period insurance goals.
It's also significant that the Wolf Pack were able to score 10 goals in two games with nary a point from Jozef Balej. Now that Ulmer, Wiseman and Moore have all rediscovered their offensive confidence, I've got to figure that Balej is next. Although he's continued to play hard and, like Ulmer, find himself with lots of good opportunities, he finished last week on a run of four games without a point and ten goalless outings. He's too good a player to keep going much longer like that, and once he gets back scoring, and you add Jeff Hamilton and Garth Murray back to the lineup, well, in my mind that's a pretty fearsome offensive club.
And speaking of fearsome offensive clubs, the Wolf Pack finally get their first look at the Manchester Monarchs and their 4.68 goals per game on Sunday at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. That's one of those great "measuring stick" games, where the Wolf Pack will get a chance to get a good idea of where they are in their progress. The Monarchs entered the week with a 10-point lead on the Pack in the Atlantic Division standings, and I'm sure the Wolf Pack would love nothing better than to send a message to Manchester that they are not going to be able to run away and hide from the rest of the Atlantic. And for their part, the Monarchs I imagine are eager to test their high-octane offense against the Wolf Pack's stout defensive game. Not to be forgotten are two other divisional battles that precede that showdown for the Wolf Pack. They have to go to Worcester, where they seem always to have a tough time (except, happily, in the postseason), on Saturday, after Eric Staal, Chuck Kobasew and Co. with the Lowell Lock Monsters invade the Hartford Civic Center on Friday night.