By Bob Crawford
Hartford Wolf Pack veteran defenseman Danny Syvret is the quarterback of a Wolf Pack power-play unit that was 0-for-17 in four games, and 1-for-31 in a span of seven games, going into Saturday night’s visit to Adirondack.
The power play exploded in that contest, though, going 3-for-5 against a Phantom penalty kill that entered the game second overall in the league, at 86.6%. Syvret, who had two assists in Saturday’s win, pointed to a subtle change in the Pack’s power-play setup as a key to its outburst.
“We sort of changed up our strategy a little bit,” he said, “into a power-play called a 1-3-1, which means there’s one defenseman, me, guarding the whole blue line. We have one forward in front of the net, which was (Ryan) Bourque, and then we have three forwards sort of across the offensive zone, one being (Jesper) Fast, in the middle was (Danny) Kristo and to my right, looking at the net, would have been (J.T.) Miller. It actually works really well, because for a team that pressures the puck on the penalty-kill, there’s options everywhere on the ice. We were able to move the puck quicker than they could skate, and in return we got a lot of scoring opportunities from it, and scored as well.”
While the effects were hard to miss, the shift in formation was barely noticeable, as lately the Wolf Pack had been going largely with an “umbrella” look on the man-advantage. That also featured Syvret as the only real point man, with forwards fanned out on either side.
“Our structure’s sort of the same,” Syvret said, “but we usually have two guys sort of near the net, one being a guy that’s on the goal line, and we since then have moved that player to the middle of the ice, which actually makes a lot more sense because every player on the ice has two, or three, passing options. And they (the opposing penalty killers) just don’t have enough bodies to cover passing lanes and shooting lanes.”
In either scenario, Syvret is usually the only individual stationed high in the offensive zone, giving him the opportunity to be the true “field general”, looking over all of the available options and selecting the best one to exploit. It also makes him responsible for ensuring that the opponents aren’t able to break the other way with speed, but that obligation is fine with Syvret.
“We have very creative players on the ice, smart guys that can read plays quickly and adjust to different scenarios,” the ninth-year pro said. “So as long as we have options for each other, I trust that the other guys on the ice, as well as myself, will make smart decisions in moving the puck, like it happened at Adirondack. We had plenty of chances and we actually scored on quite a few of them.”
As by far the most experienced player on the first power-play unit, and the only defenseman in a four-forward alignment, Syvret sees his role as being most prominently to help direct traffic.
“Just sort of keep things composed I think, for the most part,” is how Syvret described it, “but in saying that, Millsie (Miller) does a pretty good job on the half-wall of doing the same thing. And we’ve been distributing the puck very well, it’s not been the traditional one or two guys always getting the goals or setting up plays. Especially at Adirondack, I think everyone on the ice had a point for us on the power play and created chances. Hopefully we’ll keep being able to do that and continue our success.”
Two of the Wolf Pack’s team season-high three power-play goals Sunday were scored by Fast, who also added an assist for his first career three-point outing in North America. Both goals by the right-handed-shooting Fast were from the left circle, one on a one-timer and the other on a perfectly-placed slap shot.
“He’s obviously a really good player, a real smart player, good with the puck and intelligent,” Syvret said of Fast. “And I think a big part of being in your first year is confidence, and if you look at our standings obviously he’s been scoring, but then if you look at his shots on net, they’re really low. So I think part of it for him is having confidence in himself to shoot the puck, because I think 25 percent of all of his shots go in, and that’s a high percentage. So hopefully he continues playing confident and shooting the puck, and they seem to go in for him.”
Saturday’s game was the last in a ten-game season series between the Wolf Pack and Phantoms, with whom Syvret played for most of three of the past four seasons, before being traded to the Ranger organization last summer for Kris Newbury. The fans at the Glens Falls Civic Center seemed jilted that Syvret was no longer wearing their team’s jersey, as his every touch on the puck Saturday was met with a chorus of boos.
“It was fun,” a smiling Syvret said of hearing the catcalls. “Their fans are pretty animated, and it didn’t really help that last game when we were in there I scored an empty-netter, and I was getting heckled the entire game, and it was sort of out of character for me, but after I scored an empty-net goal which would have put us up by two, I sort of celebrated to the crowd in the section where the hecklers were giving it to me the entire game.
“I knew coming in that they were going to be all over me, and it was actually pretty comical to listen to them pretty much the entire game when I’m on the bench. I think they wasted a lot of energy on me, which is fine. I got a kick out of it, and then obviously any time I touched the puck, they were for sure booing me. It was fun, it was a good atmosphere to play in, and obviously winning helped, for sure.”
There has been much more winning than losing for the Wolf Pack over the past two months, after the frustration that marked November, and much of December and early January. The team has not given up on a miracle run for a playoff berth, and Syvret feels that, on balance, it has been a reasonably positive year for him.
“It seems consistent with my last few years,” he analyzed. “I think the last four or five years I’ve finished with forty points or more, and I’m trying to get to that 40-point threshold. I’ve felt offensively I’ve been playing well, and defensively my plus/minus, which, as an offensive guy, is sometimes in the negative, that’s sort of your knock against you, has been in the positive sector for the year. So, I’ll keep playing the way I have been and hopefully the numbers will keep falling, as will the wins.”
Syvret has also made a significant contribution to the organization’s development this season, spending substantial time partnered with both Dylan McIlrath and Tommy Hughes, two very young, but very promising Ranger defensive prospects.
“I really like it,” Syvret said in reference to skating alongside either of those two big young horses. “It doesn’t really matter who I play with. I feel like I just try to support my partner and make it as easy as possible for them to play the game. And obviously having two big bodies beside me helps in the defensive portion of the game, and any time they’re in trouble, hopefully I’m there to support and try and break out the puck for them. I really enjoy playing with both of them, and I feel like we have pretty good chemistry. It’s easy for us to transition from one player to the other throughout the game, so it makes life on the coaching staff pretty easy.”
As does having a player like Syvret to help choreograph the power play, and to lend a calming veteran presence to the locker room.
photo credit: chris rutsch