“There’s a Calder Cup in my mind
Come along and take that ride
And it’s alright, baby it’s alright
And it’s very far away
But our chances grow day by day
And it’s alright, baby it’s alright”
… Talking Heads
With the Hamilton Street Heroes in the midst of their annual “playoff push”, the opulent PPL Center in downtown Allentown will play host to a pair of Atlantic Division adversaries who both want to think that they are each still realistically in the American Hockey League playoff picture when the visiting Hartford Wolf Pack collide with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday night.
The Hartford Wolf Pack (27-25-2-0) have been playing much hungrier hockey since the start of the new calendar year, compiling a record of thirteen wins against nine losses (all in regulation) since January 1st. Indeed, almost half of the Wolf Pack’s victories this season have arrived after New Year’s Day. To put things in proper perspective, it shall be noted that the surging Lehigh Valley Phantoms have won nine of their twenty AHL contests in that very same time period.
The bad news for Hartford, who have already defeated Lehigh Valley once in pre-season and twice during the regular season schedule thus far, is that the visitors from Connecticut actually have THE worst offense in the entire 15-team Eastern Conference at present :
2.52 goals scored per game … Hartford Wolf Pack
2.57 goals scored per game … Springfield Falcons
2.60 goals scored per game … Syracuse Crunch
The good news for the Wolf Pack is that the AHL farm club of the New York Rangers do have one of the better defenses in the Eastern Conference in terms of goals against per game. Much of the credit must go to Magnus Hellberg (37 ga, 2.40 avg, .917 svpct, 3 so), the 24-year-old Swedish goaltender chosen in the 2nd round (# 38 overall) of the 2011 National Hockey League Draft by the Nashville Predators who was signed by the Broadway Blueshirts after spending all of last season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals (38 ga, 2.33 avg, .913 svpct). It was the workhorse Hellberg, who stopped 26 of 27 shots faced when Hartford edged Lehigh Valley 2-1 at the PPL Center on January 16th.
MacKenzie Skapski (10 ga, 3.51 avg, .888 svpct) blocked 23 of 24 shots faced when the Wolf Pack beat the Phantoms 3-1 back on November 21st but the second-year pro was assigned to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits on December 30th and has not returned since.
Jeff Malcolm (11 ga, 2.63 avg, .904 svpct), the third-year pro who backstopped Yale University to the 2013 NCAA national championship title, also turned aside 26 of 27 shots faced when the Hartford Wolf Pack upended the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in an AHL exhibition contest at the PPL Center on October 3rd.
So there it is – aside from three regulation losses in as many meetings, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms have managed to find the back of the net just three times in 180 minutes of ice hockey against the Hartford Wolf Pack this season
Brady Skjei (52 ga, 3 go, 22 pts, 20 pen, – 5 def), the rather promising 21-year-old rookie defenseman from the University of Minnesota defenseman who was the 1st round pick (# 28 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2012 NHL Draft, has returned to the Hartford after getting 22 minutes of ice time against the New Jersey Devils earlier this week and will be on the bus heading to Allentown.
Raphael Diaz (23 ga, 4 go, 11 pts, 10 pen, – 1 def) has had a rather difficult season but is red hot as of late with three goals and six points in his last six AHL games for the Wolf Pack. The 30-year-old NHL veteran defenseman and two-time Olympic performer for Switzerland wanted to return home at the start of this 2015/16 campaign after being assigned to the minors for the first time in his five years here in North America but the Rangers would not dissolve his one-way contract worth $ 700,000. Undaunted, Diaz signed a new deal with EV Zug to play next season in the Swiss elite league only just a couple of days before Christmas – but the former Montreal Canadiens rearguard must still finish out this term with Hartford.
Hartford Wolf Pack are 8-2 this season in games that have been decided by overtime or a shootout … and have been triumphant their last five contests that have been settled in such manner.
Categories: Phantoms Hockey