Rattled By The Rush
Al Montoya (Chris Rutsch photo)
Inveterate gift-giver Al Montoya gave up two softies in the first three minutes, then another bad one on a long wrist shot by Andy Delmore in the second period, as the Hartford Wolf Pack dropped their season opener to the Springfield Falcons on Saturday night, 3-2.
After practically walking over their opposition during the pre-season (3-0-1, 17 goals scored), the Pack began the regular season looking like they weren't ready to play. Defenseman Ryan Constant, who could've shaken things up with his fists and his physical hit-anything-that-moves style of play, had instead been loaned to Charlotte two days earlier to make room for semi-useless Dale Purinton. Purinton fought lumbering Mitch Fritz in this game, a couple of minutes after Springfield had gone up 2-0, but the fight was silly (it looked like Fritz was the one doing the hair-pulling this time), and it did nothing to shake the Pack out of their lethargy.
Jakub Petruzalek (51) and Brandon Dubinsky (19) can't
solve Sean Burke (Chris Rutsch photo)
NHL vet Sean Burke was in goal for Springfield, and he kept a lid on things (with the aid of a few Pack shots that hit the posts) until late in the second period, when Marvin Degon broke in from the blue line and snapped a wrister that seemed to go through Burke's 5-hole and then deflect up into the corner of the net. Gumby Legs' goal came only a minute-and-a-half after the Falcons had gone up 3-0 on Delmore's long bomb, which Montoya said in today's paper that he never saw ("I didn't see the first one, either"). Added Schoenfeld, "We hit four posts, and they scored on two muffins from the blue line."
Hartford closed the gap to 3-2 with under 5 minutes left in the third, when Hugh Jessiman picked up the puck while in close and walked past a prone-to-the-ice Falcons defenseman, sending the puck home over Burke's shoulder. Jessiman's celebration afterwards seemed a little bit too joyous to me, considering how bad the night was going for the Wolf Pack, but whatever. The team lost, but Hugh got his one point. Hooray!
Hugh Jessiman's 3rd-period goal (Chris Rutsch photo)
The first "Let's Go Wolf Pack" chant (which used to be common around here) didn't pop up during the game until after Jessiman's goal late in the third. It also took most of the "one-game-only" fans around where I was sitting through most of the second period to realize that it was actually former Whaler Sean Burke in net for Springfield:
"Dude, I think that's Sean Burke."
"Can't be. Why, because he has the same last name?"
"No, really! I think it's Sean Burke!"
Christ, buy a newspaper once.
This was followed by several fans moving down to stand near the glass (while the game was in progress) with their cell phone cameras out, taking Burke's picture, and then the inevitable heckles of "Hey, Burke!! What are you doing back here?!?", and so forth.
Burke stops Petruzalek in the 1st (Courant photo)
Zdenek Behensky, who I'm expecting to see good things from this season, left the game in the first period, holding a towel to the left side of his face. I didn't see him on the ice after that, until he made a strong bid to tie the game on a partial breakaway late in the third period, but Burke stoned him.
Overall, I think the Pack are stacked this year-- especially on offense, with a couple or more studs at each of the three forward positions-- and I can see them putting together another 100-point season this year. The players that are on defense aren't bad, either, especially with the possibility that Constant comes back from Charlotte (or Thomas Pöck heads back for a spell from New York) and "Less Than" Jake Taylor doesn't come back at all. Again, this year's team has a problem with puck control, especially on the power play (1 for 10 against the Falcons), and you could see Degon and Dan Girardi struggling with their passes. Montoya has a long way to go before he can handle the puck decently, also-- he still doesn't know when to leave the puck for one of his defensemen to pick up and when to play it himself, and a couple of times last night his poorly-executed clearing attempt ended up on a Springfield player's stick blade.
(Update 10/9 - Hockey's Future posted their Wolf Pack season preview on Saturday, which is worth checking out. It discusses a bunch of Hartford players in a little bit of detail, but basically says that Hartford has "impressive talent" on offense, a little less on defense, and that Al Montoya might end up facing a lot of shots this season.)
Chris Rutsch photos
The night began with some extra pre-game festivities, considering that it was Opening Night and also the Pack's 10th season (complete with awkward-looking 10th Anniversary jerseys to match). Some crappy band played outside before the game, and then there was a highlight retrospective on the video board, to the tune of the "X-Files" theme (X is the Roman numeral 10, I get it-- are we that fucking stupid?). It seems the Wolf Pack's anthem singer this year is going to be some god-awful Ashley Something-or-Other, who "American Idol"-ed her way through every high note. She's going to be pretty tough to take if she sticks around for the whole year, I can say that much.
Tony Harrington, anyone?