Archive for October, 2012

Whale Suddenly Streaking

October 29, 2012

Whilst hiding from Sandy in my living room, the following occurred to me:

The Whale showed flashes of promise through their first four games, but had just enough bad stretches to ensure that they would not have success in the end.

In last week’s three games, by contrast, I’d hesitate to say they played 60 good minutes, but they put together enough good to outweigh any lapses that occurred.

Wednesday night’s win in Albany was pretty close to a complete effort, but even in that one they gave up the first goal, and were outshot 33-26, including 12-5 in the third period.

The first period against Hershey on Saturday was awesome, the best 20 minutes the Whale have played to date.  They were up 2-0 on the Bears, and if it hadn’t been for some extremely sharp saves by Hershey goaltender Dany Sabourin, it could have been 4-0 or 5-0.  For the rest of that game, though, the Whale seemed to throw it in cruise control.  And although they were never seriously threatened, they let the Bears get their legs under them and get some confidence, and the Whale had to work pretty hard to finish off a game that it looked like they could have won easily.

Then, Saturday night’s win over Providence was a real strange one.

It was the Whale who fell behind early that night, giving up a goal to the Bruins’ Jamie Tardif only 2:06 in, but after that, everything went Connecticut’s way.

They tied it before the eight-minute mark of the first, then reeled off four goals in the second before Providence got a couple back.  Then, with the Bruins pressing early in the third and the Whale beating a path to the penalty box, Providence relief goaltender Niklas Svedberg journeyed into the corner to play a dump-in, only to all but hand it to the Whale’s Kris Newbury, who easily deposited it into the vacated net for a backbreaking shorthanded goal.

The final was 6-3, which makes it look like a fairly dominating win for Connecticut, but the funny thing is, I would say they didn’t play that well.  The Bruins had a 40-23 shots on goal advantage and earned six power plays to the Whale’s two, and other than the Whale’s scoring plays, the visitors seemed to dictate a lot of the flow of the game.

A bucketless Kris Newbury flies down the ice in Saturday’s win over Providence

 

Providence had a tough time finding the big play to finish chances, though, and their goalies, Svedberg and starter Michael Hutchinson, had a nightmarish evening.  In addition to that giveaway by Svedberg to Newbury, there were several other instances where the puck seemed to want to go in the net for the Whale, and even when the Bruins got one big save in a sequence, they often found a way to give up a goal shortly thereafter.

At the other end, the Whale’s Cam Talbot didn’t have a flawless game either, but he was able to roll with the night’s many strange bounces of the puck much better than his Bruin counterparts.  The three goals that got by him Saturday were thrice as many as he gave up in his first game of the season Friday, but still were sufficient to raise his record to 2-0.

Talbot’s Friday effort was terrific, especially in view of the fact that it was the first game action he had seen since last spring’s playoffs.  The Whale was anxious to see if Talbot could recapture his late-season and playoff form from last year, and Friday he looked every bit as good as he had down the stretch in April and May, missing a shutout by only about six-and-a-half minutes.

If Talbot wasn’t the best goaltender in the league from March 30th of last year on, he was pretty close, and, although that’s a pretty small sample size, it also came at the most pressure-packed time of the year, which says plenty about his moxie.  Now, of course, he has to prove that he can carry the load over the endurance test of the long regular season, but four goals-against on 67 shots over the first two games is an encouraging start.

The other most interesting thing that happened during the week involved Newbury, who came into Wednesday’s game in Albany as the Whale’s leading point-getter, but spent all but one shift of that night cooling his heels on the bench.

Thirty-eight seconds into the proceedings Wednesday, Newbury was whistled for a cross-check by referee David Banfield, and proceeded to protest so much that he was slapped with an additional minor for unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as a ten-minute misconduct.  The Whale managed to kill the resulting power play, but Whale coach Ken Gernander was so displeased with Newbury that the veteran centerman never got another shift.

Interestingly, the Whale did just fine without their number-one pivot, ringing up five goals and their first win of the year, and Newbury, to his credit, seemed to swallow his medicine and get right back down to business.  He is one of those guys who never seems to change very much…he always plays on the edge and never wavers in intensity, and he did not exude any sort of persecution complex or show any lip-dragging after being sat down by Gernander.  The Whale coach did what he had to do in terms of sending a message to the whole team about penalties, and Newbury, back to regular duty the next game, responded with a big night Saturday against one of the club’s main rivals in the Bruins.

Hopefully for the Whale, that is one of those conflicts that causes some anguish when it’s happening, but ultimately makes the whole group stronger.

Tough Road for Whale

October 22, 2012

At least the Whale got quite a few miles off their travelogue this weekend.

The longest bus trip of the season is history, which is definitely a good thing, but the Whale’s two-game journey down to Norfolk did not yield any wins, and the team came back with only one point in the standings.

They earned that point, in a 5-4 overtime loss Friday, through a good show of character, wiping out a 4-2 deficit in the third period.  After battling all the way back to get the game to OT, though, the Whale succumbed to what was a continuing problem all weekend, difficulty getting cleanly out of their own end, and Norfolk’s Corey Elkins converted a nifty three-way passing play for his third goal of the game and the winner.

Throughout the two games, it seemed as though once the Whale got out of their own zone they were fine, and they actually outshot the Admirals both nights, but getting crisp breakouts going was a consistent issue.  In fact, on four of Norfolk’s five goals in the first game, I would say the puck should have gotten out of the Whale zone and didn’t.

Hopefully that is not too difficult a fix, and the Whale certainly showed some glimpses of being a team to be reckoned with.  Kris Newbury continued his fine start with four assists in the two games; Kyle Jean had three more points over the weekend and has chipped in at least a point

Kris Newbury (Chris Rutsch)

in all four games; and there were some indications of balanced scoring as well.

Brandon Segal celebrated his return to the scene of his Calder Cup triumph last spring with two goals in Friday’s third period, getting the Whale to OT, after Matt Gilroy had popped two in from the blueline earlier in the game; Chad Kolarik found the net for the first time on the season with a hard, well-placed power-play shot in Saturday’s third period; and Christian Thomas combined with Newbury on a nice finish of a two-on-one Saturday.

Things don’t get any easier this week, either, as the Whale face a trip to Albany Wednesday before home games on the weekend against Hershey and Providence.

The Albany lineup includes three lockout-induced additions from New Jersey who spent most, if not all, of last season in the NHL, those being Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique, along with Jacob Josefson and Adam Larsson.  Hershey has lost some of its signature names from their recent Calder Cup teams, like Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque, but the Bears still have some serious firepower.

Don’t know if you saw it, but Hershey lost 8-7 to Rochester in the Bears’ home opener Saturday, so clearly they like to play it wide-open, and ex-Wolf Pack Jeff Taffe (2-5-7, with a goal and three assists Saturday), South Windsor’s own Jon DiSalvatore (2-4-6) and defenseman Garrett Stafford (1-5-6 for the season and four assists Saturday) are all off to hot starts.  And speaking of Ryan Bourque’s older brother, Chris has moved on to the Bruin organization, and although he has been held to two assists in four games, his Providence club has won back-to-back road games after dropping its first two starts of the season.

Whale out of the Gate

October 15, 2012

And so a 16th season of AHL hockey in Hartford is underway.

Not exactly the start the Whale were looking for, with a pair of home losses, but there certainly were some positives.

One was the power play, which was 5/13 in the two games, with Kris Newbury scoring three of those goals.  Clearly, the presence of guys like Matt Gilroy, Chris Kreider and Logan Pyett is going to make the Whale a threat every time they go to the man advantage, and youngsters Kyle Jean and J.T. Miller looked admirably hungry out there on the power play as well.

Jean’s play in both games was another eye-opener, as the rookie Michigander drew himself a penalty shot in Friday’s opener and converted with a real nice move, and then found the net again on a power-play rebound on Sunday.

Jean’s name is not one I had ever heard before he gained some notoriety at the Rangers’ June prospect camp as the player with whom Dylan McIlrath collided when he suffered his knee injury.  That can’t have been the only thing Jean did at the camp, as he was signed to an NHL contract by the Rangers shortly thereafter, meaning he must have made quite an impression.  For an undrafted guy, usually the best one

Kyle Jean buries his second goal of the weekend on a Sunday power play (Chris Rutsch)

can hope for out of the prospect camp is to earn a tryout invitation to training camp, or maybe an AHL contract, but to come out of it with an NHL offer is pretty unusual.

I don’t remember Jean standing out particularly in the preseason, but now that the games have started for real, he is showing why the Rangers were so intrigued with him.  He’s a real big guy, at 6-4 and 203 pounds, with a long reach, and he has shown a remarkably good first step, skating-wise, especially for a player of that size.  He put on a burst of speed to get by Matt Donovan, a good, young Bridgeport defenseman, on the play that led to his penalty shot, and he got to the net in a big hurry on his goal on Sunday too.  What’s more, his hand skills, often the achilles heel of bigger players, look excellent.  He totally flummoxed Sound Tiger goalie Kevin Poulin on  the penalty shot, with a pretty move to the forehand, and flashed some other darned good dangles as well.

Watching Jean this weekend, I had a feeling similar to that which struck me when Marek Hrivik came along last spring, which is, where has this guy been hiding, and how is it possible that nobody has found him before this?  I mean, 6-4 guys who can wheel and handle the puck don’t grow on trees.  And it’s not like Jean was hidden away in some backwater…he played two years at Lake Superior State, a high-profile Division I program that has produced some great pro players over the years.

Whatever it was that caused the rest of the hockey world to overlook Jean, it was a good scouting job by the Rangers to zero in on him, unearthing another apparent gem to go with Hrivik, who led the Whale in playoff goals last year after coming out of the Quebec Junior League with almost no fanfare.

Also on the positive side this weekend, Chris Kreider was, as advertised, dynamic, exerting some intimidation with his speed and showing no hesitation to go to the front of the net and into other high-traffic areas.  It was great to see Chad Kolarik back on the ice, playing with plenty of passion, after last season’s lost year.  Both goaltenders, Jason Missiaen and Scott Stajcer, had flashes of real good play, and Cam Talbot was healthy enough to back up Stajcer Sunday, seemingly indicating that he is close to full recovery and a chance to grab the reins.  Also, Brandon Segal, coming off of a Calder Cup triumph with Norfolk, seemed to fit in well with the Whale lineup and, although he didn’t score, generated some good chances and had worked his way on to the top line with Newbury and Kreider by Sunday’s game.

 

Here are youtube links to the highlights of both games:

Friday vs. Bridgeport

Sunday vs. St. John’s

Training Camp in Full Swing

October 2, 2012

Lots of time in the car the last two days, driving back and forth to the MSG Training Center in Westchester County, where the Whale are deep into their preseason training camp.

The squad has been broken up into two groups, with one group practicing for about 45 minutes, then the two groups scrimmaging each other for 40 minutes, and then the second group having a practice.

I missed Sunday, which was the opening day, but caught yesterday and today at the Rangers’ practice facility, as the Whale prepare for their preseason opener Wednesday night against the Albany Devils at Champions Skating Center in Cromwell.

Not much finishing touch from either team in Monday’s scrimmage, which saw the White team score a 3-1 win over the Green squad, but much better pace and flow today, as the Green prevailed 5-4 in a shootout.

Chris Kreider (courtesy of BlueshirtsUnited.com)

Not surprisingly, Chris Kreider stood out both days, mainly because of his speed.  He scored on a penalty shot Monday (there were no power plays in the scrimmages; when a penalty was called, the fouled player was given a penalty shot, with the opposing team allowed to chase him from its own blue line), then ran down Jordie Johnston chasing on a penalty shot.  Then today, he blocked a shot and then sped away to score on a breakaway.

Interestingly, I thought Scott Tanski was, aside from Kreider, the most noticeable player on the ice Monday.  I say interestingly because Tanski was a late addition to the training camp roster, only invited at the last minute after another player declined his invitation, in order to stay with his Junior team.

Tanski was all over the place in Monday’s scrimmage, playing physical, looking fast and making an impact on every shift.  He even showed a scoring touch, deflecting in an Andrew Courtney shot for the White’s first goal.

This is pretty much just what Tanski did last fall, when he came to camp as an unknown out of the Ontario Hockey League and ended up being one of the Whale’s best players in preseason and earning an AHL contract.

Kyle Jean also scored an impressive goal today, putting on a burst of speed to get around a defender and snapping a shot past Kyle Rank’s catching glove.  Jean is 6-4, and the quickness he showed on that play is notable for a guy that big.  He is also a center, which is an area of the depth chart in which the Whale are a bit thin, and that kind of size in a pivot is much-coveted.  Jean netted himself an NHL contract with the Rangers after two seasons at Lake Superior State University, and a strong effort at New York’s summer prospect camp, and early returns indicate the club’s scouts may have uncovered a diamond in the rough.

Another good scouting find, Marek Hrivik, also gave a solid account of himself, scoring a late tying goal for the White today and combining with Micheal Haley (not sure which of them actually poked the puck in) to jam home the White’s third goal Monday.  Hrivik scored some distinctly “sniper”-type goals during his late-season audition with the Whale in the spring, and now in camp he looks determined to show that he is willing to work to get some “greasy” ones as well.

One negative was that Kris Newbury did not skate either of the last two days.  He got banged up during Sunday’s skates, but seemed confident that the injury was not serious.  It would be a huge void for the Whale, to be sure, if Newbury were lost for any length of time.

Had a chance to film a couple of interviews post-practice today, with the help of our video production guru, Mark Willand.  Spoke to a couple of experienced veteran additions, Micheal Haley and 2012 Calder Cup champion Brandon Segal, and those clips should be live soon.