By Bob Crawford
Even with their 3-2 loss Sunday in Manchester, the Hartford Wolf Pack have played better than .650 hockey over a span of 19 games (12-6-0-1), exactly a quarter of an AHL season, and no single factor has been more responsible for that run than the goaltending of Dov Grumet-Morris.
With his 33-save performance in the Wolf Pack’s 4-3 win over the Albany Devils Saturday at the XL Center, Grumet-Morris improved to 10-1-1 in his last 12 decisions, dating back to January 24. In 22 total appearances since being acquired by the Wolf Pack from the San Antonio Rampage December 13, the ninth-year pro is 12-5-4, with a 2.32 goals-against average and a fine 92.5% save percentage.
Before Sunday’s game, in which he backed up David LeNeveu, Grumet-Morris spoke about the team’s recent surge, which has taken the Pack from last overall in the AHL to within two points of 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I think that this game is about momentum, both within a game itself, in between periods or during periods, and then also within a season,” the recently-turned-32-year-old said. “You can see the power of the negative, downward momentum, and I think that’s what happened to the team in November, and now you see the effects of the positive, upward momentum. Right now we’re not really focused on the points, we’re focused on appreciating and enjoying the process, because points happen when you take the proper steps. And when you focus on the steps, the points usually just come.”
Saturday’s game against Albany featured several momentum swings, the most abrupt of which came in the seventh minute of the third period. After giving up the first goal of the game in the second period, the Wolf Pack had countered with two quick ones, and then made it a 3-1 lead with a tally by J.T. Miller only 2:02 into the third. Shortly after that, though, the Devils struck for a pair of scores only 28 seconds apart, starting at the 6:29 mark. The Wolf Pack ended up shrugging off that punch in the gut, and got a goal from Ryan Bourque at 12:25 that would hold up as the game-winner. From an outsider’s perspective, the team’s recovery from those two rapid-fire goals-against seemed significant, but the always-analytical Grumet-Morris dismisses that notion.
“Goals happen, both for and against,” he said. “The fact that they could score quickly is not really indicative of anything, that’s just the way the game went. There were two quick goals in 30 seconds, that’s not ideal, but it’s not really that unusual, especially in this league, and it doesn’t matter. We just continued to play after that, they had some chances, we had some chances, and we ended up scoring and they didn’t. And at the end of the day, what does it matter if they score one in the first, one in the second and one in the third? It’s still three goals.
“People fixate sometimes on the number of seconds between goals, but it’s essentially irrelevant, if you, again, are focusing on each individual step, focusing on the process, because we scored four and they scored three. I don’t think they gained any victory whatsoever over the fact that they tied the game three to three. It doesn’t matter, they’re still [angry] about losing four to three.
“I don’t really focus on that, and I try to play my game accordingly. Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, well you settled down after that,’ it has nothing to do with settling, it just has to do with playing. What does it matter if I had made the save before? I still have to make the next save. So I don’t really focus on that.”
Similarly, Grumet-Morris is not about to turn handsprings over the record he has put together in a Wolf Pack uniform, even as compared to the 1-6-1 slate he compiled in his eight appearances with San Antonio prior to the trade. In considering that point, he had some interesting things to say about the significance, or lack thereof, of individual goaltending statistics.
“If you want to digest blocks of the season, I started in San Antonio 1-6-1,” Grumet-Morris said. “In my six losses, five of those games I had either zero or one goal scored-for, and in only one game did we have more than one goal. So you can’t win games 1-0. You can win one a year, maybe two.
“If my team had scored four goals each and every one of those games, I would have been 6-1-1. Would that mean that I was playing better hockey because my team was scoring four goals? No, it means that offensively we were clicking, and when I was there we weren’t. And that’s just part of hockey. I don’t blame anyone, it’s not my responsibility to worry about goal-scoring, and that’s why the record was 1-6-1. And then you come here, and maybe you’re struggling one night but your team scores six goals, and you win 6-3. Great, OK, good job, does that mean that it was a better game than the previous game that you lost 2-1, but maybe statistically you had a better game?
“It really doesn’t matter, I think people get fixated because it’s hard to watch every individual game, and every individual save, and analyze it down if you’re not doing it for your living. I don’t really worry about the stats in that sense, I worry about the process and I worry about doing the right thing all the time.”
The team as a whole has seemed to feed off of that approach, and Grumet-Morris feels that the entire group is in a good collective rhythm at this point.
“It helps that we’re playing some home games, because we get the crowd behind us and we’re sleeping in our own beds and we’re just a little more comfortable, so that’s nice,” he said. “And overall I think our team has been just much more consistent from day to day, and even from shift to shift. So we’re getting better, it’s a process but we’re real excited, we’re making a great push right now. We have to continue that, we understand, but we are excited.”
Grumet-Morris’ own situation has stabilized considerably as well, now that he has moved his wife, Rachel, and their two daughters, Gabriella and Leah, from San Antonio out to Connecticut. Rachel was still pregnant with Leah when Grumet-Morris was traded, and Leah did not arrive until January 19. Shortly thereafter, the three ladies relocated north to rejoin their favorite goaltender, who had made several trips back and forth to Texas prior to Leah’s birth.
“It’s great,” said Grumet-Morris of having the whole brood back under the same roof. “It certainly is chaotic with a family, and it’s very difficult when you’re trying to move a whole crew and all your stuff, especially the toys, but it’s been great and I appreciate having my family here. And I do think it makes a difference, and I think it helps.”
photo credit: chris rutsch