Analyzing the Wolf Pack road woes
Entering the holiday break, the Hartford Wolf Pack sit tied atop the Atlantic Division at 41 points with the Providence Bruins and have the fourth-best point total in the AHL trailing Milwaukee Admirals by 8. Given the results of the Pack’s last four seasons, fans like myself have reason to be extremely positive about the team’s turnaround.
The power play has improved since the beginning of December, finding itself 23rd after nearly being dead last. Players like Steven Fogarty and Vinni Lettieri have found their games after slow starts. Vitaly Kravtsov is back with the team and seems happier now than at the beginning of the season and is more engaged in playing here. Despite the improved special teams, play and morale, one area that has suffered over the last few weeks is playing games away from the XL Center.
In 15 home games, the Pack are 12-1-0-2 and have scored 47 goals while giving up 25. On the road however, the Pack haven’t been as good with a record of 5-6-2-3 while scoring only 39 goals and giving up 56 goals. The Pack’s last two away games saw them outscored 13-4 against the Charlotte Checkers with the Wolf Pack 0-13 all-time playing down in the Queen City.
The Pack habe also lacked the same discipline away from Hartford, despite having the second-fewest PIMs of any team in the AHL, 161 minutes on the road compared to 111 minutes at home. While those numbers appear to make the Pack look like a subpar road team overall, one trend sticks out that makes that number seem even worse: they have yet to win any games outside of New England.
Of that 5-6-2-3 road record, the Pack’s lone win outside of Providence, Springfield or Bridgeport was a 4-3 come from behind win in OT in Binghamton on October 19th. Two regulation losses in Charlotte and one each in Laval, Lehigh Valley, Rochester and Syracuse, OT losses in Lehigh Valley and Hershey and shootout losses Laval and Belleville bring the Pack to 1-6-2-2 at those venues. In New England, the Pack have an OT win thus far in Bridgeport, a win in Springfield and a 2-0-0-1 record in Providence. Numbers that are, for lack of a better term, alarming. But why?
What’s going on?
One could say the reasoning is conditioning. Even during recent home games, the Pack have seemed to cling to leads and the team hasn’t been able to keep up during the later stages. It becomes even more important the further a team travels to play games, particularly when the AHL is still a league where the majority of travel is by bus. It is still early enough that the Pack can condition themselves better for some key games later in the season where every point is going to mean the difference between home-ice advantage or having to play more games in tough environments such as Hershey. This being especially true with several young players who have little experience with the grind of an AHL schedule.
While the Pack has seen their offensive numbers improve slightly, the defense hasn’t been as strong since losing Ryan Lindgren to recall. While players like Joey Keane and Darren Raddysh have made contributions on the score sheet, the holes in the defense have been apparent as they’ve spent many games giving up too many shots over the last month or so. It was noticeable in the Pack’s first game down in Charlotte where they gave up 19 shots in the first period which led to an eventual 6-3 win by Charlotte after they chased Igor Shesterkin from the game early in the second period.
What also hasn’t helped the Pack’s defense was losing Gabriel Fontaine to a shoulder injury for the remainder of this season. A strong penalty killer and defensive forward, his presence has been missed as players like Tim Gettinger have done alright but haven’t quite been able to play to the level that Fontaine had before his injury. Yegor Rykov has been a welcome addition to the Pack after missing three months with an injury and is getting better each game he plays.
Another key to the Pack’s road woes could also be the lack of a true go-to player that can finish a play in tough situations. While the Pack has players such as Danny O’Regan, Keane and Phil di Giuseppe that can set plays up as good as any, players like Vinni Lettieri have not been as consistent as in prior seasons. Last season, Vinni Lettieri and Peter Holland were two players who could be counted on to finish plays in key spots. This season, however, Lettieri has been inconsistent and hasn’t seemed to find the chemistry with players like Vincent LoVerde, Boo Nieves or Darren Raddysh to read their movements well enough to set himself for shots. Bottom line, the Pack either need Lettieri, or someone else, to step up and finish plays to score, especially on the road, or Chris Drury will have to look for someone elsewhere.
With just a few games left before the halfway point of the season, it’s clear that the Wolf Pack, despite being in a good position, need to condition themselves to play better on the road. Being tighter on defense while also finding themselves a finisher, whether that player is already in Hartford or management needs to bring one into the organization, will certainly go a long way. With the Pack showing themselves as a contender this season, they have to be able to steal a game or two on the road to compete with some of the best teams in the league. Hopefully, some changes and moves give the Pack what they need to step up away from Trumbull Street.