HARTFORD, CT – Greg Moore’s run as the Wolf Pack’s fourth captain in the franchise’s 12-year history couldn’t have started much better Friday night.
Moore, voted by the players to succeed Andrew Hutchinson as captain on Thursday, scored a shorthanded goal and contributed to solid defensive play in front of Matt Zaba as the Wolf Pack beat the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-1 before 5,699 at the XL Center.
“I was really happy with the team’s effort for the full 60 minutes,” Moore said. “We really stuck to our systems, finished our checks and didn’t back down from any challenge on the ice. Usually after (All-Star Game) breaks, team ease into games, so there isn’t the intensity. But there was a lot of pace and physicalness and definitely a good way to get us back into the rhythm of things for the rest of the season.”
Jordan Owens and Mike Ouellette scored in the last 4:39 as the Wolf Pack (24-18-2-3) moved six games above .500 for the first time this season and into a three-way tie for the Atlantic Division lead with Providence and Portland, which beat the Bruins, 4-2. It was accomplished in front of Rangers general manager Glen Sather and Wolf Pack GM Jim Schoenfeld, who made a pit stop on the way to Boston for the Rangers’ game today at 1 p.m. against the Bruins.
“We’ve been looking at the division (lead) for a while now, and it’s definitely a goal of ours to be in the top,” Moore said. “We’ve been pushing every day to get there, and I think the guys have really done a great job putting the effort forward to make a push at the end of the year.”
All-Star center Artem Anisimov had his eight-game point streak, which tied the team season high of Parenteau, snapped, but not before he failed to bang a loose puck into an open net off a rebound at 4:20. Zaba (25 saves) stopped a good bid by Vladimir Nikiforov off a 3-on-2 at 9:05 and then denied Kurtis McLean alone in front during a power play at 11:37.
Moore gave the Wolf Pack the lead for good when he took a rink-wide pass from P.A. Parenteau in the neutral zone, raced down the left wing and around defenseman Chris Lee and put a backhander between the legs of Nathan Lawson (26 saves) at 13:21. It was Moore’s second goal in as many games after going eight games without scoring.
“It was a good pass by P.A., and I just tried to drive wide and put the puck on the net,” Moore said.
“That’s the kind of play we want him to get back to,” Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said. “He had a lot of those good, strong wide drives last season, and he did it again and got rewarded.”
Owens nearly got the Wolf Pack’s second shorthanded goal at 7:58 of the second period, but his backhander off a steal was stopped by Lawson. Then while lying on his back in the crease, Zaba stopped a wide-open Jeremy Colliton, who was back in the Sound Tigers’ lineup after missing 10 games with a rib injury.
It stayed 1-0 until Brian Fahey passed to Owens, who raced into the right circle on a 2-on-1 with Moore and fired a knuckleball that beat Lawson to the far corner with 4:39 left.
The Sound Tigers got to 2-1 on Trevor Smith’s shorthanded goal, a one-timer from the right circle off a pass from Sean Bentivoglio with 1:43 left after Wolf Pack defenseman Corey Potter lost his stick.
But Ouellette clinched the victory 31 seconds later when he scored from the right circle off a hustling assist from behind the net by Owens.
“It’s tough after a long break like that,” Gernander said. “The real skilled plays that take a little more dexterity are the last to come back, so that’s why it’s important to keep things as simple as possible and rely a little more on hard work and grit.
“You could probably be critical of some turnovers, but in the big picture we worked hard, kept it pretty simple and got our two points, so I’m pleased. And Zaba had a solid game and was another guy who grinded it out and got the win. It’s nice to have a share of first place, but it’s really close from top to bottom and a long way from the finish line. So we have to keep plugging, hopefully keep moving and stay the course.”
The Sound Tigers (26-15-3-2) have only six goals in the last five games and lost their third in a row for the first time this season. The Wolf Pack are now 5-0-0-2 at home against the Sound Tigers in their last seven meetings.
Bridgeport 0 0 1 — 1
Hartford 1 0 2 — 3
First period: 1. Hfd, Moore 14 (Parenteau, Sauer), 13:21, sh; Penalties: Fritz, Bri (fighting), 2:33; Sugden, Hfd (fighting), 2:33; Lee, Bri (delay of game), 3:01; Moore, Hfd (holding), 11:05; Ouellette, Hfd (tripping), 13:10.
Second period: No scoring. Penalties: Kohn, Bri (slashing), 0:31; Packard, Bri (holding), 5:03; Parenteau, Hfd (interference), 6:16; Marcinko, Bri (tripping), 9:21; Served by Iggulden, Bri (bench minor, too many men), 14:02; Callahan, Bri (fighting), 16:19; Weise, Hfd (fighting), 16:19.
Third period: 2. Hfd, Owens 8 (Fahey), 15:21; 3. Bri, Smith 23 (Wotton), 18:17, sh; 4. Hfd, Ouellette 9 (Owens, Sauer), 18:48; Penalty: Iggulden, Bri (high-sticking), 16:19.
Shots on goal: Bridgeport 12-7-7_26, Hartford 8-10-11_29; Power-play opportunities: Bridgeport 0-for-3, Hartford 0-for-6; Goalies: Bridgeport, Lawson 10-3-2-0 (29 shots-26 saves), Hartford, Zaba 8-6-0-0 (26-25); Referee: Chris Cozzan; Linesmen: Jim Briggs, Kevin Redding; A: 5,699.