The Hartford Wolf Pack nursed a shorthanded goal by the team’s newly chosen captain, Greg Moore, for 43 minutes, and rode the strong goaltending of Matt Zaba and another electric performance by Jordan Owens that put the team over the top beating the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-1 before 5,699 at the XL Center Friday night.
Moore, who was chosen by the players as team captain on Thursday, led his team out of the All-Star Break playing perhaps their finest all around game of the season.
“I was really happy with the team’s effort for the full 60 minutes,” Moore told reporters afterwards. “We really stuck to our systems, finished our checks and didn’t back down from any challenge on the ice. Usually after (All-Star Game) breaks, team ease into games, so there isn’t the intensity. But there was a lot of pace and physical-ness and definitely a good way to get us back into the rhythm of things for the rest of the season.”
The Pack controlled the game from the outset. The stat sheet will show the Pack were outshot 12-8 in the first period, but scoring chances were greatly in their favor. Zaba (25 saves) was sharp early as he made terrific stops on Bridgeport’s All-Star defenseman Andrew MacDonald and Sean Bentivoglio exactly three minutes apart stifling the Tigers two best chances of the period. However, it was the team’s newly minted Captain that got the team on the board first.
At 13:10, Mike Ouellette went to the sin bin on a tripping call. The Pack’s twelfth ranked penalty kill unit came on the ice again just five seconds after having finished off killing a Moore holding penalty. Moore won the ensuing face off and Michael Sauer picked up the loose biscuit. Sauer fed P.A. Parenteau along the right wing wall. Parenteau quickly advanced the puck up ice and saw Moore moving up left wing with speed and fed him a perfect tape-to-tape pass. Without missing a stride, Moore picked up the puck and beat Tiger defenseman Chris Lee to the outside. Moore sliced back in on net and fired a perfect backhanded shot that beat Lucas Lawson (26 saves) between his shoulder and the post. It was Moore’s second consecutive consecutive game tallying a goal after shooting blanks for eight straight.
“That’s the kind of play we want him to get back to,” Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said in his post game discussion with reporters. “He had a lot of those good, strong wide drives last season, and he did it again and got rewarded.”
The Tigers started the second by raising their physical play and intensity. However, referee Chris Cozzan wasn’t going to allow the tone of the game to turn ugly. He whistled the Tigers for three calls in the first 9:21 of the period. After playing a two-for-four night on the power play against Wilkes-Barre / Scranton before the break, the power play, which could have put this one away early, was largely ineffective ending the night without scoring in their six chances.
The Tigers almost tied the score at 12:50 of the second when a Ben Walter shot from behind the Pack net deflected off of defenseman Corey Potter and was smothered by Zaba. The Pack goaltender made another fantastic stop later in the period when he somehow was able to stop a wide-open Jeremy Colliton shot while lying on his back.
The third period saw the Tigers come out and try the strategy that had worked for them pretty well in the past against their Connecticut rivals. They sent two sometimes three players in to forecheck the young Pack defenseman. While it worked in the past, this time the Pack were ready as the forwards came back to support their defense and moved the puck out of the zone expediously.
With their best defensive strategy neutralized, the Pack established the pace and tempo and were in control of the game. At 12:12 the Pack took advantage of another Tiger misstep and Owens and Ouellette broke out two-on-one on the Tigers Jack Hillen. Ouellette took the shot that Lawson made a fine save to keep his team trailing by one. It was just postponing the inevitable.
Just over three minutes later, Brian Fahey made a terrific outlet pass that spun Callahan around and sprung Owens out on a two-on-one, this time with Moore. Racing up the right wing side and into the right circle and just Wotten back, Owens faked a pass to Moore and then launched a knuckler that would have made Tim Wakefield proud and beat Lawson to the left corner of the net. It was 2-0.
The Tigers ruined Zaba’s bid for his second shutout of the season shorthanded. With their own Mike Iggulden in the box for a high stick, a Pack turn over and a lost stick by Corey Potter created an odd man rush back the other way. Bentivoglio and Trevor Smith came in on Fahey. Bentivoglio fed Smith from the left side to the right face off circle where the North Vancouver, British Columbia native blasted the rubber past Zaba. It was a close as the Tigers would get at 2-1.
The Pack put the game away with just 1:12 remaining. Owens was everywhere on a forecheck and took the puck away from the Tiger defense. Ouellette then fed Michael Sauer at the right point. Sauer then moved the puck back down low into the corner to Owens. Owens drew both Hillen and Lee to him and fed the puck between them to the slot when Ouellette was waiting. Ouellette then slammed the puck from the slot past a helpless Lawson for the games final tally.
Summing up the game to reporters afterwards, Gernander said, “It’s tough after a long break like that.” The Pack coach said. “The real skilled plays that take a little more dexterity are the last to come back, so that’s why it’s important to keep things as simple as possible and rely a little more on hard work and grit.” Gernander continued, “You could probably be critical of some turnovers, but in the big picture we worked hard, kept it pretty simple and got our two points, so I’m pleased. And Zaba had a solid game and was another guy who grinded it out and got the win. It’s nice to have a share of first place, but it’s really close from top to bottom and a long way from the finish line. So we have to keep plugging, hopefully keep moving and stay the course.”
With the win the Pack joined a three way tie for first place with 53 points. However, the Pack do sit in third because Portland has a game in hand and Providence has one more win than the Pack. Worcester sits a single point back with a game in hand on their southern neighbors. Lowell in fifth place is just five back.
* Moore became the Pack’s fourth captain Thursday. Moore follows now head coach Ken Gernander who was captain for eight seasons. Now Minnesota Wild defenseman Craig Weller handled the next two with Andrew Hutchinson, now with the Dallas Stars, the team leader last season.
* Despite all the talk of curtailing fighting, this game had two bouts. The teams’ two number 29’s slugged it out. Brandon Sugden (6’4” 233lbs) and former Pack Mitch Fritz (6’8” 258lbs) tangled in a battle of the heavyweights at just 2:33 in to the first. The bout ended in a draw with each landing some very heavy shots that the other absorbed and both still standing as the refs broke it up. The only concern out of the fight is that Sugden may have reinjured his hand. The Pack enforcer did not play and was not on the bench for the rest of the game.
At 16:19 of the second period, a second heavyweight battle ensued. After Dale Weise put a questionable but hard hit on the Tiger’s defenseman Mark Wotten, his defensive partner Joe Callahan rushed over and attacked Weise. Callahan controlled the early part of this long scrap. Once Weise got his feet under him and wrapped up Callahan to settled the fight, after some tussling, Weise got his right hand free and scored with a huge uppercut that staggered Callahan. Weise then unloaded a flurry of hard shots to Callahan’s head that sent the 211 pound defenseman to the ice. This was the kind of fight that both fighting opponents and proponents would look to in their arguments. Proponents would say that this ignited the crowd and got the team pumped up. Opponents would raise their concern about the number of hard blows that Callahan took to the head.
* The Pack now lead once again four games to three in the race for the GEICO Cup. The Cup is given to the winner of the season series between the two Connecticut rivals which the Pack have won it all four times since it was offered.
* Artem Anisimov’s eight game scoring streak was stopped.
* The Pack are now 16-8-0-2 at home this season, 8-10-2-1 on the road
* With the 3-1 win the Pack have now scored 132 and surrendered 133.
* The six games over .500 is the first time the Pack have been that far over the even mark this year.
* The team is 10-4-0-1 when leading after one, 15-1-1-1 when leading after two and now 8-5-0-0 in games decided by two goals.
* From the ECHL, the Charlotte Checkers defeater the Gwinnett Gladiators 4-3 on the road.
Owens – Rissmiller – Weise
Dupont – Anisimov – PARENTEAU
DiDiomete – MOORE – Sugden
Ford – Ouellette – Pyatt
Nightingale – Fahey
Sanguinetti – POTTER
Byers – Knee – Season
Stefanishion – Healthy
Denisov – Healthy
Soryal – Hand – Indefinite
1. HFD - 15 Greg Moore
2. HFD - 46 Jordan Owens
3. HFD - 30 Matt Zaba
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Chris Cozzan (68), Referee
Jim Briggs (83), Linesman
Kevin Redding (16), Linesman
Saturday night on the road against the tough Teddy Purcell and the Manchester Monarchs. Game time is 7pm