TWO MINUTES FOR THOUGHTS: MARCH 16TH, 2023Mar 16, 2023
There is an old saying from former NHL player, head coach, and GM Craig MacTavish. He once said that at the end of a winning streak, you win some games that you probably shouldn’t. He also said that at the end of a losing streak, you lose some games that you probably deserved a better result in. That was the Wolf Pack on Saturday.
Hartford had ample opportunity to score a huge road victory over the Toronto Marlies, the top team in the Eastern Conference. Instead, Hartford had to settle for a point in a dramatic 3-2 overtime loss. As that old saying goes, the Wolf Pack lost a game at the end of their losing streak that they probably deserved better in. It was a sign of better things to come. Better things arrived on Wednesday.
We touch on that and more this week in ‘Two Minutes for Thoughts’, so let’s get to the blog!
1.) Each of the last two games has featured some gutsy third period efforts from the Wolf Pack. On Saturday, in Toronto on the second half of a back-to-back against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Wolf Pack never quit and found a way to earn a point. After the Marlies hit a goal post with the net empty, the Wolf Pack stormed back up the ice and scored at 19:23 to force overtime. It was the first time all season that the Wolf Pack scored with the extra attacker to force OT.
Despite the loss, the Wolf Pack were able to bank a point and build a little momentum heading back to Hartford.
On Wednesday night, things started on a sour note for the Wolf Pack. The Bridgeport Islanders scored goals on each of their first three shots, building a 3-1 lead. The Pack never backed down, despite trailing 3-2 after 20 minutes and 4-3 after 40 minutes. Four unanswered goals in the third period helped Hartford storm back and take a 7-4 lead in an eventual 7-5 victory. It was just the fifth time all season that the Wolf Pack won when trailing after two, and it was just the third time all season that the Islanders lost in regulation when leading through 40 minutes.
Trailing in the third period of both games, in the middle of a playoff chase, the Wolf Pack banked three of a possible four points. That’s a major win for the club.
2.) Speaking of the playoffs, Hartford’s third period last night completely changes the outlook. Had the Islanders held on for a regulation victory, they would have been five points up on the Wolf Pack with 13 games remaining. Impossible to overcome? Not at all, but it certainly would have been a tough task.
Instead, thanks to Hartford’s third period effort, they sit just one point back with 13 games to play. A completely different outlook heading into the weekend.
As a reminder you can find the AHL Playoff Primer here. Hartford’s magic number is down to 26.
3.) You can see why Will Lockwood was an appealing target for the New York Rangers when they completed the Vitali Kravtsov trade with the Vancouver Canucks on February 25th. In four games with the Wolf Pack, Lockwood has four points. He notched his first goal with the club in Toronto on Saturday, then registered three assists on Wednesday against the Islanders. You can see Lockwood building confidence and chemistry not just game-by-game, but shift-by-shift. His offensive ability has begun to shine.
Lockwood’s three assists, by the way, matches his career-high for both assists and points in a game. He also had three assists while with the Abbotsford Canucks a season ago on February 11th in a game against the Manitoba Moose.
4.) Staying with the new additions, Adam Clendening has also looked more and more comfortable as the games have rolled on. Clendening now has assists in three straight games, and has five assists in seven games since being acquired from Rockford. Head Coach Kris Knoblauch told me on Wednesday that the club has moved Clendening to the top of the powerplay, something he discussed in depth during our intermission interview.
You can see how valuable Clendening is in transition. His ability to make a crisp first pass has been extremely helpful to Hartford’s breakouts, and his ability and IQ in the offensive zone has been a nice addition as well. General Manager Ryan Martin was extremely excited about this addition, and you can see why.
Clendening will play his 500th career AHL game tomorrow night when the Wolf Pack welcome the Thunderbirds to town.
5.) So, what is the path this weekend for the Wolf Pack? The club will play two games, one at home and one on the road. Tomorrow, the Wolf Pack welcome the Thunderbirds to town for the ninth game in the ‘I-91 Rivalry’ this season. Despite losing two out of three at home to the T-Birds this year, you could make the argument that Hartford has actually been the better of the two teams in all three games. Joel Hofer has been that good in the season series.
In addition to rooting for the Wolf Pack, fans will be rooting for the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night. The Crunch are down the road in Bridgeport, taking on the Islanders.
On Saturday night, the Wolf Pack and Islanders will meet for the tenth time this season. Once again, the stakes will be extremely high as the two teams continue to battle it out for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. If Hartford wins both of their games this weekend, they will ensure that they wake up on Sunday morning in a playoff spot with just eleven games left in the season.
6.) As the men’s college hockey season starts to come to a close, it’s worth keeping an eye on some Rangers prospects who could turn pro in the coming weeks. Remember, last year the Rangers inked defenseman Brandon Scanlin and forward Bobby Trivigno following the college season, and both undrafted free agents made their way to Hartford.
On Friday night, Providence College will take on Boston University in the Hockey East Semifinal Round at TD Garden in Boston. Rangers prospects Brett Berard and Jaroslav Chmelar both will suit up for the Friars. Goalie Hugo Ollas will also play in the Hockey East Semifinal Round, as his Merrimack Warriors face UMass-Lowell at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night at TD Garden.
Forward Hank Kempf and Cornell University will face forward Zakary Karpa and Harvard University in the ECAC Semifinal Round tomorrow night as well.
We’ll have to wait and see if any of those players, or perhaps a college free agent or two, makes their way to Connecticut in the coming days and weeks.
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ABOUT THE HARTFORD WOLF PACK: The Hartford Wolf Pack has been a premier franchise in the American Hockey League since the team’s inception in 1997. The Wolf Pack are the top player-development affiliate of the NHL's New York Rangers and play at the XL Center. The Wolf Pack has been home to some of the Rangers newest faces including Igor Shesterkin, Filip Chytil, and Ryan Lindgren. Follow the Wolf Pack on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.