Only one more game, one more game until the Rangers start getting some of their team depth back. Fortunately at this point it would appear that getting their groove back, at least their winning groove, wouldn't really be as much an issue as many may have thought prior to the World Junior Championships when the Rangers were poised to lose some of their defensive talent. Injuries to Applebaum, and Oreskovich certainly haven't done much to help the cause, but with the Under-17's and World Junior Championships quickly coming to a close the Rangers can expect reinforcements - and just in time. The Wolves had the task of playing in Mississauga yesterday afternoon, squeaking out a 3-2 victory before coming to Kitchener and facing the Rangers. The Wolves can count themselves lucky that they have managed to avoid big and often grumpy defender Boris Valabik who was out with injury when the Rangers visited Sudbury and then playing in the World Juniors during this matchup. The Rangers entered the game short their two import defenders: Boris Valabik and Jakub Kindl both playing in and around Vancouver, the blueline was further depleted on Friday night when Matt Pepe took a scary-looking high stick to the eye area and he was made unavailable for duty on this afternoon. Fortunately for the time being the Rangers still have the services of Dan Kelly and Matt Thomson and Julien Machabee were also were able to step up and make a contribution.
Unlike the Rangers' one and only visit to the
'Nickel City' this season the Wolves really showed some heart and were
a constant threat all afternoon long to steal a pair of points from the
hometown Rangers. David Lomas set the tone early with a thundering
check on veteran Wolves' defender Ryan Hastings that may have crossed the
line as Hastings fell into the boards awkwardly and the Wolves had to be
frustrated with their defender down and looking as if he could be out,
only to get the benefit of a 2 minute power play for boarding on the play.
Fortunately though Hastings was okay, just shaken, but he didn't wait to
exact some revenge on the his fellow overager - David Lomas, throwing his
gloves off and attacking Lomas before Lomas really knew what had hit him.
Lomas held his own and Hastings took the extra 2 for instigating and the
10 minute misconduct that goes along with it. The instigator penalty
proved costly for the Wolves though. The Rangers' power play worked
with a surgical percision early in the game and Justin Azevedo's point
blast found it way through to give the Rangers an early lead, unlike some
recent games the Rangers would really ride this lead out as the score remainded
unchanged for over 40 minutes of time. Justin Azevedo a regular on
the point for the Rangers' power play also saw spot duty when the Rangers
were playing four-on-four to help alleviate fatigued defenders who have
been overused of late.
In the second period, already with the lead the Rangers began to push to increase their advantage, but Kevin Beech the Wolves' big overage netminder had little interest in allowing any rebounds of use to the home town Rangers who wore their third jerseys on home ice for only the second time this season (the first time was against the London Knights on teddy bear night). Good luck charm or not, the Rangers pressed and several times it appeared as if they might open up a bigger lead, but each time Beech denied them. Probably the Rangers' best opportunity was when Nick Foligno was handed a double-minor for a high-stick that got up on Mike Duco in the second period. The Rangers' did press, but lady luck was not on their size. Coach Mike Foligno argued the call, it stood. Craig Voakes broke up the second half of the power play with a interference minor, but that would only be the beginning of the intrigue as Ryan Hastings would follow him to the box with a hooking minor only a minute later. Rangers' coach Peter DeBoer elected to call a timeout to rally the troops and get the insurance marker late in the frame. It failed but it did not fail to open up the play while 4-on-3 fans were treated to a pair of end-to-end rushes where both netminders were forced to come up big. Mark Packwood wasn't quite as busy as his counter-part in the Wolves' net, he was also not nearly as experienced. Packwood had to deal with several odd man rushes and for the second time this season took a shutout into the third period.
The Rangers appeared to put the tight-checking game out of reach in the third period when Matt Auffrey scored in the third period, just barely wrapping the puck around the post on the power play. But the Wolves resolve and that of the busload of fans that they brought with them didn't go away. Jonathan D'Aversa put a perfect shot-like pass onto the stick of Keaton Turkiewicz who redirected the puck through the legs of Packwood on the powerplay. The Wolves would come up with another power play but failed to tie this one up before time ran out and the Rangers left with a 2-1 victory. The 2-1 victory combined with a 7-3 loss by the Guelph Storm gives the Rangers the top goals against average (top team rated defense) in the league. The Rangers win and the Storm loss also allow the Rangers to close to within 3 points of the Storm with three games in hand. The Wolves haven't won in Kitchener in at least their last 11 visits establishing a record of futility similar to the ones that the Rangers' used to hold over the IceDogs. The Wolves were playing without Marc Staal and Benoit Pouliot both representing Canada at the World Junior Championships. Both netminders Beech (#3) and Packwood (#2) were named as stars of the game behind Matt Auffrey who scored the eventual winner.