Those of us who bleed Whale blue and green will have to hope that 2013 will represent a fresh new start for the Whale club, after a loss in the last game of 2012 that epitomized the frustrations that have dogged the team this season.
The Whale were playing a first-place team on New Year’s Eve in Portland, and the Pirates came into the game winners of seven of their last eight and ten out of 13. Yet, the Whale were clearly the better team for nearly two-thirds of the game.
Connecticut thoroughly outplayed the Pirates for most of the first two periods, being consistently first on the puck, winning battles and doing all of the little things right. That translated to a 3-0 Whale lead, after Micheal Haley and Tommy Grant scored 58 seconds apart early in the second period. The Whale were rolling their lines and dictating the play, keeping the Pirates on their heels, making it look like a statement win might be in the offing.
Then, suddenly and without warning, the wheels fell off.
As if a switch had been flipped, the Whale began running around in their own zone and letting their coverage break down, and two Pirate defensemen, Mathieu Brodeur and Chris Summers, found themselves open for fairly easy goals on consecutive shifts. And neither of those guys is exactly Bobby Orr offensively either, as Brodeur’s goal was only his second of the year and Summers’ was his first.
The fire drill continued after Summers scored with 15.9 seconds left, and Chris Kreider was whistled for a high-sticking minor as time expired. The Whale were able to get that killed off, but found themselves shorthanded again just after Kreider got out of the box, on a cross-checking call against Mike Vernace, and they would not escape again. Evan Brophey won a draw from Kris Newbury, and Jordan Szwarz tipped in a Michael Stone shot from the blue line.
The Whale seemed to right the ship somewhat after that, but had lost their margin for error, and another major coverage blunder resulted in the game-winner at 12:04. The Whale broke up a Portland rush but never quite got the puck out up the boards, and somehow managed completely to lose track of Ethan Werek, who, ironically, was a 2009 second-round New York Ranger pick whom the organization traded to Phoenix, in front of the net. The Pirates worked the puck back down deep quickly, finding the unguarded Werek, and he had time to put a backhand shot past the catching glove of Cam Talbot.
Therein is a pretty good snapshot of the Whale’s season so far. They play 45 or 50 perfectly good minutes, but then come a couple of blown coverages, a lost defensive-zone faceoff and another lost check, and next thing you know, the Whale are left a goal short.
The positive is that when the Whale take care of the little things and make their opponents do things the hard way, they are a pretty tough team to play against. The consistency has to improve, though, for the disappointments of New Year’s Eve not to be repeated on the other side of the calendar change.