The winds of change were all over the XL Center in Hartford tonight, as the team and the arena are undergoing a makeover. From the new scoreboards, videotron, lighting and excited fans in the arena to the new faces on the ice, things are definitely looking up in Hartford. I did not get up here much last season–the weather was lousy, the team was not very good, and very frankly, it was depressing to be here.
If tonight is any indication of what is to come, I will be making the trek up the Merritt Parkway a lot more often this year. Maybe you should think about doing so too.
The Wolf Pack won tonight’s game against Carolina’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, by the score of 4-2. Chad Johnson was excellent in goal, and after giving up an early goal and several bad rebounds in the first period, was pretty much a wall during the third period, when he made three excellent stops to secure the win. As expected in a season opener, Hartford looked a little out of synch at times in front of Johnson, but the Pack players should be settling in over the next few weeks.
Head Coach Ken Gernander kept his lines together all night and several combinations have potential. For the second line, Gernander has put together Brodie Dupont, Evgeny Grachev and Mats Zuccarello, with Grachev at center. Although the three did not score tonight, it was clear that when they get some experience together, this will be a very powerful offensive combination. Grachev was excellent at face offs, Dupont worked very hard to get chances and Zuccarello is a wizard with the puck. Grachev has returned to center, after two seasons on the wing, and he seems very comfortable in that role. His work forechecking along the boards was very good tonight, as was his general work ethic.
The top line, which was the most productive in the game was alternate captain Kris Newbury centering captain Dane Byers and Dale Weise. Among them, the top line had five points tonight, but as the season goes along, their production should be dwarfed by the Dupont/Grachev/Zuccarello combination.
Jeremy Williams was named the game’s first star, with the game winning goal. Although he definitely had some defensive issues tonight, Williams was the best offensive player in the game. He took many shots and worked well on the third line.
Kelsey Tessier was outstanding on the fourth line tonight. He had an assist and a +1 rating, but he was much better than that. Making space, forechecking, completing little passes in the offensive zone, Tessier is very talented and may really be an NHL prospect. Currently signed to an AHL one-year deal, if he continues to play as he did tonight, don’t be surprised if Tessier garners an ELC later this season.
On defense, rookie Ryan McDonagh was paired with the more experienced Jared Nightingale, while veteran Wade Redden was paired with rookie Tomas Kundratek. The third pairing had second year blueliner Nigel Williams together with Pavel Valentenko. Valentenko made some fabulous hits, and blocked several shots. Williams, who is clearly unhappy with being in Hartford, made some good plays tonight too. Redden looked like he was playing hard, worked along the boards and threw a hit. McDonagh looked a little overwhelmed at times and his play tonight made it clear that the decision to have McDonagh develop further at the AHL level was a good one.
Tomorrow’s game is at 3 pm against Worcester.