By Bruce Berlet
Wise veteran defenseman Wade Redden put the Wolf Pack’s plight of one-goal losses this season into perfect perspective.
“We have to find a way to win these games,” Redden said after a 4-3 loss to the Manchester Monarchs on Wednesday.
The latest defeat was the ninth by a goal for the Wolf Pack (4-10-2-2), with a 10th coming by two goals with an empty-netter against. It also extended their slide to franchise-worst 1-9-2-1 and kept them tied for last place in the Atlantic Division with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (6-10-0-0), who have two games in hand.
Where’s Brad “Shooter” Smyth when you need him? Unfortunately for the Wolf Pack, their career leader in goals (184) and points (365) is playing for Belfast Giants in the Elite Ice Hockey League, a 10-team league in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
“You can look and say you’re close all the time, but it usually comes down to we don’t put a full 60 minutes together,” Redden said. “If we do that, we’ll get the bounces and win the games. But we always seem to have lapses where they’re hemming us in or (we take) bad penalties, stuff like that. It’s just mental things that are killing us more than anything.”
The Wolf Pack has seemed to find every way possible to lose, and it was the special teams on Wednesday. The power play was 1-for-5 and generated most of the team’s 24 shots and quality chances but failed on a 5-on-3 for 94 seconds, though Redden hit the post. And the penalty kill allowed the Monarchs, ranked 21st on the power play, to score a season-high three power-play goals in six tries.
Then there was what Monarchs observers called the team’s save of the season with 40.2 seconds left when Jeff Zatkoff dove across the crease to somehow stop Mats Zuccarello’s one-timer from the right circle off a perfect cross-slot pass by Jeremy Williams from the top of the left circle.
“I got a pretty good, quick shot, but it was an unbelievable save,” said Zuccarello, who likely never saw anything like that growing up in Norway or during his MVP campaign with MoDo in the Swedish Elite League last season. “It’s kind of the story of our season.”
Zatnoff (22 saves) almost seemed apologetic for his game-saving stop.
“The puck popped out right on (Zuccarello’s) stick,” Zatkoff said. “I was just trying to get over and fill space. It was a desperation save at that point, especially at that time in the game. I was fortunate enough that it hit me in the pad, and I was able to cover it.”
Williams had his team-leading ninth and 10th goals but also took a hooking penalty that led to Justin Azevedo’s winning goal. Williams said the Wolf Pack’s slump has to end quickly or they’re going to miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season after 12 straight trips to the postseason. The quest begins Friday night at 7:30 at Springfield in the second of five consecutive road games before the Wolf Pack are re-branded as the Connecticut Whale for a game at the XL Center against the Sound Tigers on Nov. 27. John Paddock, who led the Wolf Pack to their only Calder Cup title in 2000 and was named interim coach of the Adirondack Phantoms on Nov. 8, will be at the XL Center the next night.
“We’ve got guys who have been on different teams in different situations, and everybody hates losing,” Williams said. “Then you look back in February, and it’s like, ‘Oh (shoot).’ I know guys are trying, but it’s like you talk so much that you don’t even know what to say any more. Not in a negative way, just in a mindset where you just have to stop thinking about everything and just go do your job.
“It’s the same for the guy who works a 9-to-5 job. If he’s got stuff going on around the office and he’s always worrying about other things, then his work isn’t getting done. If everybody just focuses on their single job, then I think things are going to go smoother. There are touches of it, but one night we maybe play 52 minutes, then the next night we only play 20. That’s what’s costing us hockey games.”
Being 30th and last in the AHL with a 2.06 goals average also gives the Wolf Pack virtually no margin for error and puts added pressure on the defense and goalies Chad Johnson and Cameron Talbot to pitch close to a shutout every game. The defense and goaltending have generally held up their end, but the Wolf Pack/Whale has to find ways to start winning games.
They will have another different look Friday night as right wing Dale Weise returns to the lineup, left wing/center Brodie Dupont is out and rugged left wing Justin Soryal is questionable.
Weise has been sidelined since the third game of the season Oct. 15 because of an ailing hand that required surgery. He received clearance to play Wednesday but decided it was better to remain a commentator with radio announcer Bob Crawford for one more game.
But Weise is delighted to be trading in his headset for a stick, skates and uniform. Coach Ken Gernander plugged Weise into Dupont’s spot alongside Tim Kennedy and Mats Zuccarello, who moved with right wing to left wing. Dupont is out 7-to-10 days after needing 16 stitches to close a cut above his left knee sustained when the skate of a Manchester player sliced him late in Wednesday’s game.
“I’ve been waiting a month to talk hockey,” said Weise, who had one goal and one assist in three games in which he played through pain in his hand before deciding to have surgery. “I feel real good after things progressed really well the last week or so. I didn’t feel comfortable to play Wednesday, but it’s good now. And condition-wise, I’m probably in better shape than I was at the beginning of the year. I’ve been ‘bag skating’ for about three weeks, and you can’t get that kind of conditioning in practice every day.
“You can do what you can on the (stationary) bike, but if you’re ‘bag skating’ for 30 minutes straight, you’re not playing game for 30 minutes straight. You have to rest, so I feel good.”
Weise thinks it might take a period to get back his rhythm in a game, but he’s especially enthused about returning from the longest absence of his career.
“I’ve had a couple of broken fingers, but I’ve never had anything this bad, so it’s different for me,” Weise said. “Obviously I’m not happy about it. You wait all summer to play and come back and play three games, and it’s so frustrating. And I missed a chance to go to New York (when Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury got hurt), but what can you do? That’s just the way it goes. It just happens. It’s a long season.”
And his season is resuming on what has to be considered the No. 1 line for the Wolf Pack, who desperately needs to improve their 2.06-goal average, last in the AHL.
“It has been awful, awful watching all these one-goal losses,” said Weise, who had career highs in goals (28), assists (22) and points (50) last season. “Obviously it’s frustrating to watch the boys go through something like that, and you really don’t feel part of it. You’re skating on your own after practice, and you’re not in the room during games. It’s a tough time to be around, but that’s my teammates. They’re like my brothers, and I want to be a part of it whether we’re winning or losing, and hopefully I can help us get out of this hole.
“(Kennedy and Zuccarello) are two real skilled guys offensively, so I’m just going to look to hop in and be the shooter. Both of those guys are world-class passers and both prefer to pass, and that works perfect with me because I prefer to shoot, so I think it’s going to be a good mix. They’ve been working well, and Dupont has played well. Obviously, he’s a tough guy to lose out of your lineup. He’s a big hitter and kills a lot of penalties, and with the amount of penalties that we take, he’s huge for us. But it gives guys an opportunity to step up, and hopefully a couple of guys do that.”
Gernander hopes anyone steps up to end the worst stretch that he has been involved with in his 14 seasons with the Wolf Pack, who are six games under .500 for the first time.
“I think (Weise) will give us a bit of a boost,” Gernander said. “He played pretty good hockey for us last season and at the start of this season. I know he has been working hard on his conditioning and getting back in game shape, so hopefully it’ll come around quick for him.”
Dupont struggled offensively at the start, getting only one assist in the first 12 games, but he had one goal and two assists in six games before being injured.
“He has been playing pretty good hockey for us as of late,” Gernander said, “and he does a lot of things: net-front on the power play, penalty-kill guy, a wing who can take faceoffs for you when you need it.”
Dupont had mixed feelings about the freak injury, which at first appeared to be a knee injury because he couldn’t put any weight on his leg.
“I was looking for a pass from (Kris Newbury), and then all of a sudden I went down in a heap and could feel the cut,” Dupont said Thursday while resting and looking over an X-ray of the gash. “It was scary, but at least (the skate) only cut the muscle, not an artery.”
Soryal sat out Wednesday’s game after getting hit in the face with a deflected puck in practice Monday, but he’s expected to return Friday night, Saturday night in Binghamton or Sunday afternoon in Hershey. He wore a cage in practice Thursday, as he did last season after having a bone broken in his face during a fight with Jessie Boulerice.
“Getting hit by the puck was worse than getting punched,” Soryal said. “At least the adrenaline is going when you’re in a fight.”
Gernander said trainer Damien Hess would evaluate Soryal on Thursday and Friday and see when he has clearance to play.
A Need To Fill In The Only Zero Category
After fellow Czechs Tomas Kundratek of the Wolf Pack and Tomas Kana of the Falcons fought in the teams’ last meeting Saturday night at the XL Center, it will be interesting to see what transpires Friday night at the MassMutual Center.
Kolarik, acquired two days earlier for former captain Dane Byers, scored a goal in his Wolf Pack debut and scored a unanimous decision over Kana, who sustained a dislocated thumb in the fight. But Byers set up Mike Blunden’s tying goal with 4:35 left in regulation and scored in the fourth round of a shootout to give the Falcons (8-6-0-1) a 4-3 victory and drop the Wolf Pack to 0-1-1-1 against their I-91 rival. The Wolf Pack lost the only game against the Falcons this season at the MassMutual Center by – you guessed it – one goal, 3-2 on Oct. 30. … Smyth has five goals and six assists in 11 games with Belfast and his teammates include former Wolf Pack forward Mike Hoffman (six goals, 10 assists in 18 games) and Mike Bayrack (seven goals, 12 assists in 20 games), who also played six games with the Sound Tigers and one season with the Danbury Trashers and Sound Tiger Jon Gleed. Former Wolf Pack captain Craig Weller plays in the EIHL with the Cardiff Devils and has two assists in a two games. … The Wolf Pack could also use some of the production of AHL leading scorer Corey Locke, whom the Rangers didn’t re-sign after he led the Wolf Pack in goals (31), assists (54) and points (85) last season, earning him a spot on the All-AHL second team. Locke had a goal and two assists and Barry Brust rebounded with a 33-save shutout as the Binghamton Senators won 4-0 at Syracuse on Wednesday night. The Senators ended a two-game losing streak during which Brust allowed 12 goals on 62 shots. Locke extended his scoring streak to 11 games (six goals, 14 assists) with his third game of at least three points this season. He leads the AHL in assists (19) and points (26) in 17 games. The Crunch suffered their second consecutive shutout and third in their last four games. … Former Wolf Pack defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti scored his first goal of the season and Drayson Bowman then got the winner as the Charlotte Checkers rallied for a 2-1 victory over visiting Adirondack on Wednesday night. … Former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Hollweg scored the game’s first goal and former Wolf Pack goalie Al Montoya made 34 saves to improve to 5-2-0 as the San Antonio Rampage beat Peoria 3-1 Wednesday night. The Rampage extended their winning streak to five games with their 12th win in 14 games, increasing their West Division lead to six points over Milwaukee and Oklahoma City.
Rangers New Uniforms Are 0-1
The Rangers broke out their new Heritage Jerseys that include hidden retired numbers on the inside in celebration of the franchise’s 85th anniversary season Wednesday night. But a similar malady to the Wolf Pack led to a 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, ending a three-game losing streak. While the Rangers were better on the penalty kill (3-for-3 to go to 23-for-24 for the last seven games with two shorthanded goals), they failed to convert on a 5-on-3 for 1:44.
Brandon Dubinsky scored the Rangers’ first goal off an assist from another Wolf Pack forward, Ryan Callahan, and won 13 of 17 faceoffs. But during the lengthy two-man advantage, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas robbed Dubinsky and then extended his right leg to stop a jam attempt by Callahan, who was alone at the left post.
“He was the difference,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said of Thomas, who had 34 saves to improve to 10-1. “We have a chance at the end on the 5-on-3, and we don’t get it done. But he certainly was the difference.”
Said Callahan: “He came up with some big saves. At the same time we have to get some more chances. They kept us on the perimeter pretty well. I thought they played pretty tight, but we have to find a way to get some more pucks through to the net.”
The Bruins got two key pucks on net – by 18-year-old Tyler Seguin and 42-year-old Mark Recchi. Seguin, the second overall pick in June who was three years from being born when Recchi was drafted in 1988, scored his fourth goal after a pep talk with Thomas.
“I was trying to tell Tyler after the first period, ‘Come on, this is MSG,’ ” Thomas told reporters after the game. “He’s like, ‘What’s MSG?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, man. This is a historic arena. This is what kids dream about playing in. Maybe not for the Rangers all the time, but playing in the building.’ Then he went out and scored, so I’m proud of him.”
Seguin pressured Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy at the top of the Bruins zone and stripped him of the puck. Seguin raced down right wing and fired a laser over the glove of Henrik Lundqvist to give Bruins a 2-1 lead. Seguin said everything happened so fast he couldn’t remember details of the goal.
“I just remember going wide and putting it over his glove,” Seguin said.
Recchi’s 566th goal at 1:10 of the third period was the winner but hardly the most artistic in his 21-year pro career. The NHL’s oldest player had the puck near the right circle and wasn’t in a dangerous shooting position. But he flipped the puck on net and it squeezed between the left arm and body of Lundqvist before stopping a few inches over the goal line.
“If you’re going to score some goals, you’ve got to get some pucks to the net,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Doesn’t matter how old you get. As long as you listen, it works.”
Lundqvist thought otherwise.
“It was just a terrible goal,” Lundqvist said. “I just have to stop the third one, and it’s a different game. It’s definitely one that I want to take back, but I can’t, so I have to move on. … I was hoping for a tie game there on the 5-on-3, but Thomas came up big in the end. I think we played great. It’s just a mistake here and there.”
The Rangers are 0-for-4 over 4:31 of 5-on-3 play this season. But it wasn’t a poor effort by the Rangers, who held the Bruins to 20 shots. But lapses against quality teams like the Bruins have proven the undoing of the Rangers, who begin a two-game trip on Friday night at the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche is the first of five games in seven nights and nine in 14, but the Rangers brought only six defensemen to Colorado and Minnesota for a game Saturday night rather than promote one from the Wolf Pack as a standby.
“They’re not ready in Hartford,” Tortorella said. “We want them to keep playing and not disrupt their development. If there’s an emergency, we’ll get someone in.”
Meanwhile, the Rangers hope for a continuation of Wednesday night – except for the final score.
“I thought we worked pretty hard,” Dubinsky said. “I don’t think they got too many scoring chances. A couple mistakes ended up in the back of the net in the second (period), but for the most part I thought we played the game plan we wanted to. We just have to clean those (mistakes) up and we’ll be fine.”
Capuano Loses NHL Debut
Speaking of sounding familiar, nothing changed for the New York Islanders on Wednesday night as a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning before a half-empty Nassau Coliseum crowd of 8,025. It extended the Islanders’ winless streak to 0-10-1-0 and ruined the NHL coaching debut of Jack Capuano, elevated from the Sound Tigers on Monday after Scott Gordon was relieved of his duties and became an advisor to general manager Garth Snow.
The Islanders haven’t won since beating the Lightning on Oct. 21, the end of a 4-1-2 start that seems impossible now. It’s the first time the Islanders’ futility has reached such length since Mike Milbury’s final 11 games behind the bench in the 1998-99 seasons. It has always seemed a bit ironic that Milbury is now so critical of so many as an analyst when he was such as disaster as a coach and general manager.
“It’s different for me,” Capuano told reporters. “In the American Hockey League, it was about development. (In the NHL) it’s about winning. “We just have to make sure we’re on the right track and get these guys moving in the right direction.”
Capuano, 44, was in his fourth season as Sound Tigers coach and was replaced by assistant Jack Bingham, who was an assistant under former Yale coach Dave Baseggio in 2005-06 and Capuano from 2007 to the present. Capuano, a native of Cranston, R.I., had a 133-108-14 record with the Sound Tigers after joining the organization in 2005-06 as an assistant with the Islanders and then taking over in Bridgeport in 2007-08.
Season Ticket Package for Connecticut Whale Part of the Season
When the Wolf Pack returns from a 12-day, five-game road trip, longest of the season, they will be re-branded as the Connecticut Whale for the final 29 home games of the season. Ticket season packages for the Whale segment of the season are available from $638 ($242 savings) for blue seats in XL Center to $290 ($110 savings) for kids (any seat except blue) and yellow.
The offer includes the 29 regular-season games, one voucher for Whalers Hockey Fest 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford on Feb. 10-23 and 20 vouchers for games at the XL Center. For more information, call 860-728-3366 or visit www.ctwhale.com.