BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – It’s more than a Halloween reference, but for Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Ken Gernander, he must feel like he’s watching a “Jekyll and Hyde” movie than the type of hockey he’s looking for from his roster.
After a strong “Dr. Jekyll-like” performance Wednesday against the Hershey Bears, the Wolf Pack (3-3-0-0) went back to their “Mr. Hyde” persona and fell flat again by getting soundly beaten by the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms by a 5-1 score on Friday night at the XL Center.
That Pack saw sustained offensive zone pressure fleeting. There were far too many penalties taken, a continued faceoff deficiency and a slew of defensive zone breakdowns. They all contributed to a poor night for the Wolf Pack.
The Phantoms (2-1-1-0) were paced by one-time Manchester Monarch, Jordan Weal’s four-point performance. Weal had a goal and three assists.
“The start was really key for us. We got pucks in deep and cycled early,” Weal said. “(It) was a big part of us getting an early lead and when you’re on the road, it’s a lot easier to play with a lead.”
The Pack are right back in action Saturday night at the XL Center as the Vancouver Canucks top farm team, the Utica Comets, come to town at 7pm.
In the second period, Lehigh Valley pulled away from the Wolf Pack by using the power play to extend their lead to 3-0.
“It was good to see our powerplay power play tonight going 3-for-6,” Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. “(It) doesn’t happen often and we were rewarded tonight by our efforts. We have had good looks on the power play and have not gotten anything. Tonight we did.”
Taking advantage of a Malte Stromwall boarding call, the Phantoms were able to gain control of the zone. Veteran Andy Miele received a hard, short pass from teammate Greg Carey at the right side of the net. The left-handed shot was able to expertly redirect the biscuit into the net for his second goal of the season at 7:50.
Carey is the older brother of the Wolf Pack’s Matt Carey.
That was all she wrote for Pack starter Magnus Hellberg as Gernander sought to shake up the troops, he brought in Mackenzie Skapski in relief.
It didn’t take long for the Phantoms to extend their already sizeable lead.
A little over two minutes later, the Phantoms struck again on the power play. Two-time Eddie Shore winner, TJ Brennan, showed why he won the trophy, ripping the puck past Skapski from the right point.
The play was made possible by a faceoff win by the Phantoms’ Mark Zengerle over the Pack’s rookie Steven Fogarty. The puck found Weal who shoveled it over to Brennan at the right point. Brennan then fired his second of the season into the back of the cage via the top shelf.
“When you have a guy like TJ who can shoot the puck like that, it looks pretty easy with that big shot,” Weal said. “I was just able to put it in the right spot for him and with him, there’s always a good chance it might be going in.”
Gernander had seen enough and used his timeout at which point he could be seen clearly lacing into his team. Gernander was pointing his right finger at each individual player repeatedly marching up and down the bench through the entire timeout.
“We got to fix that,” Marek Hrivik, one of the team’s three assistant captains, said. “We went from having a really good game to not having a very good game out there. Obviously, we have to learn from this and play better tomorrow.”
Gernander was unavailable for comment after the game.
The Pack did manage to spoil Anthony Stolarz‘ shutout bid
Nicklas Jensen sent perfect head-man pass from the defensive zone left wing faceoff circle up to Hrivik at center ice. Hrivik was in full flight when he came in on a backpedaling Stolarz who was deep in his net. Hrivik settled down a bouncing puck and fired a wrister over Stolarz’ glove hand at 14:30 to make it 4-1.
“I was hoping that would give us a spark. Jensen made a great pass. We had some good shifts after that, but not too many. We just have to work harder,” commented Hrivik.
As has been the case too many times this season, the Wolf Pack fell behind in the first five minutes of a game.
“That has been a bad pattern,” Hrivik said. “We need to get off to better starts. We’re letting (opponents) score first. We have to work on that. We have a lot of games ahead of us, but it’s no excuse for how we played tonight.”
The first goal of the game came when Chris Connor was behind the Pack net and found Danick Martel all alone in front after Pack defenseman Ryan Graves had a pass knocked down. His defensive partner, Calle Andersson, had lost his stick and had gone to retrieve it leaving Martel alone in front. Martel registered his third goal of the season at 4:14 to make it a 1-0 Phantoms lead.
The Pack had just eight shots in the first period and went a stretch of over six minutes near the end of the period where they had none.
The Phantoms extended their lead as they got a break into the zone as Weal stripped the Pack’s Justin Fontaine and kept it in the offensive zone. Defenseman Will O’Neill came down the left wing wall and saw Weal open on the right wing and got him the puck. Weal buried his first of the season at 14:17 to make it 2-0.
“It was a great play by both D-men up top moving the puck,” Weal said. “I saw him (Hellberg) coming a bit to the left, so I wanted to go back to the other side since he was taking away the short side of the net. The puck was rolling, so I was just trying to get it on net.”
The Pack had a solid chance to get the lead cut to just one goal when Hrivik had good speed with the puck and went around a Phantoms defenseman. He pulled Stolarz out of the net, but his shot across the grain went right through the goal crease.
Greg Carey closed out the game’s scoring with his second goal of the night beating Skapski with a 45-foot wrist shot that sailed over his glove at 16:08 of the third.
Weal last played in Hartford when Manchester was still in the AHL and they were on a run to the Calder Cup that included sweeping the Wolf Pack two years ago.
“I have a lot of good memories of playing here, especially going to the Calder Cup and had some good games here in the past,” Weal said.
Dylan McIlrath, sent to Hartford earlier in the day, was a scratch. Mat Bodie missed the third straight game with an upper-body injury.
Rookie Michael Joly was a healthy scratch for a fourth straight game.
The AHL announced that both Chris Brown and Patrick McGrath’s fighting majors in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton were rescinded by the league. While they both dropped the mitts, no punches were thrown. Instead, each player received a ten-minute misconduct and McGrath’s game misconduct for his second fight was rescinded.
Greenville goalie Brandon Halverson was voted ECHL Goalie of the Week recording his first pro shutout.
Unfortunately, Halverson was unable to build upon it. The team’s weekend home opener at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena was postponed due to the failure of the chiller system at the arena. No makeup date has been set for the two games that were lost.
The St. John’s IceCaps had their opening night for their last season in the AHL at Mile One Centre. They did not have their captain Max Friberg or Swedish forward assistant captain Jacob de la Rose, who is out for a week with a hand injury. Both were hurt in Hartford on Sunday.
The legendary Canadiens great, Guy “The Flower” LeFeluer, who ended his career as a New York Ranger, was there to drop the ceremonial first puck.
The Tucson Roadrunners had their home opener bringing minor-league professional hockey back to Southern Arizona for the first time since the WPHL Tucson Gila Monsters played there in the mid-1990’s.
The Wolf Pack announced the first four players for their 20th Anniversary card set to be handed out Saturday night.
Ryan Callahan (Tampa Bay), Arten Anisimov (Chicago), Al Montoya (Montreal) are all in the NHL and are understandable choices, but Bryce Lampman? Great guy, but an all-time great?
Cheshire native Matt Generous has signed an extension with HIFK Helsinki (Finland-FEL).