Hartford Wolf Pack Weekly: Will Cuylle back for playoff push
The Hartford Wolf Pack were coming on strong over the last month, but this weekend’s performances were a setback to their playoff chances.
Despite significant struggles in two of their three previous games, Hartford is two points away from a playoff spot as we enter February’s slate of games. The club began a five game home-stand last Saturday against the Syracuse Crunch and it will conclude on February 10th against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Hartford has a home heavy slate until the last week of February, which bodes well for the club as they’re generally better on home ice. Although this past week was exactly the opposite as Hartford dropped their first game against Bridgeport by a score of 6-2, then their second straight home loss by a score of 7-2. The Wolf Pack’s only win was against the Providence Bruins on the road by a score of 2-1 in overtime.
Even with the addition of Sammy Blais (conditioning stint) and the Rangers returning Will Cuylle after a two-game stint, the group only secured two of six possible points. While a rough outing was due for Hartford, they have to shake this off fast as the division continues to be tight.
Hartford Wolf Pack Weekly: Standings Update
Entering the first week of February, Hartford is 17-16-3-6 for 43 points. That ranks the group eighth (last) in the Atlantic Division. However, the Wolf Pack are still the race for a playoff spot.
The teams ranked fourth through sixth are ahead of Hartford by two points. Essentially, four teams are tied in the standings and are not far off from the Wolf Pack. A good streak could push the Wolf Pack over the edge. The season series are critical, especially against the rivals of Bridgeport and Springfield as Hartford plays each club in a 12 game series.
Currently the breakdown is:
- 4th: Lehigh Valley Phantoms (45 points, .549 pts%, RW 14)
- 5th: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (45 points, .536 pts%, RW 14)
- 6th: Springfield Thunderbirds (45 points, .523 pts%, RW 14)
- 7th: Bridgeport Islanders (45 points, .549 pts%, RW 13)
- 8th: Hartford Wolf Pack (43 points, .512 pts%, RW 12)
Hartford plays a six game season series against the Penguins and four against the Phantoms. What benefits Hartford further is the remaining schedule as the club will be facing Springfield, Bridgeport, and Wikes-Barre/Scranton often. Add in the three games remaining against the Phantoms, these games will all be pivotal.
Hartford has 30 games remaining on the docket.
Wolf Pack Watch
Sammy Blais Building Confidence
Announced on January 23rd, the Rangers elected to send Sammy Blais to Hartford through for a conditioning stint. The loan will be in effect for two weeks as the Wolf Pack will have six games in that span.
The 26 year-old made an immediate impact scoring in two of three games to date and is being given top minutes. The forward skated with Johnny Brodzinski and Tanner Fritz in his first game. In the last two games, there were lineup adjustments and Blais was mixed and matched with others. Despite the changes, Blais continued to perform well and was noticeable in each contest, especially in Hartford’s previous game where the club struggled as a whole.
From the Rangers perspective, this is great as he was struggling in the lineup after returning from last year’s major knee injury. Blais is beginning to find his scoring confidence as he’s getting power play time as well. With three games remaining, I expect the forward to further work on his game and be prepared for the return to New York on February 6th.
The Wolf Pack made a few adjustments over the week:
- Louis Domingue missed the last two games and was out of the lineup. The goaltender was bumped in last Wednesday’s game. However, the veteran finished the remainder of the game. Domingue played for 50:30 and in relief for Dylan Garand.
- Dylan Garand started in Hartford’s last three outings. He went 1-2 and was pulled on Wednesday and Saturday. Despite recent struggles, the rookie performed well in Friday’s game in Providence to give Hartford a win, stopping 27 of 28 shots. Garand is known to bounce back after rough games. He did that again this week. For his next game, I expect him to be refocused and ready to go again.
- Rangers prospect Olof Lindbom was called up to Hartford as Domingue was unavailable. Lindbom had a taste of action in the American Hockey League as he relieved Garand. The prospect stopped 9 of 11 shots in a span of 34:10. Despite the brief appearance, Lindbom held his ground.
- NOTE: Olof Lindbom was called up on January 26th and returned to Jacksonville on the 28th.
Ryan Carpenter Continues Push for Points Leader
The 32 year old veteran continues to be reliable for offense. In 21 games, Carpenter netted 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points. He is ranked fourth (tied for third with Will Cuylle) among the roster for points. He is four points away from tying Hartford’s point leader (Turner Elson). Since joining the Wolf Pack, Carpenter continues to be a bright spot and a needed player to jump start the struggling offense.
Entering the week, Carpenter is on a eight game point streak (two goals, seven assists). The veteran is ranked second on the team in goals. His point per game rate currently sits at 0.95 (team high).
Zac Jones Joins Will Cuylle as AHL All-Star
Announced on January 27th, Zac Jones will be the second player from Hartford to attend the AHL All-Star weekend on February 5th and 6th.
The 22 year-old prospect continues to be superb in Hartford. Despite his struggles in New York, Jones has become one of the key cogs on defense, contributing on the power play to playing strong defense in key moments of games.
While Jones could be blocked from a return to New York this season with the recent contract extension of Ben Harpur, he continues to focus on his play and become a noticeable asset in the organization as the season progresses.
Unfortunately, his time with the organization could be ticking away. While he benefits the Wolf Pack, he’ll likely be moved at the trade deadline for a key piece in the Rangers quest for a Stanley Cup. It’s also noteworthy that Jones will be an RFA in July.
Will Cuylle Back with Pack
The New York Rangers reassigned Will Cuylle back to the Wolf Pack in time for their 2-1 win over Providence on Sunday. He failed to record a point in his return, but has 13 goals and 20 points in his rookie season.
In his two-game NHL stint, Cuylle averaged 6:10 per contest looking strong on the team’s fourth line using his formidable size and speed to his advantage. Although he didn’t register a point, he drew a penalty and won his first fight. The Rangers know what they have in the talented forward and may choose to call him up again.
Wolf Pack News and Notes
- C.J. Smith continues to be out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury. His timetable of return is now week to week.
- Patrick Khodorenko is considered month to month (out for season).
- Hartford compiled a 6-3-2-1 record for January.
- Hartford has four power play goals in the last three games.
- Zac Jones is on a three game point streak. The defenseman has one goal and two assists.
- Jonny Brodzinski has points in four straight. The captain has two goals and two assists.
Hartford has 10 games on tap for February. Six will be at home and three will be on the road.
Wednesday, February 1st vs Providence Bruins (Boston) at 7pm, XL Center
- This is the seventh of 10 meetings in the season series. Hartford is 3-2-1 against the Bruins. The eighth meeting will be on February 18th in Hartford.
- Entering the week, Providence is 24-9-7-2 for 57 points. That ranks the group second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are 5-3-2 in the last ten outings and have lost their last three of five. Of those losses, Hartford gave Providence two of the losses.
- Old friend Vinni Lettieri leads the Bruins in points with 37. Through 41 games, Lettieri has 16 goals and 21 assists. Bruins prospect Georgii Merkulov is second in points with 26. The left winger has eight goals and 18 assists in 38 games.
- Listen – Mixlr. Watch – AHLTV.
Friday, February 3rd vs Utica Comets (New Jersey) at 7pm, XL Center
- This is the final meeting in the season series. The first meeting was in Utica on January 6th as the Wolf Pack dropped the game by a score of 3-2 in the shootout.
- Entering the week, Utica is 22-14-5-1 for 50 points. That ranks the group second in the North Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Comets are 5-5 in their last ten outings. In addition, the Comets lost the last three of five games.
- Devils prospect Graeme Clarke leads the Comets in points with 34. Through 41 games, the forward recorded 16 goals and 18 assists. Experienced forward Nolan Stevens is second for points with 27. Through 38 games, Stevens has 12 goals and 15 assists.
- Listen – Mixlr. Watch – AHLTV.
Saturday, February 4th vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh) at 7pm, XL Center
- This is the fourth of six meetings in the season series. Hartford is 1-0-1-1 against the Penguins. The fifth meeting will be on March 26th in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
- Entering the week, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 20-16-2-3 for 45 points. That ranks the group fifth in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins are 5-5 in the last ten outings and lost the last three of five games.
- Veteran Alexander Nylander and prospect Valtteri Puustinen are tied for the team lead in points at 34. Nylander has 17 goals and 17 assists in 40 games. Puustinen has 16 goals and 18 assists in 41 games. Forard Drake Caggiula is third for points with 30. He has nine goals and 21 assists in 36 games.
- Listen – Mixlr. Watch – AHLTV.
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