Pack Tactics: The Wolf Pack are Good

Hartford ended the weekend with split decisions, but they continue to impress early on.

The Wolf Pack kicked off the 2019-20 season a couple of weekends ago with a pair of rather impressive wins against the Charlotte Checkers and Bridgeport Sound Tigers. This past weekend, the Pack looked to continue their winning ways and impressive play against the Springfield Thunderbirds and the Rochester Americans. Did Hartford continue their winning ways? Does Filip Chytil still look like an NHLer playing the AHL? Short answer; yes and yes. Let’s take a look.

Hartford Wolf Pack 3—1 Springfield Thunderbirds

The first game of the weekend saw Vitali Kravtsov draw back into the lineup after he sat out the contest against the Sound Tigers, and Igor Shesterkin got the nod for this second start of the season. Much like the first start of his North American career, Igor gave up an early goal against but went on to settle down quickly which helped out Hartford as the Pack took a trio of 1st period penalties; some more dubious than others. Towards the end of the 1st period though, Hartford’s fourth line picked up the equalizing goal off the stick of Nick Jones. Jones was the end result of a solid forechecking effort from the aforementioned line.

With both teams entering the 1st intermission tied at one, the Pack had another strong period to open the season. Though there were only 11 total shots, Hartford held the advantage 8-3. The new first line for the Pack; Phil Di Giuseppe and Danny O’Regan centered by Filip Chytil looked real good and pushed play consistently. Kravtsov was on the third line with Matt Beleskey and Boo Nieves and looked OK, not as skittish as he did in the first game of the season.

While the Pack began the parade to the penalty box in the 1st period, the Thunderbirds continued it in the 2nd as the Pack came out firing and pushing Springfield back into their own zone time and again. That fourth line I mentioned earlier featured Patrick Newell, Nick Jones, and Tim Gettinger and all three were essential to cutting down any major Springfield threat and pushed the play towards the fun end of the ice. All of this good work was rewarded when the Thunderbirds took a penalty and paid the price as Phil Di Giuseppe ripped a lovely Filip Chytil cross-ice feed above the Springfield goalie for a power play goal.

After 40 minutes of play, the Pack were rolling as they ended the period still way up on shots holding a 19-7 edge in the SOG column. Shesterkin wasn’t all that busy yet again and the Wolf Pack did a great job of limiting any kind of chances for the Thunderbirds to get back into it. On the back end Ryan Lindgren looked steady and played the puck well, earning an assists on Nick Jones’s goal in the 1st and wasn’t noticeable all that much. On the other hand, Joey Keane had a bit of a rougher game compared to how he started the season. Keane looked jumpy on both ends of the ice and could never really find a groove.

The third period was the Igor Shesterkin show as the Thunderbirds took the game to the Pack as Hartford sat back to defend their one goal lead. Shesterkin was on everything in the third and there were times where the Pack went out of their way to make things tough for the Russian netminder. However, for every test the Thunderbirds had, Igor had a smooth and controlled answer like this save off of a redirect in front.

Shesterkin kept the Wolf Pack in the game, as he turned away all 11 Thunderbird shots that he faced in the final 20 and Chytil topped off his monster game with a game sealing empty-net goal. Chytil put up eight (8) shots on goal against Springfield and continued to impress in all facets of the game.  As for Kravtsov, the young Russian didn’t see much ice at all as the 2nd period rolled into the 3rd. As the game went on he looked to try and force the play when it wasn’t there, and looked like he was still figuring out the intricacies of the system he’s playing in. Not necessarily a bad thing, as you can see progress being made on a shift by shift basis by the AHL rookie.

Hartford Wolf Pack 2 — 3 Rochester Americans (SO)

For the second half of the back to back, Adam Huska grabbed the crease as the backup and Ryan Gropp drew into the lineup for the first time this season taking Gabriel Fontaine’s place up front. On the blueline, it was Joey Keane’s turn to take a seat and watch from the press box as newly acquired Nick Ebert got the call for the game against Rochester.

Unlike the first three games of their season, the Wolf Pack left the 1st period scoreless though they did get out shot 12-10 by the Americans. Huska definitely looked much more controlled than he did in his debut against the Sound Tigers, and the Wolf Pack looked just a step behind to begin the game.

In the 2nd though, the Pack woke up and responded with a strong period. Filip Chytil continued his strong play (I know I sound like a broken record but it needs to be said) as he scored his first non-empty net goal of the season after getting sandwiched by two Rochester players in the neutral zone.

While Chytil gets the goal and should be credited for his strength and speed in getting back into the play, Danny O’Regan continues to look really good alongside Chytil and picked up his fifth assist of the season on the goal. Throughout the 1st and 2nd of this game, Kravtsov looked better than he had in recent games and, like I said earlier, it looks like he’s learning shift by shift. Like O’Regan, Kravtsov was rewarded for his play by picking up a primary assist on Boo Nieves’s first goal of the season towards the end of the 2nd period.

If there’s one area of the game that the Wolf Pack need to address, it’s their 3rd period play as every game so far has seen the Pack enter the final frame with a lead and their opponent getting the jump on them and control the play. Huska was holding strong through 40 minutes but the dam broke in the 3rd, and the Americans tied the game with two goals to book end the last 20 minutes. 3-on-3 overtime didn’t see any results and the shootout led to Rochester notching the only goal to pick up the win.

Weekend Wrap Up

This was another strong weekend for the Pack, and not just from the usual suspects of Filip Chytil and Igor Shesterkin. Players like Patrick Newell and Nick Jones created an energy line with Tim Gettinger. Boo Nieves is making his case to be the Rangers’ fourth-line center as he continues his strong play, and Vitali Kravtsov continues to take steps in the right direction.

Ryan Lindgren and Sean Day have gotten better by the game, and the veteran presence of guys like Vincent LoVerde and Darren Raddysh help solidify things on the back end. If the Pack and clean up their third period play, they should be in good shape as the season gets rolling.

Three Stars:

  1. Filip Chytil: 2 goals and an assist on top of the eleven shots he had over the weekend. Chytil leads Hartford with 5 points through 4 games, exactly what you wanted to see from him.
  2. Boo Nieves: The goal capped off a strong weekend from the big center as he looks to make an impact and impress the Rangers front office.
  3. Igor Shesterkin: Much like the opener, Shesterkin looked calm, controlled, and ready for the show. That he was able to withstand the Thunderbirds push in the 3rd while the Pack got slightly discombobulated boosted his stock over Huska.