HARTFORD, CT – Sean Avery returned to competitive hockey for the first time in 21/2 months with his usual array of speed, yapping and feistiness, which led to a fight on his second shift with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
But Avery didn’t get on the scoresheet despite several good opportunities and near misses by his newest teammates in a 4-1 loss to the Manitoba Moose before 5,899 at the XL Center Saturday night.
Former Rangers center Jason Krog and Guillaume Desbiens (empty netter) scored in the final 1:20 to assure the Moose (37-14-0-5) would extend their points streak to 5-0-0-2, including a 4-2 victory over the Wolf Pack Wednesday night that moved them into first overall in the AHL.
“I thought we played hard and made a few mistakes, and when you’re battling a first-place team, you can’t afford to make mistakes,” Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said. “So I can’t fault the guys for their effort, and we’re going to have to shore up a few of those mistakes before we can move ahead.”
The Wolf Pack (27-22-2-3) had a chance to move into a first-place tie in the Atlantic Division, but the talented Moose rarely gave them much space.
Avery showed some of his major-league skills after being assigned to the Wolf Pack by the Dallas Stars on Tuesday as he tries to resume his NHL career. The Stars, who signed Avery to a four-year, $15.5 million contract in the offseason, have said he will not return to the team after a six-game NHL suspension and a league anger-management program.
Avery hadn’t played with the Stars since Nov. 30 after not being re-signed by the Rangers, the parent club of the Wolf Pack. The Stars are the only NHL team without a primary affiliate and could have sent Avery to any team willing to give him a tryout.
“Since Sean showed up, he has had a good attitude and mixed in very well with the guys, so everything has been top notch so far,” Gernander said. “We wanted to get him in all situations to get him ice time, and I thought he was quite effective at times. There were maybe one or two forced plays, but that’s probably just the product of his first game back and him wanting to be successful.”
Avery said he felt “an eerie calmness” at the start.
“I was definitely a little nervous because it’s been a long time since I played in this league (nine years), and it’s a long time since I played,” Avery said. “But that’s usually a good thing, and I actually felt better than I expected. My legs felt good, and the hardest part was getting adjusted to the (slower) speed. But mentally and physically I felt fine.”
Avery said the most important and exciting part of the night was being back playing. He admitted several Moose players said “some typical guy stuff” that he didn’t want to repeat but added that veterans Krog and Mike Keane wished him well and told him to have some fun.
“I feel good that Dallas has given me an opportunity to come here and play and that the team in Hartford has allowed me to come in and play,” Avery said. “I probably could have had a few points if I had buried a few chances or a couple other guys had scored, but other than losing, it was a pretty good night.”
Avery started on a line with captain Greg Moore and Tomas Zaborsky, called up from Dayton of the ECHL on Friday. On his second shift, Avery got into a jousting match behind the Moose goal with Krog and Nathan McIver, who ended up fighting Jared Nightingale at 4:39.
That came 1:10 after the Moose took a lead they never relinquished as Dusty Collins beat Michael Sauer to a rebound of Pierre-Cedric Labrie’s shot and fired a 30-footer from the slot past Miika Wiikman (22 saves).
Avery quickly mixed with other linemates, including on the power play, and nearly helped get the Wolf Pack even when he sent a pass between his legs from behind the net that leading scorer P.A. Parenteau just failed to jam past Goehring (25 saves) with 2:33 left in the first period.
Avery began helping to kill penalties early in the second period and then set up Dale Weise in front, with Goehring sliding across to deny the native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, home of the Moose.
Given that reprieve, the Moose took a 2-0 lead at 13:53 on their third power play of the period when Alexandre Bolduc jammed in a rebound of Shaun Heshka’s shot.
The Wolf Pack nearly got to 2-1 during another Moose power play, but Avery shot wide on a 2-on-1 with Moore with 1:22 left.
Wiikman kept the Wolf Pack in it when he stopped Krog breaking in off left wing at 2:08 of the third period, then Weise ended Goehring’s shutout bid when he deflected in Brian Fahey’s right-point shot 1:50 later.
The Wolf Pack came within inches of tying it with 6:32 left, but Goehring slid across to deny Artem Anisimov at the left post off a pass from Parenteau. Then with 2:48 to go, Goehring stopped Brodie Dupont breaking in off left wing.
The Moose iced it when a Wolf Pack clearing attempt ricocheted off Moore to Krog, who beat Wiikman between the legs on a breakaway with 1:20 left.
Guillaume Desbiens capped the scoring with an empty-net, power-play goal with 34.3 seconds left.
Manitoba 1 1 2 — 4
Hartford 0 0 1 — 1
First period: 1. Mtb, Collins 6 (Labrie, Maxwell), 3:29; Penalties: Bolduc, Mtb (fighting), 0:04; Weise, Hfd (fighting), 0:04; McIver, Mtb (fighting), 4:39; Nightingale, Hfd (fighting), 4:39; Parenteau, Hfd (roughing), 4:39; Baumgartner, Mtb (hooking), 17:50.
Second period: 2. Mtb, Bolduc 10 (Sawada, Heshka), 13:53, pp; Penalties: Dupont, Hfd (hooking), 0:53; Potter, Hfd (tripping), 6:39; Parenteau, Hfd (interference), 12:05; Fahey, Hfd (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:34.
Third period: 3. Hfd, Weise 6 (Fahey, Rissmiller), 3:58; 4. Mtb, Krog 18, 18:40; 5. Mtb, Desbiens 14 (Grabner, Krog), 19:25, pp, en; Penalties: Labrie, Mtb (holding), 6:24; Jaffray, Mtb (unsportsmanlike conduct), 18:40; DiDiomete, Hfd (slashing), 18:40; Parenteau, Hfd (unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct – abuse of officials 40.4), 18:40.
Shots on goal: Manitoba 9-10-7_26, Hartford 12-4-11_27; Power-play opportunities: Manitoba 2-for-6, Hartford 0-for-2; Goalies: Manitoba, Goehring 15-9-0-2 (26 shots-25 saves), Hartford, Wiikman 16-14-2-1 (25-22); Referee: Shaun Davis; Linesmen: Marty Demers, Paul Simeon; A: 5,899.