It was a good weekend for the Hartford Wolf Pack, which turned a pair of road games into a pair of victories, nudging the club’s record above the .500 mark for the first time in this young season.
The Pack started the weekend’s festivities with a trip to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence to face the baby Bruins, the team they’d embarrassed with a 7-0 shutout defeat just six days earlier. While the score wasn’t quite as lopsided on Friday, the result was the same, with Hartford outpacing the Bruins by a 5-3 margin.
Brodie Dupont ended a nine game goalless drought with a pair of tallies — his first multi-goal game as a pro — and finished plus-3 en route to earning first star honors. P.A. Parenteau, Evgeny Grachev, and Jordan Owens each finished with a goal and an assist. Also worth note is the plus-4 performance by Corey Potter, who showed signs that he might finally be adapting to the Wolf Pack’s new, aggressive style of play. Chad Johnson got his third consecutive start in goal, stopping 29 shots to improve his record to 5-3-0-0 on the season.
Saturday brought the Wolf Pack’s first trip to nearby Bridgeport to face the Sound Tigers. The two teams are no certainly no strangers to one another, but this season the local rivalry takes on added meaning, as the clubs find themselves in the same division for the first time since the 2002-2003 season.
The Pack took the first of the ten scheduled meetings this season with a 4-1 decision in a scrappy match which saw a combined 110 minutes in penalties assessed. Corey Locke, Bobby Sanguinetti and Grachev each had a goal and an assist, while Johnson added another 28 saves to extend both his and the team’s win streak to four.
The four game winning streak improved the team’s record to 8-6-0-0, bumping them up to fifth place in the Atlantic Division, just one point behind a three-way tie for second. The Wolf Pack is tops in the division in goals for with 50, and second only to defending Calder Cup champions the Hershey Bears in the league.
Hartford’s offensive success is driven in large part by its potent power play, which remains tops in league at 29.4% — almost six percentage points higher than their nearest competition. The club’s penalty kill continues to languish at the bottom of the league, however, tied for last in the league with the Portland Pirates at 74.6%.
In transaction news, Devin DiDiomete’s fractured arm has healed enough to allow him to start working his way back into game shape, and toward that end the sophomore forward was assigned to the Charlotte Checkers last Wednesday. Chris Chappell, who’d made his AHL debut four nights earlier, traveled back to Charlotte with him. But Chappell’s demotion didn’t last long, as the 21-year old rookie was recalled again on Monday after veteran center Tyler Arnason’s defection to Europe and subsequent suspension by the Rangers opened up a spot on the roster.
Evgeny Grachev’s four points in two games this weekend give him 12 in 14 games, moving him into a tie for third place in rookie scoring, just a single point behind his friend and former teammate Andrei Loktionov and Christian Hanson, each of whom have 13 points on the season.
The one constant in the Pack’s current win streak has been goaltender Chad Johnson, who quietly wracked up an impressive 1.47 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in the four game span. The 23-year old rookie hasn’t needed to be spectacular, but his steady play has allowed the team’s collective confidence to grow from the goal out.
The Pack play three games this week, starting with a home-and-home series with the division-leading Manchester Monarchs. The club travels to Manchester for a 7:00pm start on Wednesday and then host the Kings’ farm club on Friday, also at 7pm. Then it’s off to Worcester on Saturday, where Hartford will face-off with last season’s playoff nemesis, the Worcester Sharks, at 7:05pm.
Laurie covers the Wolf Pack and the Rangers’ Russian players and prospects for her blog, Beyond the Blueshirts. She’ll be bringing us weekly updates on the Rangers’ top farm club throughout the 2009-2010 season.