Sound Tigers Face Wolf Pack, T-Birds this Weekend
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - The Bridgeport Sound Tigers (15-23-4-1), American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Islanders, make short trips to Hartford and Springfield this weekend for their final two games before the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic. Bridgeport faces the first-place Hartford Wolf Pack (23-10-4-5) tonight at 7:15 p.m. before battling the Springfield Thunderbirds (24-18-2-0) at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
LAST TIME OUT
The Sound Tigers suffered a 3-1 loss to the Providence Bruins at Webster Bank Arena last Saturday. Mason Jobst's power-play goal in the second period kept the game neck-and-neck nearing the third, but the Bruins pulled through with the help of Trent Frederic's three-point effort (1g, 2a). Jakub Skarek (3-9-1) made an AHL career-high 32 saves on 35 shots for Bridgeport. Both the Sound Tigers and Wolf Pack have been off since Saturday night.
TIGERS VS. WOLF PACK
Tonight's game is the sixth of 12 meetings between the Sound Tigers and Wolf Pack this season. It's also the fourth of six matchups inside the XL Center. Bridgeport is 1-2-2-0 against the Rangers' affiliate so far and winless on the road (0-1-2-0). They last met in Hartford on New Year's Eve, in which Otto Koivula and Andrew Ladd each scored in a 3-2 loss. Koivula's six points (1g, 5a) in five games are the most of any one player in the 2019-20 series.
VIEW FROM HARTFORD
The Wolf Pack have the best win percentage of any team at home (.895) and continue to lead the Eastern Conference (.655, 55 points), but the club has dropped four straight games overall (0-2-2-0). Last time out, Hartford suffered a 5-4 overtime loss at Hershey on Saturday, in which Steven Fogarty and Yegor Rykov each scored once and added an assist. All-Star replacement Vinni Lettieri was held quiet, but continues to lead the Wolf Pack in goals (18) and points (35). Lettieri is also tied for 17th in the AHL's scoring race, while goalie Igor Shesterkin (15-4-3) was returned on loan by the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Shesterkin leads the AHL with a 1.93 GAA and ranks third in save percentage (.932).
TIGERS VS. T-BIRDS
The Sound Tigers travel to the MassMutual Center on Saturday night for their final game before the All-Star Break. Bridgeport is 4-4-1-0 in nine outings against the Florida Panthers' affiliate, but Springfield has won three straight meetings dating back to Dec. 20. The T-Birds recorded a 4-0 win in their last tilt on Jan. 10 in Massachusetts.
VIEW FROM SPRINGFIELD
The surging Thunderbirds have won three straight games entering the weekend and have scored four or more goals in each of those contests. Springfield is one point out of a playoff spot through 44 games this season. Last time out, Jonathan Ang scored twice and leading-scorer Owen Tippett had two points (one goal, one assist) in a 5-2 win against Hershey on Wednesday. Tippett, the 10th overall pick in 2017, is tied for 11th in the AHL's scoring race (37 points) and ranks second among all rookies. He's also third among AHL rookies in goals (18) and fourth in assists (19).
Brent Thompson will work his 500th game as an AHL head coach tonight, all of those contests behind the Sound Tigers bench. Thompson is in his seventh season as Bridgeport's bench boss and ninth season in the Islanders organization. He served as an assistant coach on Long Island from 2012-14. In the AHL, Thompson is 246-203-50 in 499 career games and became the Sound Tigers' all-time winningest head coach on Jan. 28, 2017 with his 134th victory. He was hired on June 28, 2011 following two seasons with the Alaska Aces (ECHL), where he won the Kelly Cup in 2011.
YOU OTTO BELIEVE IT
Otto Koivula scored again last Friday and now has 10 points (5g, 5a) in his last 10 games, including his first North American hat trick on Jan. 12 vs. Laval. Koivula had two goals in his first 19 games of the season, but has five in his last seven AHL games. Koivula ended last season tied for second on the Sound Tigers in scoring (46 points) and ranked fourth among AHL rookies in goals (21). He was recalled by the Islanders for the first time in his career on Oct. 30 and made his NHL debut on Nov. 16 at Philadelphia.
WELCOME BACK ALL-STAR
Sebastian Aho was returned on loan from the New York Islanders on Wednesday and is expected to be in the lineup for both games this weekend. Aho leads the Sound Tigers in assists (19) and is second in points (21) this season, despite several call-ups with the Islanders. In addition, Aho was named to the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic on Jan. 3 and will travel to Ontario, California following Saturday's game. It's his third straight All-Star bid, becoming Bridgeport's first player to ever earn three or more selections.
Christopher Gibson is expected to start tonight's game - his first appearance since Nov. 27 due to injury... Gibson is 5-3-3 with a 2.40 GAA in 11 appearances this season... Seth Helgeson is the only player to compete in all 43 games this season... The Sound Tigers have scored a power-play goal in four straight and also in five of their last six games... Bridgeport has a chance to win back-to-back road games for the first time this season this evening.
NHL: New York Islanders (29-15-5) - Next: Saturday, Feb. 1 vs. Vancouver, 1 p.m. ET
ECHL: Worcester Railers (16-23-2-0) - Next: Tonight, at Maine, 7:15 p.m. ET
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