LAVAL, Quebec – The Hartford Wolf Pack could not overcome a 3-0 first-period deficit Friday night at Place Bell, and lost 4-2 to the Laval Rocket, top farm club of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.
Former Wolf Pack forward Adam Cracknell scored twice for Laval, including the shorthanded game-winner, and Eric Gelinas had a goal and an assist.
Cole Schneider and Ryan Sproul had the Wolf Pack goals.
“We’re in a building where we know there’s going to be lots of electricity and excitement to start,” Wolf Pack head coach Keith McCambridge said. “We’re developing guys to play in pressure situations like that, and I didn’t think that we responded well to the push that they had. They played a physical game to start, got us on our heels, and some guys weren’t able to handle that. I thought as the game got going, we found our traction, found our structure and were able to generate some scoring chances.”
The Wolf Pack fell behind on the game’s first shift, when Cracknell scored only 26 seconds after the opening faceoff. He took a feed from Daniel Audette and broke down the left side, getting past a couple of Wolf Pack defenders and putting a forehand shot up under the crossbar behind Wolf Pack goaltender Marek Mazanec (16 saves).
The Wolf Pack found themselves down two men at 9:13, on simultaneous penalties to Scott Kosmachuk (slashing) and John Gilmour (high-sticking). Hartford came within five seconds of killing the long 5-on-3, but the Rocket capitalized at 11:08, as Nikita Scherbak sent a cross-slot pass to Gelinas, a defenseman, who had rotated down to the bottom of the right circle. Gelinas’ one-timer easily beat Mazanec to the stick side.
Then, at 17:30, with the Wolf Pack on their first power play of the game, the Rocket made it a 3-0 lead with a shorthanded goal, Cracknell’s second tally of the game. After Cracknell was tossed out of a draw in the circle to Mazanec’s left, Audette, his replacement, cleanly beat the Wolf Pack’s Gabriel Fontaine, and Cracknell one-timed the puck past Mazanec’s catching glove.
It was the Wolf Pack getting the early jump in the second period, with a goal by Schneider 35 seconds in. Schneider’s pass from the right-wing corner went off the stick of Rocket defenseman Matt Taormina in front of the goal, and past Laval goaltender Zach Fucale (27 saves).
Hartford cut the lead to one goal at 14:37, on Sproul’s fourth goal of the season. A Gilmour pass sent Sproul away up the right side, and he surprised Fucale with a low shot from below the faceoff dot.
The Rocket got that goal back on a power play, though, at 17:33, with Brandon Crawley off for slashing. Scherbak fed from the top of the left circle across to Taormina, and his quick slap shot went in on the sick side.
The third period was scoreless, despite the Wolf Pack having a 5-on-3 power play for 1:31 after Yannick Veilleux was called for slashing at 7:43 and Gelinas for high-sticking at 8:12. Kosmachuk had the best chance, on a one-timer from the left side of the slot, but his shot missed wide.
The Wolf Pack continue a stretch of four straight road games Saturday night, with their first-ever visit to Belleville, Ontario, for a 7 p.m. game vs. the Belleville Senators.