For much of the early season, the Whale had few problems generating offense, but were challenged at keeping the puck out of their own net.
The last couple of weeks, though, the defensive play has improved quite a bit, with the 9-2 loss in Manchester a couple of Saturdays ago being an ugly exception, but now the offense seems to have largely gone cold.
Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Portland Pirates was the second 1-0 home defeat in seven days for the Whale, who were also blanked by that same score by the Albany Devils the previous Sunday at the XL Center. Even in the game they won this week, a 2-1 triumph over Worcester Wednesday, the Whale were held off the scoreboard until the third period, and had been scoreless for nearly six full periods before finally putting one into the net on the Sharks.
The Whale have now been shut out three times in a span of seven games, all three at home, and have been held to two goals twice more in those games.
On the other side of the puck, the Whale are still last in the AHL in goals-against per game at 3.38, but that figure has been coming down consistently as of late. It’s hard to feel good about a pair of 1-0 losses, but if you keep giving up only a goal per game you’re going to win quite a few, and since that 9-2 meltdown, the Whale have allowed only one in three out of four games.
Unfortunately for the Whale, one of the guys who has been able to get some production accomplished recently, J.T. Miller (3-3-6 in his last six games) will be away from the team for the next couple of weeks, as he travels to Russia for the World Junior Championship. Miller had been playing center and logging a lot of ice time, and it will be interesting to see what the Whale do to fill the void. Tommy Grant had been a healthy scratch the last three games, and one would assume he would go back in the lineup to replace Miller, but Grant is a winger. I’m guessing Micheal Haley will be moved back to the middle, maybe into the spot where Kris Newbury had been centering Shayne Wiebe and Christian Thomas. Newbury then might go back between Marek Hrivik and Chad Kolarik, with Grant playing where Haley was, on the left side with Kelsey Tessier and Ryan Bourque.
The last two games before the Christmas holiday are against a pair of Atlantic Division teams, at Manchester on Friday and home to Providence on Saturday. Hopefully for them, the Whale can get some revenge on the Monarchs for that seven-goal blowout, and maybe that might start them on a different path than has been the pattern the last two weeks, in which the club has won only two of nine games (2-6-1-0).
A couple of Whale reading bits that are well worth checking out if you are interested…Mark Malinowski did a “favorite things biofile” with Ryan Bourque for thehockeynews.com, and Miller was profiled by John Tranchina for USAHockey.com. Also, it was announced today that the NHL Network will broadcast all of Miller and Team USA’s World Junior action live.