Wolf Pack Schedule Review: Rivalries Will Make Or Break Playoffs For Rangers AHL Team

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The American Hockey League released the 2018-19 season schedule last week, and for Hartford, beating their rivals will be critical in the upcoming season if they want to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot, or perhaps break their three-year drought of missing post-season action. I already marked a few big games throughout the season that Hartford must win. Otherwise, the “what ifs” will return from last season.  What if they won a certain game? What if they notched at least a point in a specific contest? I feel confident that the young, talented Hartford club is capable of breaking the drought. The Rangers have replenished the farm system, and a great reward is to have the prospects play more than just the regular season.

The Big Three

Hartford plays the Springfield Thunderbirds, Providence Bruins, and Bridgeport Sound Tigers ten times each (5 home, 5 away). That is 60 points on the line between the three rivalry opponents. Winning the season series against each rival is crucial if they want to earn a playoff spot. If Hartford struggles with at least one opponent, that will make it difficult for the Wolf Pack to climb up in the standings.

If we look at last season, Hartford did not fare well against Springfield. In the 12-game season series, Hartford went 4-6-1-1.  That is not good enough. Springfield was bottom of the pack last season, while Hartford managed to win only four of twelves against their rival. The Pack lost points in that rivalry alone. In another interesting statistic, Hartford is 2-7-1-1 in Springfield since the Thunderbirds arrived in the Western Massachusetts city.

If we take a look at the current status of the Thunderbirds, they had a few good signings to help boost their offense and goaltending. Compared to other teams in the Eastern Conference, I expect Springfield to be a young team that possibly struggle in moments. Hartford must capitalize on Springfield if they struggle throughout the season like they did last year.

Bridgeport has taken full advantage of Hartford when the time comes. The Wolf Pack has struggled the most against their in-state rival. Hartford had great success against Bridgeport in the past; however, since the Pack’s roster took a decline with lack of talented prospects, the Sound Tigers were able to take control of the season series in recent years. Looking at last season, Hartford went 3-6-1 in the 10 games against Bridgeport. Now, if we factor in the record against Springfield, the club has taken large hits on points between just two teams. In the last five years, Hartford is 22-23-4-1 against Bridgeport. The record is shifting in favor of Bridgeport taking control of the season series, which they never did years ago.

Looking at the Sound Tigers today, they have re-signed a few key players along with signing former AHL MVP, Chris Bourque. Bridgeport has gained a few impactful players along with additional prospects. The Sound Tigers could make noise next season. This should not discourage our prospects in the AHL level.  It’s the Rangers versus Islanders in the minors. Get used to the blue and orange rivalry and attempt to overcome difficulties against Bridgeport. Hartford needs to turn the tide on the Sound Tigers.

Last season, Hartford played hard-fought games against Providence. As a result, Hartford lost the season series by just inches. In the 10 game series, Hartford went 4-4-1-1 against Providence. They could have improved, but the Bruins are a strong team yearly. Hartford played well in a few contests against Providence. There were also games with not much effort and the Pack looked out of it. The inconsistency against the Bruins bit the club. The Pack lost additional points to another rival.

The Providence Bruins next season have lost quite a bit of firepower. The club has lost two of their top three point scorers. They also lost their captain Tommy Cross and a few other depth players that were capable of putting up a good amount of points. The Bruins have consistently looked great on the roster sheet and on the ice, however, for this upcoming season, the club has lost more than they gained. The big bad Bruins may be struggling in the league. The question is how will they fare with the depleted roster? This question will be intriguing once the upcoming season gets underway. Hartford must put their best effort in whenever they play the pesky Bruins.

As you can see, simply between three teams, a large sum of points is on the line. If we revisit the situation last season, Hartford missed the playoffs because they simply fell behind a team they chased (Charlotte) by losing rivalry season series along with losing a season series with the Charlotte Checkers.

It is imperative that Hartford wins the season series of their closest rivals.

Charlotte Proves Tough

The Charlotte Checkers switched to the Eastern Conference last season. They came in strong, surprising teams on what they are capable of. Hartford was chasing the Checkers for the last playoff spot for the majority of the season as the Checkers were in fourth. Then, when the Checkers were too far ahead for Hartford to catch up, the club pushed Providence out of third and pushed them to fourth. The Bruins had a comfortable margin in front of Charlotte that was wiped away.

Charlotte killed Hartford’s hopes of post-season action when both teams met. In the eight-game season series, Hartford won just two games. Many points were lost, which created a large gap between the two teams alone. Hartford did not win in Charlotte as both wins came at home.

As dismal as this sounds, this was the hard truth to handle from last season. Keith McCambridge, Chris Drury, and the players must learn from their mistakes and have to find ways to beat the Checkers. This season series will be pivotal once again. The Checkers roster is similar to last season and they will make noise. Hartford will face them eight times next season.

Rest of the Division

Interestingly enough, Hartford swept the Lehigh Valley Phantoms who finished first in the division. Then, against a tough Wilkes-Barre/Scranton club that Hartford struggled to find wins against in seasons past, found a way to go 3-1-1-1. Prior to last season, Hartford was swept in 2016-17 by the Penguins and had not won much against the club in recent years. The Pack found a way to defeat a tough, dominant Penguins club. Lehigh Valley finished the season with 104 points while the Penguins had 99.

In other season series, Hartford was on and off depending on the opponent. If the Pack play consistent regardless of opponent, they could find themselves in a good spot next season.

Potential Big Games

  • All games against Springfield, Bridgeport, and Providence.
    • 60 points on the line altogether.
    • Hartford plays each opponent multiple times in the early stages of the season, such as Providence on opening night and a back-to-back set a week later.
    • Hartford plays Bridgeport frequently early on in the season as well, especially back to back games in November and a total of four times in October-November.
    • The back to back games in Charlotte against the Checkers are on December 13th-15th, and March 23rd-24th.

Ricky Milliner is a Hartford Wolf Pack season ticket holder. While growing up, he discovered hockey by attending a... More about Ricky Milliner