Well, that’s a Little Bit Better…

Man, hockey can be a strange game.

The Whale came into Portland Tuesday fresh off one of their poorer games of the year, a 5-0 loss in Hershey in which they were effectively out of the game by the end of the first period, having given up three power play goals and fallen behind the Bears 4-0.

The Pirates, by contrast, were on a roll that had seen them win four straight, seven out of eight and 13 out of 15, and were going for their ninth consecutive home win, which would have been a franchise record.

Photo courtesy of Portland Pirates/Ron Morin

Photo courtesy of Portland Pirates/Ron Morin

So what happened?  Of course, everything went the Whale’s way, save for a fluke bounce on the Pirates’ only goal, and Connecticut left town with a 6-1 win under their belts.

Granted, the Pirates’ roster was significantly different than the one the Whale faced the last time the two teams met, which was a game on New Year’s Eve in Portland that the Whale led 3-0 going into the final minute-and-a-half of the second period, only to fall apart and lose 4-3.  The end of the NHL lockout cost the Pirates dynamic their leading scorer, Alexandre Bolduc, third-leading point-getter Andy Miele and a trio of blueliners, dynamic point producers Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad and hard-shooting Michael Stone.

Still, Portland had dominated their previous two games, winning in Bridgeport and Worcester, without all of those guys, and Pirate goaltender Mark Visentin had won six straight starts, with a goals-against average of 1.64 and a 95.3% save percentage over that span.

The Whale penalty-kill looked like it couldn’t get out of its own way Sunday, but it scored shorthanded on Portland’s first power play of the night Tuesday, and would end the evening six-for-six with a pair of shorties.  Again, go figure.

Kris Newbury had gone without a point in three straight games, allowing Chad Kolarik to catch him for the team points lead, and hadn’t scored a goal in 10 games, but seemed to have much more of a shooter’s mentality Tuesday and was rewarded with a pair of goals.  Kelsey Tessier, who scored the first of the two shorthanders, his first pro shorthanded tally, has two of his five goals on the year in the last three games, and Logan Pyett also scored, giving him four points (1-3-4) in the last four games and six, including two goals, in the last eight, since he sat out a pair of games as a healthy scratch.

Andrew Yogan picked up an assist for the second time in three games since he was brought back from Greenville, and Dylan McIlrath got the primary helper on Newbury’s second goal, for McIlrath’s first pro point.  Christian Thomas took a page out of his roommate McIlrath’s book by getting into his first pro fight, a spirited tilt with Brett Hextall in the third period.  That was a matchup of progeny of ex-NHL stars, as Thomas, as most Whale fans know, is the son of long-time NHL sniper Steve Thomas, and Hextall’s dad is none other than the extremely feisty former goaltender Ron Hextall.

Speaking of goaltending, not to be forgotten is the bounce-back effort Tuesday of Cam Talbot, who was the victim of that early meltdown in Hershey on Sunday.  Talbot was sharp from the get-go in Portland, and only a bad break, on a point shot that went wide and then went off the back boards, hit Talbot’s pad as he slid over and found its way into the net, separated him from a shutout.

The Whale couldn’t buy a goal their first two games against Portland, both at home.  They scored a grand total of one goal in those games, and that came with barely 30 seconds left in the first one.  Then they coughed up that seemingly comfortable lead in the third game of the season series, and it was starting to look as though the Pirates really had their number.  No hint of a collapse Tuesday, though, and all of a sudden the Whale are now quietly on a 3-1-1-1 run in their last six games.  Maybe not enough to strike fear in the hearts of the league’s top teams just yet, but reasonably encouraging nonetheless.

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