Wolf Pack Weekly: Deadline acquisitions Nick Merkley and Brandon Scanlin provide spark
Another week is in the books for the Hartford Wolf Pack as they get right back at on Monday night against the Utica Comets.
The club only managed to collect two of six points in action last week. Despite the struggles, Hartford began to turn the corner over the weekend as they were close to a win on Friday against Springfield (3-2 loss) and were able to grab a victory Saturday against Hershey (4-3 shootout win).
Saturday’s win helps Hartford maintain home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Hartford is currently fourth in the Atlantic Division with a record of 29-22-5-2 for 65 points (.560). If the season ended today, the club would face the fifth place Hershey Bears, who are 30-24-5-4 (.548). The Wolf Pack won the six game season-series with a record of 5-1.
This week features three games, with two home and one away. Entering play tonight, Hartford has 14 games remaining on the regular season. The magic number to clinch the playoffs sits at 20 points.
Wolf Pack Watch
Nick Merkley’s First Three Games
The New York Rangers acquired Nick Merkley at the trade deadline for Anthony Betitto.
The 24 year-old prospect has brought life to Hartford’s offense. He provides another element to the lineup, utilizing his speed and being at the right spot when it counts. The forward came close to registering his first goal on Friday against Springfield as he attempted a wraparound. The opportunity was a close call as the puck bounced on Springfield’s goaltender and danced along the red line.
Saturday’s game featured his first point with a goal against Hershey. Merkley converted on on a solid redirect from Anthony Greco. His offensive abilities have also landed him on the power play with Hartford converting on two of three opportunities Saturday with the extra man.
The addition of Merkley has provided additional boost to Hartford’s offense. Through the small sample of three games, the forward has brought further depth in the lineup and has helped boost other forwards in the lineup.
Prior to Merkley joining Hartford, the forward played with the San Jose Barracuda in 43 games this season. He notched 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points. I expect him to produce with the Pack given his abilities and role with the team. He is three points away from tying his season high of points (39 in the 2017-18 season).
Brandon Scanlin’s Performance
Newly signed Rangers prospect Brandon Scanlin debuted on Friday against Springfield. In his two games played, Scanlin had an impressive start to his professional season. The 22 year-old defenseman’s strength is utilizing his body and making life hard on his opponents.
In addition to his physical game, he has a strong hockey IQ and read plays well. He is noticeable on ice and was paired with Jones. While his skating needs work, he has shown a strong potential for development. Offensively he ended up on the scoresheet in his second game, recording the secondary assist to Khodorenko’s tally.
A biggest negative for the Pack was their penalty kill. While Hartford ran into penalty trouble on Friday and Saturday (Wolf Pack took five penalties each game), the club was unable to effectively kill them off.
For instance, Hartford gave up two power play goals on Friday, which helped Springfield with their win. On Saturday, Hartford built themselves a 3-0 lead in the second frame. After running into penalty trouble once again (Hartford took two three penalties in the second, including a double minor), Hershey came back and converted on two power play opportunities within a two and a half minute span making the game closer than it needed to be.
Earlier in the season Hartford’s penalty kill was strong. As the season progressed, they’ve become less efficient. Currently Hartford’s penalty kill is ranked 17th in the American Hockey League, operating at 80.6%.
Wolf Pack One Timers
- Hartford’s power play has become stronger in recent weeks. Currently the man advantage is ranked 7th in the AHL, operating at 21.4%. The power play was strong at the beginning of the season and tapered off. It is nice to see the unit surging once again.
- Anthony Greco recorded a two point performance on Saturday against Hershey. He notched one goal and one assist.
- Zac Jones recorded points in three straight games (three assists). Jones has points in the last seven of ten games (three goals, six assists for nine points).
- Patrick Khodorenko has points in the last three of six games (two goals, one assist).
- Matt Lorito has points in the last three of four games (two goals, two assists).
- Adam Huska had a strong outing on Friday against Springfield. Despite recording the loss, this was Huska’s best performance of the season as he kept the club close in the game which could have been a blowout. He faced 40 shots, saving 37 of them.
- Keith Kinkaid secured his 20th win of the season Saturday against Hershey. Kinkaid stopped 41 of 44 shots in net and went perfect in the shootout (three for three).
Wolf Pack Roster Updates
- Tim Gettinger is day to day and is expected to return to the lineup this week.
- Forward Aaron Luchuk was released from his Professional Tryout (PTO) on March 24th. Luchuk played in 15 games, recording two goals and two assists.
Wolf Pack Schedule
Monday, March 28th vs Utica Comets (New Jersey) at 7pm, XL Center
- This is the second and last meeting in the season series. Hartford won the first meeting between the clubs in Utica by a score of 2-1 on January 8th.
- Prior to their game yesterday, Utica is 36-14-6-1 for 79 points (.693). That ranks the group first in the North Division and the Eastern Conference. The Comets are 5-3-1-1 in their last ten outings.
- Prior to their game yesterday, Devils prospect Fabian Zetterlund leads the Comets in points with 47. In 53 games, the forward collected 23 goals and 24 assists. Rookie Alexander Holtz is second on the team in points with 42. In 41 games, Holtz recorded 21 goals and 21 assists.
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.
Wednesday, March 30th vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh) at 7:05pm, Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza
- This is the fifth of six meetings in the season series. Hartford is 2-1-1 thus far against the Penguins. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton won the previous game between the clubs by a score of 4-2 on March 13th.
- Entering the week, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 28-26-4-4 for 64 points (.516). That ranks the group sixth in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins are 5-3-2 in their last ten outings. However, the won their last three of five games.
- Valtteri Puustinen leads the Penguins in points with 35. Through 60 games, the Penguins prospect recorded 18 goals and 17 assists. Experienced forward Alexander Nylander is ranked second in points with 33. Through 32 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the forward collected 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points.
- Listen – News Radio WILK. Watch – AHLTV.
Friday, April 1st vs Belleville Senators at 7pm, XL Center
- This is the third of four meetings in the season series. Hartford is 1-0-1 against the Senators thus far. Hartford won the previous match by a score of 5-2 on March 19th.
- Entering the week, Belleville is 30-24-3 for 63 points (.553). That ranks the group fifth in the North Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Belleville is 5-3-2 in their last ten outings.
- Ottawa’s prospect Jake Lucchini leads Belleville in points with 38. Through 57 games, the forward collected 17 goals and 21 assists. Egor Sokolov is second in points with 37. He recorded 15 goals and 22 assists in 49 games.
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.
Saturday, April 2nd vs Syracuse Crunch at 7pm, XL Center
- This is the second and final meeting between the clubs. Syracuse won the first meeting by a score of 4-2 on March 16th.
- Entering the week, Syracuse is 30-23-6-2 for 68 points (.557). That ranks the group fourth in the North Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference. Syracuse is 7-2-0-1 in their last ten outings.
- Forward Gabriel Dumont leads the Crunch in points with 49. The prospect collected 24 goals and 25 assists in 61 games. Alex Barre-Boulet is second on the team for points with 43. He recorded 12 goals and 31 assists.
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.
Monday, April 4th vs Providence Bruins at 7:05pm, Dunkin’ Donuts Center Providence
- This is the final meeting in the season series between the clubs. Hartford is 4-4-1 against Providence thus far.
- Providence won the previous meeting on February 27th by a score of 6-3.
- As of yesterday prior to their game against Utica, the Bruins are first in the Atlantic Division with a record of 30-17-3-6 for 69 points (.616). The Bruins are 4-3-0-3 in their last ten outings.
- Cameron Hughes leads the Bruins in points with 44 (14 goals, 30 assists in 52 games). Veteran Steven Fogarty is ranked second in points with 36 (ten goals, 26 assists in 48 games).
- Live Coverage – Mark Divver. Watch – AHLTV.