Last night in the final game as the Hartford Wolf Pack the New York Rangers AHL affiliate took on the Islanders affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Pack or as of today the Connecticut Whale were looking to build on the momentum of a solid week having won 2 of their last 3 games following a 1-9-1-2 stretch. You had a Wolfpack team that was coming in playing better hockey and a Sound Tigers team that had been ravaged by injuries and call-ups and yet the results would play out as they did. For 53 minutes in their finale as the Wolfpack the team looked poised to send the heritage out on a high note and then much like the season as a whole to this point it all collapsed.
Jeremy Williams one of the best players for the club this year with a 3-0 lead instead of playing the puck deep in the opposition zone decided to get cute with the puck at the blue line leading to a turnover, Williams falling down and Wes O’Neill beating both Pavel Valentenko and the newly acquired Stu Bickel down the seam. Valentenko is trying to recover from being beaten lifted the stick of O’Neill but he spun him around for a penalty shot call. Consensus was that it was a bad call on Tank, but as the Rangers know too well what people think of the call does not matter, just the call itself. O’Neill would convert the penalty shot to cut the lead to 3-1. It was a play all too indicative of the season; hot start, hit some adversity and then basically fold the tent.
Following the penalty shot the Pack would surrender a second goal just 21 seconds later as Rhett Rakhshani was given free rein in the slot as was Brandon Svendsen who was allowed to screen Chad Johnson with no one around him and in the course of 21 seconds a 3-0 comfortable win was now 3-2 after two awful breakdowns. The final goal that would tie the game was not that much different as both Nightengale and Valentenko would go behind the net to play one guy, Rakhshani, who would feed Josh Bailey who Weise was marking and while that was happening Mats Zucarello and Tim Kennedy were both watching Bailey instead of Wes O’Neill who Bailey hit with a tremendous pass to tying the game at 3-3 with 1:05 left.
In the course of six minutes the Pack went from a 3-0 easy win to trying to have to recover for the end of regulation, OT and eventually the shootout. In the shootout no one would score in the first six rounds and after Evgeny Grachev missed his attempt in the seventh round Jeremy Colliton stepped up and ended the game beating Johnson five hole for a 4-3 Sound Tigers win in a frustrating and embarrassing collapse for the final game as the Wolfpack. Of the seven shooters for the Pack, four didn’t even hit the net just to add the level of embarrassment on display to close that game.
The clichés will start today as they officially become the Connecticut Whale that it is a new season and maybe the new name and new uniforms will produce new results but after a collapse like that it is tough to believe any of that will change what happens on the ice. They have made roster moves over the past few weeks and Kolarik has been good, the room should be better without Nigel Williams in it all to try and change the results and composition of the room. The only thing they haven’t tried changing now that the name and uniforms are different is the coaching. We will see how it goes over the next period to see if that is finally the next thing tried.
On the good side of the ledger tonight Mats Zucarello continued his hot play taking a Dale Weise pass in the slot and one timed the puck into the net for his ninth of the year and sixth point in the last four games. With the goal and recent hot play Zucarello’s season totals are on the rise now sitting at 9G 5A in 22 games. The team would build off the Zucarello tally and killing off a 4-on-3 and 5-on-4 power play against when Ryan McDonagh would feed Ryan Garlock who found Chad Kolarik who showcased the speed everyone says he has beating two defenseman and then the goaltender high on the short side. It was Kolarik’s fourth tally in his six games with the club. For McDonagh it was his second assist of the season as he is getting his game in order this month after a rough October. The Pack would extend it when Jeremy Williams would score a goal very similar to Zucarello early in the third. It was Williams team leading 12th goal of the season.
- Zuccarello’s hot play of late will start some calls for him to come up to the NHL but I am not buying it yet if for no reason other than how much the hot streak coincides with the return of Dale Weise. Also on the big club with the impending returns of Chris Drury and later Vinny Prospal I do not see a top 9 role for MZA.
- On the flip side if there are injuries in the lineup going forward I can definitely see a chance for Dale Weise to get in the lineup as he is a good combination of size, toughness and skill that could be very effective on the fourth line. Believe he would have been the call before Grachev or Williams had he not been out injured.
- Good to see McDonagh and Valentenko chipping in offensively and McDonagh calming his game back down while the plus minus continues to improve to a much more respectable -4 overall.
- Kolarik is certainly adding to the offense.