The Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers) finished the regular season atop their division with 95 points. They were one of only two teams from the Northeast Division to make the playoffs, but I'd say it's still a fairly competitive division.(The AHL division format is that all five teams play each other 12 times, so it's fairly significant that they were the top seed in the Northeast.)
The Manchester Monarchs not only won the Atlantic, they won the entire AHL (regular season) with 109 points and really, no one else even came close.
The Road So Far
The Wolf Pack beat the Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins) with a 3-2 series win in the first round after going down 2-1 in the series. They moved on to face the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) where they beat them in six games. The Bears were a pretty tough opponent and they had some of the best (most consistent) goaltending during the regular season from Philipp Grubauer so it's a little surprising that the scrappy Wolf Pack beat them in six games.
Long-time veteran Yann Danis has been excellent in net for the Wolf Pack, posting a .931 sv% and 1.97 GAA through 11 games.
During the regular season, the Monarchs won the series 3-1, losing only once in a shootout, in which Danis outdueled Patrik Bartosak and stopped all three Manchester shooters in the silly skills competition.
The Monarchs were pushed to the brink in the first round by the Portland Pirates (Phoenix Coyotes) after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, outscoring their opponent 11-4 at home, but losing 8-2 on the road. They won Game 5, then moved on to beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins) in five games.
As good as Danis has been, Jean-Francois Berube has been the opposite. Through 10 games, he is currently sporting a very un-sexy .898 sv% and 2.33 GAA, easily the worst among goaltenders still in the playoffs. Don't let Rudy or his numbers fool you -- he's not as bad as he seems. While he has allowed
some several questionable goals, he has also come up big and shut down opposing teams when the game is on the line.
Who's Getting It Done
The leading scorer for Hartford in the playoffs has been Chris Bourque, with four goals and 10 assists in 11 GP. He is the third leading scorer in the AHL behind Jordan Weal and Teemu Pulkkinen (Grand Rapid Griffins), who are tied for first with 15 points in 10 games. Oscar Lindberg (1-9-10 points), Chris Mueller (5-4-9 points) and Marek Hrivik (3-5-8 points) round out the top four leaders for Hartford.
It seems more like the Wolf Pack are getting it done by committee rather than being top heavy/relying too much on one or two players.
For Manchester, as mentioned, Weal is their current leading scorer, closely followed by Michael Mersch (6-7-13) and Brian O'Neill (6-5-11). Nick Shore (2-6), who has gotten off to a bit of a slow start after recovering from a late season illness, is tied with Sean Backman (1-7) with eight points.
The Monarchs do tend to rely heavily on their top six, but their bottom six with Andrew Crescenzi and Justin Auger have been pretty good about not giving up many goals or turning the puck over quite frequently.
Defensively, neither team is getting a ton of production out of their blue liners. For Hartford, Mat Bodie is their highest scoring defenseman with four points while Vincent LoVerde 's seven points edge out Colin Miller 's six.
Hartford is only averaging about 9.6 penalty minutes per game and Manchester isn't much worse at 10.8.
Hartford's power play at 16.3% is only slightly better than Manchester's 15.4%. The Wolf Pack have scored seven PPGs to the Monarchs' six.
Penalty killing is where Hartford has a more sizable advantage over Manchester. Hartford's 85.4% is far better than Manchester's 76.9% so it'd probably behoove the Monarchs to stay out of the box, even if Hartford's PP isn't amazing. Given how bad Manchester's PK, team discipline would go a long way.
Some Light Reading
Brian O'Neill Back In Connecticut To Lead Monarchs Against Wolf Pack The Yale alumnus is back in town, this time for a big playoff game against the Hartford Wolf Pack.
New Hampshire Union Leader
Monarchs, Van der Gulik back for more The bottom-six winger has played a pivotal role for his team in helping them get to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Monarchs Set For AHL Conference Finals Alex Kinkopf previews the series for LAK.com
Puck drop for Game 1 of the ECF will be Thursday, May 21 at 7:05 p.m. E.T.
The Monarchs have been perfect at home so far but struggled a little bit on the road, especially in Game 3 of both series where they came out flat and failed to contain their opponent.
Meanwhile, the Wolf Pack have been a pretty decent road team, picking up the first win in each of their series and then subsequently dropping Game 2 before they find a way to win the series.
As noted earlier, discipline will be very important and a necessity if they want to win against the Wolf Pack.