Just Like Heaven
Hartford's Francis Lessard punts 6'-6" Joey Mormina
back to the pig farm (Chris Rutsch photo)
The Hartford Wolf Pack have just about turned the odometer on their 1-6 start back to zero, thanks to a 5-1 run over the past two weeks culminating in a 3-0 stomping of the detestable Manchester Monarchs on Saturday night.
Playing without leading scorer Ryan Callahan, who is currently enjoying a 3-minute cup of coffee with the Rangers, the Wolf Pack cleaned both ends of the ice with the Monarchs, showing a buzzer-to-buzzer effort like none other so far this year.
The virtually meaningless showdown between the Wolf Pack's former goalie tandem of the Monarchs' Jason LaBarbera and Hartford's Steve Valiquette was played up to be the big story of this game, before and afterwards (Valiquette: "I'd be lying if I didn't think about playing against LaBarbera. I was pressing for a shutout all night." La Barbera: "I thought I was going to handle it better than I did," saying that he was emotionally drained before the game), but the real story turned out to be the Wolf Pack putting in their most complete performance of the season, made obvious by the 3-0 final score.
Brad Isbister (Chris Rutsch photo)
The scoring for Hartford was led off at 8 minutes into the first period by Brad Is-a-Buster, who, though he's only been with the team for a couple of weeks, is already challenging Brandon Dubinsky for the team lead in dumb-looking facial expressions while on the ice. Isbister's goal was actually pretty nifty, as he lifted the puck up over LaBarbera and off the crossbar from a tough angle in close.
LaBarbera, like he did while playing in Hartford, showed again that he's mainly a product of the defense in front of him, as the Monarchs struggled with keeping the Wolf Pack from follow-up chances and getting to the front of the net. Craig Weller scored the Pack's second goal of the night early in the second period, when he walked past a Monarchs defender and deftly flipped the puck into the net. Dwight Helminen scored in the third period off a fairly easy rebound that went right for his stick as he skated straight down the center of the slot.
Brandon Dubinsky had a great chance to score in the second period, as he went untouched while dangling the puck in front of the crease for what seemed like ages, faking LaBarbera completely out of position, but Dubinsky was unable to finish.
Nigel Dawes (goal-less in 7 games, unfortunately) moves in
on Jason LaBarbera (Chris Rutsch photo)
The best fight of the game happened in the third period when Francis Lessard pummeled Manchester's towering Joey Mormina, a mismatch that saw Lessard bombard the hapless Mormina with blow after blow even after Mormina fell to the ice; Lessard just picked Mormina up and continued to hit him some more. Dave Liffiton fought Mike Hoffman seconds afterwards, with the game already 3-0 at that point, but didn't fare nearly as well. It was Liffiton's second fight of the game, as he also fought Tim Jackman early in the first period.
Of course, this was the game where all fans received a commemorative Wolf Pack Mr. Potato Head doll. I've been kicking mine around the house all day, and they're actually pretty neat. Each one of them comes with three interchangable face combinations, including a Ryan Constant version (shown here):