NHL News

Wolf Pack Coach Steve Smith Powering Team Through Injuries

Kris Knoblauch Edmonton Oilers

“It’s sort of a battle of attrition at this point,” Hartford Wolf Pack interim head coach Steve Smith stated with the Wolf Pack coming off a 2-1 victory on Feb. 21 at home despite a depleted roster. The team has been decimated by injuries all season and the recent stretch hasn’t done them any favors as they started a triple-header on Wednesday night, a game where Anton Blidh and Riley Nash left in the third period and didn’t return to action.

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Despite the lack of skaters available, the Wolf Pack keep winning. They have a 26-16-5 record which is the fourth-best in the Atlantic Division and their recent victory was a testament to their ability to grind out victories. They finished the game with 10 forwards and allowed the defense to control the game.

The season at large is also a testament to the great coaching the Wolf Pack have behind their bench with Smith leading the team. Average teams will unravel because of injuries and good teams can remain competitive despite them. The Wolf Pack haven’t been great lately with a 4-4 record in February but Smith has kept them in every game and more importantly, helped develop the prospects from the American Hockey League (AHL) for the New York Rangers.

Filling in for Knoblauch

The Wolf Pack entered the season with a head coach primed for NHL success. It was only a matter of time before a team hired Kris Knoblauch and on Nov. 12, the Edmonton Oilers made him their head coach after firing Jay Woodcroft. Knoblauch hasn’t looked back as he’s not only turned the Oilers into one of the best teams in the NHL, with a 33-18-2 record, but he’s also put himself in the Jack Adams Award conversation.

The Oilers’ offense was never in question in the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era, but the defense was. Knoblauch fixed it as the team now plays a gap-sound style that limits effective shots on the net. The Oilers allow only 2.94 goals per game and are on pace to allow fewer than three goals per game for the first time since the 2020-21 season. It goes without saying that Knoblauch is a tough act to follow.

Head Coach Kris Knoblauch of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

“He’s been put in a tough situation right away having to take over as head coach,” Jake Leschyshyn noted about Smith after the victory over the Bridgeport Islanders. It seemed like it would be impossible to find someone who could fill in for…

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