Whale Diversifying the Offense

It was the first three-in-three of the year for the Whale this past weekend, and it would be hard to say they were firing on all cylinders, as they only won one of the three.They could have easily had two out of three, though, and posted their most decisive victory margin of the year Saturday, in a 6-2 win at Worcester.

Kris Newbury had a goal and two assists in that game and continues to pace the team in points, and his 14 points are three more than the next highest Whale scorer, Kyle Jean.  The Whale have started to balance the attack more, though, in the last few games, with several different players starting to assert themselves offensively.

Christian Thomas, for example, a 50-goal-scorer in the Ontario Hockey League two years ago and a second-round Ranger pick in 2010, had his first two-goal game in the pro ranks Saturday, and after managing just one goal in the season’s first five games, has three goals and three assists for six points in the last six.

Thomas has been installed at the point on the Whale’s first power-play unit, a position of extreme responsibility for a rookie, and has fit in nicely there.  Both of his goals Saturday came on the power play, and the potency of his shot, as well as his willingness to pull the trigger, seem to have given the man-advantage unit a jolt of energy.

In addition to that, Thomas several times in recent games has shown off a level of skating speed that is eye-opening.  You had to think that to get into the second round at 5-9 and 170 pounds, he had to be able to get around the rink pretty well, but I don’t remember seeing him really kick it into gear until the last couple of weeks.  There have been a couple of times recently, though, that he has been in races for the puck in which he has been able to fly full out, and when he does that, he generates a definite “wow” factor.

After Thomas chalked up a pair Saturday, Micheal Haley Sunday celebrated his return to his old barn in Bridgeport by netting his first two scores in a Whale uniform.

While it took Haley, whose 15 goals were fourth on the Sound Tiger club last year, 12 games to find the net this season, you could definitely see that big day for him coming. He has been, in my estimation, the Whale’s most consistent forward as of late, playing almost exclusively center, which I’m not sure he considers to be his natural position (he has been listed as a left-winger for most of his AHL career), and had

Micheal Haley

contributed three assists in the five games leading up to his two-goal outing Sunday, after being held scoreless in his first six Whale games.

Haley is playing just like he played against the Whale for Bridgeport, that is, going to the net hard, shooting the puck, getting in opponents’ faces and generating energy, which are exactly the attributes that motivated the Rangers to go out and sign him away from the Islanders this summer.

Haley’s two goals Sunday were both set up by excellent feeds from Marek Hrivik, last spring’s playoff diamond in the rough, who has yet to string together a consistent threatening stretch this year to match the promise he showed after joining the Whale out of the Quebec Junior League at the end of March.  He has shown flashes, though, especially threading the needle with passes, and Sunday he and Haley looked like they had been playing together their whole careers.

And let’s not forget Tommy Grant, who is tied for the team lead in goals with five, despite steadily occupying what amounts to a fourth-line spot most of the time.  Interesting stat on Grant…he has scored his five goals on only 16 shots, for a shooting percentage of 31.3 that is fifth-best in the AHL.  I think all of his tallies have been on plays almost identical to that on which he scored Saturday…stick down, drive the middle, one-time in a pass.  Not a bad signature in today’s game, or any era, for that matter.  The second-year pro had no points and one healthy scratch in the first four games of the season, and since then, his line is five goals and an assist for six points in eight games.

I’m guessing the next guy to break out and make a statement is Chris Kreider.  The speedy ex-B.C. Eagle had two assists in the Worcester game and has a respectable total of seven points in 11 games, but I don’t think has dominated like many thought he would at the AHL level.  I think there will be an “ah ha” moment for Kreider at some point soon, though, where a confidence switch will get flipped and he will start to feed on the fear he sees in backpedaling defensemen’s eyes when he turns on the jets and gets set to take the puck wide.  I remember Barry Melrose saying to me way back when that the only thing that he was ever intimidated by in the game of hockey was speed, and if there is one guy on the Whale roster who could really intimidate the rest of the league with his wheels, for sure it’s Kreider.

So, with different weapons clicking at different times, the Whale has been basically a .500 team through the first five weeks.  I think it’s safe to assume that they will hit a stretch when they all get firing at the same time, and that will be when the Whale legitimately serve notice on whether they will have a say in how the standings look by the end of things.

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