SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The hottest team in the AHL as the calendar turns to December is the Hartford Wolf Pack, a franchise that seems to always be in the thick of the race no matter how different their roster looks from season to season.
Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Daniel Girardi and Steve Valiquette all graduated from Hartford to the parent New York Rangers after last season, but the Wolf Pack have reloaded in search of their 11th consecutive postseason appearance. Led by rookie head coach Ken Gernander, the leading American-born scorer in AHL history who captained the Pack to the Calder Cup championship in 2000, Hartford has won five in a row, nine out of 10 and 11 of 13, keeping in step with Providence near the top of the Atlantic Division. The Wolf Pack sit third in the league with 81 goals scored and fourth in goal differential (+17), and they are a perfect 12-0-0-0 this year when taking a lead into the third period.
Acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 11, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau leads Hartford with 11 goals and 23 points, including at least one point in 15 of his 21 games played. The 24-year-old forward, whose Game 6 overtime goal for Portland eliminated the Pack from the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2006, netted a career-high 30 goals last season between the Pirates and Norfolk Admirals, and he also made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2006-07. Fellow newcomer Andrew Hutchinson, who spent the past two seasons in the NHL with Carolina, leads the Wolf Pack with 14 assists and is tied for fourth among all AHL defensemen with 19 points.
Greg Moore, who scored eight goals in 79 games for Hartford as a rookie last season, already has 10 goals, 21 points and a league-leading plus-16 rating in 21 games this year, and he made his NHL debut with the Rangers on Nov. 21 at Tampa Bay. Alex Bourret, selected 16th overall by Atlanta in the 2005 draft, returned from injury and posted three goals and four points in three games last weekend. After pacing the Wolf Pack with 60 points in 65 games a year ago, Nigel Dawes has tallied six goals and 10 assists in just nine AHL games this season. The 22-year-old winger has also recorded four goals and an assist in 16 NHL games for the Rangers in 2007-08.
Rookies have also had a hand in Hartford’s early success. In his first North American pro season after coming over from Finland, goaltender Miika Wiikman is out to a 6-0-0 start, including three wins in three nights this past weekend. Brodie Dupont leads all Hartford rookies with five goals and 14 points, while Tommy Pyatt has contributed three goals and four assists in 13 games. And 19-year-old Artem Anisimov, the youngest player in the AHL and a second-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2006, has four goals and nine assists while playing in all 24 games for Hartford this season.
The Wolf Pack are three points out of first place in the Atlantic heading into Wednesday night’s visit to the division-leading Providence Bruins (7:05 ET, B2 Networks).
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FULL CIRCLE … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 3-2 win in Hamilton on Nov. 28 was the 300th regular-season win in franchise history. Just over eight years earlier, the scene was the same when the Penguins notched win number 1.
On Nov. 10, 1999, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton earned the first win in franchise history with a 5-3 decision over the Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum. Current Penguin Dennis Bonvie had two assists in that victory, and Tom Kostopoulos, now of the Montreal Canadiens, scored the tie-breaking goal late in the second period.
BLANKS FOR THE MEMORIES … Albany River Rats goaltenders have already posted six shutouts this season, tying the franchise record set in 2004-05. Michael Leighton’s fourth shutout of the season came in a 7-0 win over Norfolk on Nov. 28, Kevin Nastiuk has one shutout to go with his 4-0-0 record, and the two combined to whitewash Lowell back on Nov. 23.
PLATT’S PRODUCTION PLEASING PIRATES … Geoff Platt has found the scoresheet in every game since putting on a Portland Pirates uniform, recording seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in nine contests. It is the longest current scoring streak in the AHL.
A third-year pro with 41 games of NHL experience for Columbus from 2005-07, Platt had seven points in 15 games for Syracuse before being acquired by the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 15.
ETC. … Trent Whitfield ended a five-game drought with an assist in Peoria’s 6-5 win at San Antonio on Saturday night, his 400th career AHL point… Syracuse’s Derek MacKenzie has three shorthanded goals this season, including two on penalty shots… Lake Erie’s T.J. Hensick made his NHL debut with Colorado on Dec. 1 and scored a goal against reigning AHL goaltender of the year Jason LaBarbera in the Avalanche’s 5-2 win over Los Angeles… Brett Sterling’s hat trick in Chicago’s 4-3 overtime win over Peoria on Nov. 29 was his fourth in 89 career AHL games, and gave him 15 goals in 13 career games against the Rivermen… Adam Henrich has four goals and an assist in four games since joining Norfolk last week… Stephen Gionta scored three goals in Lowell’s 6-3 win over Manchester on Dec. 2, his first hat trick since scoring three times in his pro debut for Albany on Apr. 13, 2006… Including his 3-for-3 this season, Providence’s David Krejci is a remarkable 13-for-17 (76.5 percent) on shootout attempts in his AHL career… Hershey is 4-1-0-1 since Bob Woods took over as interim head coach on Nov. 22… Maxim Noreau’s overtime goal gave Houston a 1-0 win over Peoria on Nov. 30 and ended the Rivermen’s season-opening streak of successful road penalty kills at 51… Grand Rapids’ 1-0 win at Milwaukee on Dec. 2 was the Griffins’ first regulation victory over the Admirals in 14 tries (including playoffs), going back to Apr. 15, 2006… Providence has won 49 consecutive regular-season games when leading after two periods since a 3-2 shootout loss to Hartford on Mar. 26, 2006… Rockford has scored a power-play goal in 11 straight games (18-for-71, 25.4 percent)… Philadelphia is the only team this season yet to participate in a shootout.