Wolf Pack Watch: Vinni Lettieri and Steven Fogarty guiding Hartford while Libor Hajek struggles
The Wolf Pack had a tough weekend to end February and begin March. Hartford fell short last Friday (5-3 loss against Binghamton) and Sunday (3-2 loss against Providence). Considering the great season we have witnessed so far in Hartford, the three in three was disappointing as the team was unable to maintain 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. The group has battle scars and will need to bounce back this weekend for another three in three. A lot is on the line if Hartford wants home ice advantage in the Calder Cup Playoffs against majority of the opponents in the league.
Hartford Slump Continues
The Wolf Pack are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. At the XL Center, the group dropped their last 2 home meetings (0-1-1). For the month of February, the group compiled a 5-5-2 record. Considering the continued road struggles, the record could be worse but the Pack found a couple of wins away from home finally.
The Wolf Pack have a weaker roster at the moment due to call ups from New York and a lengthy injury for Cristoval “Boo” Nieves. The offense is often inconsistent, where some there just isn’t enough. The group has to figure out how to bolster offensive production if they want to turn this around. On the plus, Nieves should be returning soon to play in these highly contested divisional games. Prior to his injury, the forward was hot offensively.
The power play continues to struggle, but has found ways to capitalize on opportunities. The defense can get spotty, and when they are, JF Berube comes up big in net for the club. Head coach Kris Knoblauch needs to build confidence of struggling prospects such as Yegor Rykov and Libor Hajek. That will come once the team find themselves again and continue to push for a higher seed playoff spot. Depending on the outcome for the Rangers, we could see Brett Howden and Julien Gauthier arrive just in time for the playoffs or at a later date. Those would be two solid offensive reinforcements for Hartford.
Entering the first week of March, Hartford ranks 3rd in the Atlantic Division with a record of 31-16-6-5 for 73 points. Providence grabbed 2nd place after the two clubs battled last Sunday afternoon for the spot. The Wolf Pack can bump Providence back to 3rd depending how both clubs perform this weekend. The Hershey Bears are 3 points ahead of Hartford for 1st in the Atlantic Division. The Wolf Pack will face Hershey twice for the 2 biggest games of the season to fight for the 1st seed.
Hartford will be home heavy in March which will help their push to get higher in the standings. Given the success at the XL Center, the remaining 8 home games in March will be critical to Hartford if they want to get on a roll. Entering the weekend, Hartford’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to 26. You can view the daily playoff primer here.
Vinni Lettieri Heats Up
Hartford’s leading scorer is having another solid season in the AHL. Lettieri is 1 point away from tying his previous career high in points (48) from last season. The forward ranks 11th in the league for points (47) and 9th for goals (25). He continues to drive Hartford’s offense and has done so on a continual basis. Lettieri loves to shoot and he can pull the trigger on his shots as I have seen a couple of beautiful goals by the forward. His one timers on the power play can be lethal. As a result, Lettieri has 9 power play goals which ranks him 15th in the league for power play goals among players in the league.
Lettieri is still hopeful for his next change with the Rangers. Check out more on the forward here as Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant chatted with Knoblauch and Lettieri.
Steven Fogarty Delivers as Captain
The 26 year old forward continues to be a strong leader for the young talented Wolf Pack roster. Fogarty plays with heart and will do anything to help his team out to win games. Despite being on the older side, Fogarty is still growing his game as there is a noticeable difference over his tenure with Hartford. Fogarty is versatile and can fit in any situation given to him. He can produce, block shots, be defensive, and win crucial face offs. He is also great on mentoring the Rangers of tomorrow and be the guiding light through the bad and ugly portion of the season. Having the forward around next season would be beneficial. His presence in the locker room helps the group as they rely on him, along with other veterans. Through 51 games, the forward collected 13 goals, 24 assists for 37 points.
Libor Hajek Struggles
Since joining Hartford earlier in the season, Hajek continues to struggle with the group. Defensively he has a plethora of mistakes that are often in games. The prospect is finding his game and needs to be comfortable. Once he becomes confident, then we can see progress on the defenseman. In his first full year in the organization last season, Hajek was rough to watch in Hartford while playing better in New York.
Fast forward to this season, the defenseman continues to struggle in a couple of aspects in the game. Add in his injury, that sets him back further from where he was originally. Considering the Rangers dealt Joey Keane and Brady Skjei, they still see potential in Hajek. I am hoping to see growth in him as the season winds down. If not, we shall see how he looks in training camp for next season. He will have to work hard this summer if he wants to make the Rangers lineup next season.
- The AHL Trade Deadline was on Monday. The Wolf Pack were quiet and no moves were made.
- Hartford swapped Jake Elmer for Greg Chase last Sunday afternoon on the transactions page. The move gives Chase an opportunity in Hartford after playing well in Maine. Elmer will get playing time with the Mariners.
- Danny O’Regan has points in the last 2 of 3 games. He has 3 assists in that span.
- Congrats to Ty Ronning as the forward registered his first goal with Hartford this season last Friday in Binghamton. Well deserved for the prospect.
On The Beat: Rangers prospects that could join Wolf Pack playoff run
Check out the latest on who could join the Wolf Pack’s playoff run here, written by Greg Markiewicz.
Hartford has 18 games remaining on the docket (11 home, 7 away).
Friday, March 6th vs Hershey Bears (Washington) at 7:15pm, XL Center
- This is the 5th of 6 meetings in the season series against Hershey (Series tied at 2). The final meeting will be held the following day in Hartford. The last 2 games in the series are the biggest games of the season for the club. The Wolf Pack will fight to regain their top spot in the division.
- The Bears enter the week 1st in the Atlantic Division and 2nd in the Eastern Conference. Hershey is 35-18-3-3 for 76 points. The Bears are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and 14-10-2-1 on the road.
- Forward Philippe Maillet leads the Bears in points with 42. Through 58 games, the forward collected 15 goals and 27 assists.
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.
Saturday, March 7th vs Hershey Bears (Washington) at 7pm, XL Center
- This is the final and 8th meeting in the season series between the clubs.
- Hartford’s losses to Hershey this season were both in overtime at the Giant Center. The Wolf Pack are 1-0 at the XL Center against the Bears. The club also won a game in regulation in Hershey on January 8th.
- The Wolf Pack’s home record is 21-3-1-2. The club has lost two straight on home ice (0-1-1).
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.
Sunday, March 8th vs Springfield Thunderbirds (Florida) at 3:05pm, Mass Mutual Center
- This is the 8th of 10 meetings in the season series against the Thunderbirds. Hartford leads the series 5-2.
- Springfield ranks 5th in the Atlantic Division with a record of 30-26-2 for 62 points. Springfield is 4-6 in their last 10 games.
- Panthers prospect Owen Tippett continues to lead the Thunderbirds in points with 40. Through 46 games, the prospect registered 19 goals and 21 assists.
- Listen – Mixr. Watch – AHLTV.