Pack Tactics: The Igor Show and Adversity

The Wolf Pack hit the road for the first time and deal with some adversity.

Wolf Pack continued their season by picking up two more wins on the season, including their first in OT, while also hitting the road for the first time. While the record stands at 5-0-0-1, giving Hartford a league leading 11 points, there were a couple of bumps along the way.

Hartford Wolf Pack 1 — 0 Springfield Thunderbirds

A new set of weekend games for the Wolf Pack meant a new set of lines for Kris Knoblauch’s team. Hartford took the ice with a new look 2nd line that included Vitali Kravtsov in the top six with Danny O’Regan and Matt Beleskey, while Boo Nieves centered Steven Fogarty and Gabriel Fontaine for the 3rd line. Igor Shesterkin got his 3rd start of his young North American season as the Thunderbirds visited the Wolf Pack for the 2nd time in a week.

Whether it was the new line combos or the fact that the Thunderbirds hit Hartford with some adjustments, the Pack came out of the gates flat for this one and were behind the eight ball all game long. Through this early portion of the season, the Pack did a good job of limiting shots against Shesterkin, so while he played very well, he wasn’t really tested. That changed almost right away, as Springfield spent of the game in the Hartford end and to his credit, Shesterkin shined brightly time and again. This game could have easily gotten out of control if not for the young Russian netminder as he kept the puck out and gave the Wolf Pack a chance to recouperate and make it out of the 1st period alive.

The 2nd period, though, wasn’t much better than the first as the Pack just could not get much going against Springfield and were left with dumping and trying to chase or trying to hit home run passes that deflected off sticks and skates in the neutral zone. It didn’t help matters that they also had brain farts throughout. Joey Keane is an adventure in the best ways possible. He has all these fun tools that he likes to use, his skating being the best of them, however he’s not quite got everything under control. This was evident in the 2nd period when Keane decided to pull his best Scott Gomez and take the puck on a walk around the offensive. When he tried to hit a teammate with an open pass, well, you can see for yourself.

Shesterkin had to come up with a big save on a Thunderbirds breakaway, but weirdly enough, the Pack were able to turn that right around, head back down the ice to pick up the only goal of the game. A Phil Di Giuseppe marker that split the defense at the blue line.

After this 2nd period goal, that was pretty much it for the game. Shesterkin was tested time and again by Springfield but they just couldn’t solve the Czar. Easily his best performance of the season and a well-earned 36 save shut out. Hartford needed very single one of those 36 saves because not only did they only muster a single goal, but they also only recorded 22 shots on net.

This was a good test for Shesterkin, up until now things had been relatively easy, and it’s good to see that if the Pack don’t have their best night, he won’t crack under the pressure.

Hartford Wolf Pack 4 — 3 Binghamton Devils (OT)

The Pack hit the road for the first time Saturday night with a trip to Binghamton to face off against a Devils team that had only one win to start the season. This was a perfect opportunity for Hartford to jump on a team that had lost three in a row and reassert themselves after their first real not great performance. It didn’t quite work out that way. Once again the Pack came out kind of flat and saw themselves hemmed in their own zone with Adam Huska being called upon to make a variety of tough saves. Hartford didn’t have to wait until the 2nd period for offense though, as Vinni Lettieri continued his strong start to the season with a great individual rush and shot for his 3rd of the season.

From there though. the wheels came off for Hartford as the Devils picked up three unanswered goals all in quick succession, the 2nd of which came off of a pretty bad turnover by Vitali Kravtsov right in the slot. This turnover led to head coach Kris Knoblauch to bench Kravtsov for the rest of the period and while I agree with the decision to bench him for his mistake, it should have been just one or two shifts, not the entire period.

In the 2nd, though, Kravtsov and the Pack would respond. The Russian forward was back with his regular linemates and you can see that he got the message from the staff. In fact he made a really good defensive play in the 2nd.

Shortly before this play, good Joey Keane showed up as he pulled the Pack within one with his 3rd goal of the season.

The 2nd period ended with the Pack down a goal but back in the game and once the 3rd period came around, it was the Filip Chytil show. Chytil had a quiet game against the Thunderbirds but he more than made up for it with this one, as he registered a team high 6 shots on goal and was all over the ice making things happen for the Wolf Pack. This effort paid off, as Chytil picked up his third goal of the season on a late power play.

That’s Matt Beleskey in front with the screen for Chytil and he wasn’t done with this goal. Not by a long shot. With the game tied, Knoblauch began double shifting the Czech center but the horn sounded to end regulation. The Pack clawed their way back into the game to secure at least one point in the standings. It was time for five minutes of 3 on 3 overtime and young Filip did not need all 5 minutes. In fact, he needed just 38 seconds to end this one.

Phil Di Giuseppe got credit for the OT winner, his third of the season as well, but this play was all Chytil. It capped off what should be the deciding factor that gets him called up to the big leagues.

Weekend Wrap up

All in all a rather successful weekend for the Wolf Pack and a rather important one, I think. The team, for the first time this season, faced some real adversity that was brought on by their poor starts. Igor Shesterkin stood tall to bail them out of the game against the Thunderbirds and the team rallied itself to get the win against the Devils. That 3rd period in Binghamton was the first time that the Pack entered the 3rd period trailing so it was nice to see how they stuck to their plan and kept pushing the play.

Three Stars

  1. Igor Shesterkin: 36 saves, first North American shut out. He’s rocking a .956 sav% right now and has looked incredible.
  2. Vinni Lettieri: 1 goal, 3 assists for Lettieri on the weekend and he was finally doing was he does best; shoot the puck as he racked up 8 shots, including 6 in Binghamton, over the two games.
  3. Filip Chytil: 3 more points, 1 goal and two assists for a team leading 8 points on the season. 6 more shots, which gives him a ridiculous 20 shots in just 6 games. There’s nothing left for Chytil to prove, he’s the Rangers’ 2nd line center and if he’s still on the Wolf Pack when the calendar turns to November, I’ll be gobsmacked.