Wolf Pack Weekly: Hartford’s chase for first on hold due to COVID-19

The Hartford Wolf Pack split their two games last weekend against Atlantic Division leaders the Springfield Thunderbirds. After winning the first game (5-3), Hartford dropped their fourth regulation loss on Saturday afternoon in Springfield (4-2).

The Thunderbirds and Wolf Pack should be the top teams in the division until the season is complete. The 12 game season series is just getting started and it already has been intense and should be fun to watch the rest of the way.

Hartford originally had three games on tap this week but are postponed as result of positive tests for COVID-19. Hartford’s next scheduled game is slated for Wednesday, December 8th against the Belleville Senators (Ottawa) but is subject to change.

Wolf Pack Watch: Standings Update

Entering the week, Hartford continues to be ranked second in the Atlantic Division with a record of 12-4-2 for 26 points (.722). Hartford is ahead of third place Providence Bruins by six points, which is a comfortable margin as the Wolf Pack continue to pick up points in the standings.

A look at the Eastern Conference, shows Hartford is raked third. The Cleveland Monsters are behind Hartford by three points. The Utica Comets continue to maintain first overall with a 14-1 record, which is impressive.

In the entire American Hockey League, Hartford is ranked fifth. The Chicago Wolves are in sixth with 22 points, four points behind Hartford. Keep in mind that standings are based upon point percentages this season which complicates the rankings across the board as teams play in 68, 72, or 76 games this season. As the season progresses, the standings will be broken down further when there are clearer playoff implications. Get those calculators out come late February into March!

Looking ahead of Hartford, the Thunderbirds are in first by four points of the Wolf Pack. Springfield’s record is identical to Hartford as the Thunderbirds posted a 14-3-2 record for 30 points (.789). Both teams will meet again on Saturday, December 18th then again the following day.

Pack Hunters

Lauri Pajuniemi Continues Growth

The 22 year old prospect had his first multi-point in North America on November 20th, followed by another multi-point effort last Friday against a superb Thunderbirds team.

Pajuniemi recorded a three point night last Friday in Hartford, notching one goal and two assists for three points. Aside from his offensive prowess, Pajuniemi was willing to get dirty and mix it up in scrums. With the way the Rangers are preaching toughness, this can only help him.

Currently, Lauri Pajuniemi is ranked:

  • Tied for 18th in the league among rookies for points (11).
  • Tied for ninth among rookies for goals (six).
  • Tied for fifth among the Hartford roster for points.

In 18 games, Pajuniemi notched six goals and five assists. He has eight minutes in penalties with a +/- rating of +3. The forward continues to play in the top six, specifically on the second line. He is comfortable playing on a line with Ty Ronning and Morgan Barron. However, lines were adjusted on Friday as Kris Knoblauch swapped Morgan Barron with Tanner Fritz.

Zac Jones star on the rise

zac jones
May 1, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Zac Jones (6) during warmups before a game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 21 year old prospect continues to perform well in the AHL with the Wolf Pack. Zac Jones is able to provide offense while also playing strong in his own end. Jones continues to play top line minutes as he is sticking on the first defensive pairing line.

Regardless of his line mate, Jones can hold on his own. This season his partners have been Anthony Bitetto, Libor Hajek, and Braden Schneider. The prospect is great to watch as he is one of the better defenseman in the league and truly owning his power play time.

Jones has a strong future ahead of him. If the Rangers have openings resulting from injuries, I could see the prospect getting the first look on the blue line. This is his first full season in the AHL and is considered a rookie, but he is playing as if he is a seasoned player.

Currently, Zac Jones is ranked:

  • Tied for seventh in the AHL among defenseman for points (13).
  • Tied for sixth among defenseman for assists (10).
  • Among active rookie defenseman, Jones leads the league in points.
    • He also leads in assists with ten.

Through 18 games, Jones recorded three goals and ten assists. He has eight penalty minutes with a +/- rating of -1. The plus/minus rating I would not worry about at all.

Jonny Brodzinski Continues Dominance

Hartford’s captain continues to have a great season offensively. The veteran is ranked sixth in the league for points (18). Brodzinski on a nightly basis can produce and if he is off the scoresheet, he battles hard and gives the Wolf Pack’s offense a fighting chance. The captain is also tied for 16th in the league for goals (seven).

Through 18 games, Brodzinski recorded seven goals and 11 assists. He has 14 penalty minutes with a +/- rating of +3.

Wolf Pack Special Teams Report

Hartford’s Power Play Performing Better

The power play has been a struggle this season for the Wolf Pack. As of late, the unit has found a spark and is finding results with the extra man. Entering the week, Hartford’s power play is ranked 14th in the league, operating at 19.4%. The Wolf Pack converted on power play goals in five of the last six outings. Hartford has given up two goals while on the power play as well.

Consistent Penalty Kill

Another strong spot for Hartford is the ability to kill penalties. The Wolf Pack continue to have a consistent penalty kill as the unit is able to stay cool under tough situations down a man. Entering the week, Hartford’s penalty kill is ranked seventh in the AHL, operating at 84.6%. While being able to kill penalties, Hartford is ranked third in the league for scoring as well down a player. The Wolf Pack have four goals thus far.

Pack Goaltending Updates

Keith Kinkaid With Impressive Numbers

The veteran goalie for Hartford is playing spectacular. Kinkaid has shown high confidence and brings his “A” game when he is in net. He helps the group stay in games and has helped out the young defensive core when mistakes arise.

Kinkaid enters the week with a record of 9-1-1 with a 2.59 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.

Currently, Kinkaid is:

  • First in the AHL with wins (nine).
  • Seventh in the league with minutes played (670:38).
  • Seventh for shots faced (345).
  • Ten for ten in shootout attempts (2-0 in shootouts).
  • 13th highest save percentage.

Adam Huska Shows Strides

Despite only two wins in six outings, Adam Huska continues to be another strong goalie for Hartford. Huska is in the backup role for the Wolf Pack and has seen action mainly on the road.

Huska enters the week with a record of 2-3-1 with a 2.20 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.

Currently, Huska is:

  • Seventh in the AHL for the lowest goals against average.
  • Eighth in the league for the highest save percentage.

Wolf Pack One Timers

  • Hartford’s six point streak ended on Saturday afternoon. Prior to the loss, Hartford was on a 5-0-1 run.
  • Hartford is 7-2-1 in their last ten games. They group secured points in 14 of 18 games.
  • In the month of November, Hartford compiled a record of 7-2-1.
  • Anthony Greco has points in the last two of three games (one goal and two assists).
  • Tanner Fritz has points in fives straight games. In that span, the veteran recorded one goal and five assists for six points. The forward also has points in 10 of 11 games.
  • Zac Jones has points in the last ten of 13 games.
  • Lauri Pajuniemi has points in the last two of three games. In that span, the prospect recorded three goals and two assists for five points.
  • Ty Ronning has points in five straight. In that span, the forward recorded two goals and four assists. Ronning also has points in the last six of seven games.
  • Tarmo Reunanen has points in the last two of four games. The defenseman recorded three assists.
  • Braden Schneider has points in the last two of three games. He recorded three assists.
    • Schneider is ranked eighth in the AHL for +/- with a +10 rating.
    • He is also tied for second among rookies for the +/- rating.

Transaction Wire

  • Hartford recalled defenseman Jeff Taylor from the Jacksonville Icemen. The veteran participated in ten games with Jacksonville notching two goals and six assists. The move puts Hartford at eight defensemen.
  • Francois Brassard is assigned to Jacksonville from Hartford.

COVID-19 Hits Hartford

Information regarding the Hartford Wolf Pack began on Tuesday regarding a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

The first domino to fall is Hartford’s game on Wednesday against the Springfield Thunderbirds being postponed resulting from COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday.

The AHL suffered the first outbreak last week with the Hershey Bears. The Bears played the Wolf Pack on November 20th and the Providence Bruins on November 24th. Both clubs currently are in protocol.

Another domino fell as Providence Bruins reporter Mark Divver reported multiple cases for Providence and Hershey. Furthermore, Bridgeport was in protocol recently.

In the most recent reports, additional teams are on COVID-19 protocol.

Currently four of eight teams in the Atlantic Divisioin are in COVID-19 protocol. The league went a step further and postponed games for multiple clubs. Dates are to be determined.

The Rangers may not be able to call up additional players in the short-term as well, similar to the Bruins situation.

The number of confirmed cases in Hartford will be kept confidential as clubs and the league do not release additional information. We hope for a healthy recovery to those affected within the organization and league. Safety and health is paramount.

Stay tuned for further updates regarding the schedule and the slate of next week’s games. One of Hartford’s three games from this week has a date.

Effected Games

Wednesday, December 1st vs Springfield Thunderbirds at the XL Center -> Date TBD

Friday, December 3rd vs Providence Bruins at Dunkin Donuts Center -> April 4th at 7:05pm

Saturday, December 4th vs Utica Comets at the XL Center -> Date TBD

NHL Rumors

Latest on Rangers Strome, Giroux’s Flyers’ future, and more. Read it here.