Whale Turning the Corner?

In baseball they always refer to the All-Star break as the traditional midpoint of the season.

It’s not the actual halfway point, but the “psychological” one, so to speak.

If the same can be said of the AHL All-Star break, then hopefully the Whale are making a statement that the second half will be a lot more positive than the first.

The last three games going into the break were wins for Connecticut, the first winning streak of any kind for the club since Thanksgiving weekend, for pete’s sake, and all of a sudden the Whale have taken five straight at home.  Prior to that, they had won only five out of 16 all year at the XL Center, and had lost four in a row and five out of six.

That home turnaround comes just at the right time too, being that the Whale are in the midst of playing six straight and ten out of 12 on the home rink, their most home-heavy stretch of the season.

Also, the Whale have at least a point in nine of their last 12 overall (7-3-1-1), a run that has elevated them to the .500 mark (20-20-3-1, 44 pts.) and into second place in the Northeast Division, the first time since December 8 they have been as high as alone in second.  They are also up to a tie for ninth in the Eastern Conference, just one point out of the last playoff spot.

Weary, it seems, of watching the Whale’s lack of consistency, the parent Rangers tweaked the Connecticut roster with a pair of trades, the second of which packed Connecticut’s leading goal-scorer, and second-leading point-getter, Chad Kolarik, off to Pittsburgh.

Neither of the guys acquired in the two deals, Brandon Mashinter and Benn Ferriero, were exactly tearing up the league in terms of numbers, and it was tough to see a good egg and exciting player like Kolarik go, but sometimes when a team isn’t achieving to the level expected, a shuffle of the deck can be a tonic, and that certainly seems to have been the case with the Whale.

Brandon Mashinter fires home his first Whale goal, beating Manchester's Peter Mannino.

Brandon Mashinter fires home his first Whale goal, beating Manchester’s Peter Mannino.

I always liked Mashinter when he played against the Wolf Pack/Whale for Worcester, a versatile combination of size, great shot, pretty decent wheels and a mean streak, and it seems like the change of scenery has been exactly what the doctor ordered for him.  The 6-4, 230-pounder didn’t make a big impact his first two games, but since then has points in four straight, and now has more points, six, in six games with the Whale than he had in 30 games with the Sharks.

Ferriero, meanwhile, had four goals and 18 points in 34 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, in his first year with the Pittsburgh organization after three seasons with San Jose, mostly as Mashinter’s teammate in Worcester.  Not terrible numbers, but nothing like the 16-19-35 in 41 games that Kolarik had with the Whale.  Ferriero acquitted himself well in his one game with the Whale, though, earning an assist on the first goal of Friday’s 4-1 win over Manchester, and then promptly got himself called up to the Rangers, who were down to 11 healthy forwards when Chris Kreider injured an ankle.

The parent club apparently was ready to sign 38-year-old forward Jason Arnott, but that deal has been scotched by health issues.  Not seeing anything on the rumor mill right now about other targets, but from the quotes that have come out in the New York media, it certainly seems as though the Blueshirts will continue to look around for proven sources of forward depth.  Can’t see them going too long with no extras available up front.

In addition to Mashinter’s contributions, another Brandon, that being Segal, put up some key points in last week’s three wins, including the overtime game-winner with 57 seconds left Wednesday against Adirondack, the Whale’s first win in six OT games on the year.  That drew a huge sigh of relief from the Whale side, after a seemingly comfortable 5-1 lead slipped away in the last 27 minutes or so of that one and the Phantoms tied it with 21 seconds left in regulation.

Defenseman Mike Vernace, too, has suddenly found a groove offensively.  Vernace, who was the odd man out on the Whale defense right before the lockout ended and sat out four times in an eight-game stretch at the beginning of the month, has seven points in the last six games and scored the game-winner on a five-on-three second-period power play Saturday against Springfield.  That was his second goal in three games, after the seventh-year pro lit the lamp only once in his first 35 appearances of the year.

The Whale power play was 2/4 in that Wednesday win over Adirondack and has generated six goals in the last four games, after producing only three in the previous 12 games and six in the previous 20.


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