The Wolf Pack got through the entire first quarter of their season without having to face one of the hallmark scheduling challenges in the AHL world, a three-games-in-three-days weekend, but
their first one of the year looms this weekend.
Coach Ken Gernander’s club plays a trio of Northeast Division games this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the first of nine three-in-threes that the Pack will have on the year. The Wolf Pack are at Adirondack on Friday night and then play a home-and-home with Springfield, Saturday on the road and Sunday at the XL Center.
The Wolf Pack swept a home-and-home set with the Phantoms October 11 and 12, the Pack’s third and fourth games of the season, winning 5-4 in a shootout at home and 3-2 in regulation in Glens Falls. Adirondack had a 3-1 lead in the second period of the game at the XL Center, and took a 3-2 advantage into the third period, and the Wolf Pack pulled out the road victory on a goal by Brodie Dupont with 2:07 remaining in the third period.
Those two defeats were part of a 1-4-0-2 start for the Phantoms before they reeled off a six-game winning streak, and now Head Coach Terry Murray’s club has dropped six of its last eight. Former Wolf Pack/Whale kingpin Kris Newbury has returned to Adirondack from the parent Philadelphia Flyers since those two early games against Hartford, and Tye McGinn is also back from Philly.
“I think they’ve had a little bit different style of play since they’ve made some of the changes they have with their parent club,” Gernander said of the Phantoms, whose 9-10-0-2 record is identical to that of the Wolf Pack. “They’re a little better defensively. I see the last couple of games they’ve had a little bit of trouble scoring goals, but you obviously can’t count on that. So we’re going to have to play things tight to the vest from our end of things, and with our team, the onus has been on us lately to try and generate some more offense.”
The Wolf Pack have scored a total of only three goals in their last two games, both losses, but that pales in comparison to an Adirondack scoring slump that has seen the Phantoms suffer back-to-back 1-0 shutouts in their last two outings. Both of those games were at home, Saturday against Syracuse and Wednesday vs. Bridgeport.
“It is an emotional thing you’re going through,” Murray said to the Glens Falls Post-Star Wednesday in reference to the goal drought. “And that’s where you have to find a way to simplify your game to get some goals that are not pretty goals.”
The Phantoms have not been easy to score on, carrying the sixth-best goals-against per-game average in the league at 2.62. They lost veteran goaltender Yann Danis to a knee injury in a 4-3 overtime win at Albany Friday, but second-year man Cal Heeter stepped into the breach and stopped 47 out of 49 total shots in Adirondack’s two shutout losses.
Saturday at Springfield Falcons (8:00 PM faceoff at the MassMutual Center, 7:30 pregame show on Fox Sports Radio 1410, video streaming at www.ahllive.com) and Sunday vs. Falcons (3:00 PM faceoff at the XL Center, 2:30 pregame show on Fox Sports Radio 1410, video streaming at www.ahllive.com):
The Wolf Pack are 0 for 3 on the season against Springfield, with road losses of 3-2 in a shootout, 3-2 in regulation and 4-0. Gernander feels, however, that his club has done a good job of being competitive with the Falcons, who lead the Northeast with a record of 14-4-1-1 for 30 points.
“We’re right there, just a couple of little mistakes here or there,” he said. “They are very good as far as their ability to capitalize on our mistakes, so we’re going to have to squeeze a few of those little foibles out and, again, be able to consistently pressure more, create more offensive pressure, or time of possession, to generate some offense.”
The Pack hope to get Danny Kristo back in the lineup for this weekend’s action, after the rookie winger missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, and that should help in terms of possessing the puck and exerting more offensive-zone pressure.
“He’s one of our key offensive contributors,” Gernander said of Kristo, who leads the club in goals with 10 and is tied with Aaron Johnson for the team points lead. “And he’s a guy that maybe doesn’t necessarily have staggering numbers as far as time of puck possession or end-zone play or anything, but he’s pretty efficient. So if we can get him into positions to either score or to create offensive chances, he generally has a pretty good success rate.”
The Falcons had a 7-0-1 streak going before a 6-4 loss at Albany in their last action Wednesday, and that defeat had Springfield head coach Brad Larsen more than mildly irritated.
"We were awful," Larsen said to the media afterwards. "That was ugly, real, real ugly. That's not the way we play. It was way too sloppy. We got outskated."
The six goals were the most given up in a game all year by the Falcons, who still own the AHL’s best goals-against record, giving up an average of only 2.35 goals per-game. Larsen bristles, however, at the suggestion that Springfield is a defensive team.
“I hate the term ‘defensive,’ ” he told the Springfield Republican. “We’re not that at all. What we are is a responsible team. That means paying attention to the details of each position and having all five skaters on the same page, helping each other.”
The Falcons also experienced a netminding change this week, as reigning CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month Mike McKenna was recalled Tuesday by the parent Columbus Blue Jackets, whose Vezina Trophy-winning backstop Sergei Bobrovsky suffered a groin injury Tuesday that is expected to sideline him for at least four weeks. McKenna leads the AHL in goals-against average and save percentage, with marks of 1.45 and 94.3 respectively, and had one of his two shutouts on the year the last time the Pack and Falcons met.
In a scheduling quirk, Saturday’s game in Springfield will be the Wolf Pack’s fourth straight road game in the season series. Sunday’s contest at the XL Center will then start three in a row at home for the Wolf Pack in the series.