Wolf Pack Watch: Consistency Carrying Hartford
The Wolf Pack are well rested as the American Hockey League is coming off their All-Star festivities in Ontario, California on Sunday and Monday. Hartford has 32 games remaining on their slate as the schedule will pick up in the second half of the season.
The group resumes their quest to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference on Friday. Last weekend, the Wolf Pack snapped a 0-2-2 run to win two straight against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The AHL’s annual Playoff Primer will be out in February. Let’s take a look at the latest happenings from Connecticut’s capital city.
Home Cooking Continues
Hartford continues to have the best home record in the league. The Wolf Pack will have a chance to tie a franchise record of 11 straight home wins Friday night against the Springfield Thunderbirds. The group could surpass the record next Wednesday if they win on Friday. The prior record was established from December 17th, 2004 to February 18th, 2005. The group continues to smash franchise records and find ways to rank up from previous rosters.
At the XL Center, Hartford is 18-1-0-2 through 21 home games, collecting 38 of 42 possible points at home. Generating 90% of points at home is quite the accomplishment for the group. Considering we are approaching February, this is truly remarkable. The XL Center is a tough place to play in for opponents. What a difference from this season to last.
The last time Hartford lost at home was on Wednesday, November 20th, against the Syracuse Crunch. The first shootout loss was on October 13th against the Rochester Americans while the other shootout loss was on November 9th against the Belleville Senators.
Weekend Goalie Switching
Igor Shesterkin played in two games over the weekend with Hartford as the Rangers returned the goalie during the NHL’s All-Star weekend. As a result, Adam Huska was assigned to Maine to play for the weekend as well.
Shesterkin played well and helped Hartford collect two wins. He continues to be sharp in net and did not miss a beat despite not playing as much with the Rangers. He continues to be a blessing to watch in person. While playing his two games, the prospect managed to bring his GAA even lower to a 1.90. He continues to have the best stats in the league.
As for Huska, he needed more playing time to fight through his struggles and slumps. The prospect had a good weekend with the Maine Mariners as he stopped 68 shots and pulled out a 43 save performance against the Worcester Railers (Maine won 8-1). Huska established a 1-1 record with a 1.53 GAA and a .958 SV%. I expect the experience and confidence boost will bring his game higher once he returns in net for Hartford.
The Wolf Pack are 25-10-4-5 for 59 points. That ranks the group first in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The group ranks second in the AHL. However, the Hershey Bears have the same amount of points as the Wolf Pack. Hartford continues to own the tiebreaker entering the week (two fewer games played).
Hershey continues to be on Hartford’s tail, recording a 27-14-2-3 record through 46 games for 59 points. The Bears’ resurgence in the last two to three months continues to power the club.
The Providence Bruins are finding their groove as of late and grabbed sole possession of third in the Atlantic Division. Through 46 games, the Bruins are 25-16-2-3 for 55 points. The Wolf Pack continues to have little room for error to slide in the division since the Bruins are also creeping up on the club.
The Springfield Thunderbirds, Charlotte Checkers, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are in a dogfight for the final playoff spot in the division. The Thunderbirds hold fourth place with a record of 25-19-2 for 52 points. The Checkers are 24-16-3 for 51 points for fifth. The Penguins are 22-16-3-4 for 51 points as well, for sixth. The battle in the standings will continue to increase as the season progresses. Last week the dogfight included Providence as the standings continue to change. We’ll see how everything unfolds after the weekend.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are in seventh with a record of 18-21-1-5 for 42 points while the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are in last in the division with a record of 15-28-4-1 for 35 points.
On The Beat: Scouting Vinni Lettieri
Check out the progression of Rangers prospect Vinni Lettieri here, written by my colleague Greg Markiewicz.
Stay tuned for the next post by Greg as he will reflect and talk about the AHL’s All-Star Festivities. Vinni Lettieri and Joey Keane had great moments!
AHL Changes Veteran Rule
Beginning next season, there will be a change to the veteran status in the league.
The rule change is to help younger guys continue to develop at a longer time. It will be interesting to see how NHL clubs build their AHL teams next season with the new changes.
- Danny O’Regan collected 29 points through 44 games. The forward has points in six of the last nine games, collecting three goals and five assists.
- Captain Steven Fogarty collected 28 points through 37 games. The forward has points in three of the last five games, collecting two goals and three assists.
- Cristoval “Boo” Nieves continues to be hot offensively for Hartford. Nieves has points in ten of the last thirteen games, collecting three goals and twelve assists. The forward has five games with two or more points during the current run.
- Phil Di Giuseppe continues to be a great veteran in Hartford. Through 41 games, Di Giuseppe has 25 points (13G, 12A). The forward is five points away from tying his career high in the AHL. He has a career high of scoring 13 goals this season, beating his previous record of 12 in the 2016-17 season with Charlotte.
- Darren Raddysh is none points away from tying his career high as well in the AHL. Through 44 games this season, the defenseman has 21 points (6G, 15A).
- Matt Beleskey had a three point performance last Friday against Bridgeport. The veteran has four points in the last three games.
Wolf Pack’s Fourth Line Chugging Along
Ryan Gropp and Shawn McBride in the last couple of weeks are becoming key cogs for depth. Despite being on the fourth line, they are getting the job done.
Ryan Gropp has a quiet but increasing more noticeable game lately. Gropp has found his grove and has a few points on the scoresheet as of late (four points in the last four games). Before he was showing up in the scoresheet, the prospect had great offensive opportunities and has worked to improve his play in the neutral zone. He is doing all the little things right on the ice, which is critical in close games. After a rough start to the season, we can see a progression in his growth. He is working hard, and dividends are paying off. He is being rewarded for staying in Hartford and participating nightly.
Shawn McBride is a reliable center for Hartford, which was a surprising asset for Kris Knoblauch. The forward has gained trust from Hartford’s coaching staff to take huge draws at critical moments in the game. He has earned himself the opportunity to stay in Hartford and participate in contests on a nightly basis. Earlier in the season, he was often in and out of the lineup and was eventually sent down to the ECHL.
McBride continues to be a good depth center for Hartford. The forward has found himself on the scoresheet a few times as well, registering three points over the last four games.
- Lewis Zerter-Gossage assigned to Maine on January 23rd. He was called up on January 26th.
- Adam Huska was assigned to Maine on January 23rd. He returned to Hartford on January 26th.
- Francois Brassard signed a professional tryout agreement (PTO) on January 23rd. He was released on January 26th.
- The Rangers lifted Lias Andersson’s suspension on January 27th, and he was officially loaned to HV71 of the SHL.
Hartford begins a three-game series with the Springfield Thunderbirds. Two of the games will take place this weekend, while the finale will be on February 5th. The Wolf Pack will be road heavy in the month of February before becoming home heavy in March.
Friday, January 31st vs Springfield Thunderbirds (Florida) at 7:15 pm, XL Center
- This is the fourth of ten meetings in the season series against Springfield (Hartford leads the series 3-0). The Wolf Pack have outscored Springfield 9-3 thus far in the series.
- As noted earlier, Springfield is 25-19-2 for 52 points. That ranks the group fourth in the Atlantic Division. Springfield has won seven of its last ten outings.
- Rookie Owen Tippett lead the Thunderbirds in scoring. The Panthers prospect registered 19 goals, 21 assists for 40 points in 46 games.
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.
Saturday, February 1st vs. Springfield Thunderbirds (Florida) at 7 pm, Mass Mutual Center
- The fifth of ten meetings in the season series.
- This is the second meeting at the Mass Mutual Center this season between the clubs. Last time in Springfield, the Wolf Pack won 5-2 on December 9th.
- Springfield is 14-9-1 home while Hartford is 7-9-4-3 on the road.
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.