There’s a popular old saying that goes, “Better Late Than Never.” However if you asked the Connecticut Whale players what they thought about that saying and how it played a part in their Saturday night demise, a stunning 3-2 loss on a goal with just 7.5 seconds remaining, they’d likely vote to unanimously change it to, “Better Never Than Late.”
With the always popular Boy Scout Sleep-Over Night in the house, the XL Center was rocking as the Whale saw 10, 872, their second largest crowd of the season pass through the turnstiles. Those attending were rewarded with a solid 60 minutes performance against ex-Whaler Captain and now current head coach, Kevin Dineen and his very hot Portland Pirate squad.
But, as has been the case all season long with this team, it’s penalties that snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Whale’s 1,103 PIM lead the AHL. Saturday against Portland, the Whale played more under disciplined hockey and only took three penalties. Ordinarily that stat would have Head Coach Ken Gernander smiling, except on this particular Saturday night, two out of the three cost them two points.
The game winning goal came as a result of a poor decision by Dale Weise with time running out and the Whale on the attack. Weise had intercepted a pass at the blue line and toward the front of the net. As he got closer, Weise tangled with T.J. Brennan, but the Whale forward was out of control and recklessly backed into goaltender David Leggio (36 saves, 13-4-0) and was sent to the box with just 1:38 left to go.
That penalty led to the backbreaker.
“I came off the bench and tried to find the seam,” Derek Whitmore said after the game to reporters. “(Defenseman) Nick Crawford was working the puck down low. (Left Wing Corey) Tropp made a good play to the slot. I knew there wasn’t much time, and I tried to shoot it past the guy coming out at me (Chad Kolarik) and was able to find the back of the net.”
On the play, Crawford headed to the right corner and was pursued by Michael Del Zotto and Chad Kolarik. As the bumped him, Crawford actually lost the puck. Kolarik peeled off, but Del Zotto was there and had a chance to get the puck, but he missed it. The puck squirted behind the net to Crawford behind the goal on the left side. Tropp saw Whitmore all by himself just above the inside corner of the right circle. Whitmore moved to his left into the slot as Kolarik came right at him. Johnson started to go to his knees as Whitmore sent a hard wrister over his glove and into the top right corner of the net with just 7.5 seconds remaining in the game.
Gernander was none too happy afterwards and pulled Weise into his office for a private conversation…and you can bet your mortgage it wasn’t to tell him he was being called up to New York.
“It was a great game and hugely disappointing,” Gernander stated bluntly. “Their goalie (Leggio) played good, but we had a lot of guys who really worked hard, paid the price and did extra duty when we shortened the bench, and to have someone (Weise) take it upon himself to be undisciplined is disappointing. A lot of guys played a strong game, but it doesn’t matter at the end of the day if you end up losing because of (lack of) discipline.”
Weise was distracted by what he thought should have been a tripping call earlier in the same shift, but stood up and took full responsibility for his blunder.
“Obviously not a smart play by me,” He said. “I’m an emotional player, and sometimes I cross the line. I crossed the line tonight, and it cost us the game. I don’t feel good about it, but it’s a mistake, and I’ll learn from it.”
Chad Johnson (21 saves, 14-17-3) has had a rough few nights in a row. He’s lost three straight now and is 2-6-0 in his last eight starts. He wasn’t happy after the game when he met with reporters.
“The guy made kind of a good shot past Kolarik, and I just kind of caught it at the last second and just didn’t have enough time to react to it,” Johnson said. “It’s really disappointing because it was a big moment in the game. I talked to Kolarik, and he doesn’t know how it got by him. He was in good position, it’s just (Whitmore) found some way to get it by him and then I picked it up late and it beat me. It’s tough. When they score a late goal like that, you can’t do much with seven seconds left.”
Given the nature of the penalty and that it cost the team two points, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility for Gernander to put Weise in street clothes when the Whale return to action next Friday night as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers come to Hartford to finish off the Whale’s current four-game homestand. Just to reinforce that possibility, the Whale have recalled Tyler Donati, also a right winger, from Elmira of the ECHL.
A second late penalty cost the Whale also in this game. The difference was that this call that cost them, probably shouldn’t have been called in the first place.
Brodie Dupont dumped the puck into the Pirate zone from the Whale side of the red line. Kris Newbury pursued Kyle Bushee into the left side behind the net to get the puck; Newbury hoping to negate the icing. Newbury reached to get the puck but in the process hit Bushee from behind and knocked him into the boards. Referee Chris Brown immediately raised his hand calling for a Boarding penalty on Newbury.
The replay showed that it was the right call.
What wasn’t right however is that after the players gathered, the Pirates’ Tim Conboy skated over to Newbury and with his glove on punched Newbury in the face twice even knocking his helmet off in the process right in front of Brown and that was not called.
What should have gone for a 4-on-4 instead became a Pirate power play with just 27 seconds left in the period.
When the third stated, the Pirates were on the power play and cashed in when Luke Adam advanced the puck behind the net from the right side past Del Zotto to Tropp. The Pirate right winger moved out the left side behind the goal-line and Jared Nightingale abandoned his post protecting that side to chase Tropp into the corner. When Nightingale pulled off, Tropp fed the puck right through the vacated spot to Matt Ellis just below the left circle. Ellis then ripped the shot over the glove of Johnson into the far corner of the net for his 9th of the season and gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
Johnson stopped another bid for the back of the net by Ellis at 6:12.
After a Kelsey Tessier shot rebounded off of Leggio’s pad, Jeremy Williams went to stuff in the rebound. In trying to get position in front, his elbow went high and caught Conboy and he knocked Williams to the ice. Chris Brown caught it and his arm went up. However after the whistle, Williams got up and shoved Conboy. who retaliated by throwing a punch at the Whale winger. Brown levied a double minor for roughing to Conboy and detained the Whale’s lone AHL All-Star in the sin bin as well on the original Elbowing call giving the home team a power play at 10:52.
Wade Redden took a loose puck at the right point and settled it down and fed Weise along the right half boards. Weise quickly advanced the puck down low to Newbury in the right corner. Newbury then slid the puck past Alex Biega in front of the net to Dupont. Crawford failed to tie up Dupont and the Whale left winger knocked it past Leggio for the equalizer and his 9th of the season at 12:04.
The Whale dug an early hole for themselves in this contest. Just 3:02 into the game.
Mark Parrish’s shot from the left side went wide and was recovered by Dennis McCauley who moved it into the right corner where Justin Bowers took it and was tied up by Ryan Garlock and Pavel Valentenko. Parrish came back, took the puck and saw Crawford all alone just outside the left circle. Justin Soryal attempted to get back, but Crawford took a stride into the circle and unloaded a hard shot through McCauley screening Johnson for his 4th goal of the year.
The Whale responded just 2:23 later with a goal of their own.
Jeremy Williams took the puck behind his own net and fed it up the right side to Jason Williams. Jason Williams then carried the puck across with blue line and through the neutral zone with Kelsey Tessier in the center. Williams slid the puck to Tessier who took off into the Pirate zone to the left side with Dennis Persson hanging all over him. Tessier backhanded the puck over to a streaking Jeremy Williams, who had beaten Maxime Legault, and deflected it high into the net past Leggio for his 22nd of the campaign.
Despite losing two players to undisclosed injuries in the game, T.J. Brennan and right wing Maxime Legault, Pirate head coach Kevin Dineen was in good spirits when he talked to reporters. “Except for the one game, all the games against (The Whale) have been extremely tight,” He said. “There’s a heck of a lot of talent on the ice with good goaltending at both ends in a game with a real, real physical tone to it. We were fortunate to go two-for-three on the power play, which is a huge night for us. We talked before the game that we had to have some power-play production in order to have some long-range success. I don’t think there was much designed play. There was a lot of effort more than anything else.”
The loss dropped the Whale 1 point out of third place as they’ve been overtaken and fall into forth behind Worcester. The Sharks got two goals from Jamie McGinn in a 3-2 win over Providence. The Whale trail first place Manchester by 13, second place Portland by 12 and hold just a three point differential over Providence with the Bruins holding two games in hand.
The Whale have lost three straight after getting themselves out of the cellar and into a playoff position. It’s now going to be up to Gernander and his staff to refocus his troops and get them ready over the next several days.
Bruce Berlet is pulling double duty tonight. His Hartford perspective, the unabridged version is here on Howlings. His view from inside the Portland locker room can be found at the Portland Press Herald.
Standing provided by www.theahl.com
* The Whale have recalled right wing Tyler Donati from Elmira of the ECHL.
* The Whale are one of the four AHL teams with more than 1,000 PIM. Their 1,103 PIM, are 28 more than number 2 Peoria. The Rivermen (1075) are followed by the Albany Devils (1,049) and the Norfolk Admirals (1,032). Conversely, Texas (6th in the West) with the fewest PIM at 554 and the Milwaukee Admirals (1st overall in the Western Conference) have amassed just just 599.
* Evgeny Grachev’s four consecutive game goal scoring streak and five games with at least a point also comes to a close. Over the span, Grachev tallied 7 goals, 1 assist , for 8 points.
* Dale Weise has a three game point streak going with 3g, 1a.
* Tim Kennedy’s five game streak also ended with 1g and 6a for 7 points.
* Kelsey Tessier ended a 5 game pointless streak with his first period helper.
* After going 6-1 over seven starts including two- three game win streaks, in the last 8 games he’s started, Chad Johnson is just 2-6. Over the last two games, all six of the last seven goals that were non empty-netters have gone high over the glove…the other…high over the blocker.
* High marks to the Baldwins, the senior management and especially Dave Romeiko and the sales team, for the magnificent job they’re doing. The average attendance is now 11th in the AHL at 5,263 per game. They haven’t averaged 5,000+ since 2005-2006 when they were 15th overall and haven’t been in the Top 11 since 2003-2004 when they averaged 5,514. So much for the theory from those opposed to the change that it wouldn’t make a difference. This also includes the slow attendance at the beginning of the season. It’s a safe bet that by the time next season finishes up, that the team record of 7,221 in average attendance in 1998-1999 has a good chance of falling.
Kolarik – Kennedy – Grachev
Dupont – Newbury – Weise
Jeremy Williams – Tessier – Jason Williams
DiDiomete – Garlock – Soryal
Valentenko – Kundratek
Redden – Nightingale
Del Zotto – Bickel
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Todd White – Possible Concussion, Undetermined
Chris McKelvie – Foot Surgery, Undetermined
Cam Talbot – High Ankle Sprain, Day-to-Day
Oren Eizenman – Healthy Scratch
Jyri Niemi – Healthy Scratch
1. POR – D. Whitmore
2. POR – D. Leggio
3. CT – B. Dupont
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Chris Brown (86)
Kevin Redding (16)
Brent Colby (7)
The Whale will take a much needed break to regroup and to allow the coaching staff to educate the players on getting themselves right. Next Friday they will do it again as the Bridgeport Sound Tigers will come a-callin’. The Tigers always seem to get the best out of the Whale. Bob Crawford has the pregame a half an hour before the puck drops at 7pm.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.
Portland Pirates 3 at Connecticut Whale 2 – Status: Final
Saturday, January 29, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Portland 1 0 2 – 3
Connecticut 1 0 1 – 2
1st Period-1, Portland, Crawford 4 (Parrish, Bowers), 3:02. 2, Connecticut, Williams 22 (Tessier, Williams), 5:25. Penalties-Byron Por (cross-checking), 6:46; McCauley Por (fighting), 9:18; Soryal Ct (fighting), 9:18; Brennan Por (delay of game), 11:28; Gongalsky Por (fighting), 14:20; DiDiomete Ct (fighting), 14:20; Weise Ct (roughing), 17:55.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Newbury Ct (boarding), 19:33.
3rd Period-3, Portland, Ellis 9 (Tropp, Adam), 0:59 (PP). 4, Connecticut, Dupont 9 (Newbury, Weise), 12:04 (PP). 5, Portland, Whitmore 19 (Tropp, Crawford), 19:52 (PP). Penalties-Conboy Por (roughing, roughing), 10:52; Williams Ct (elbowing), 10:52; Weise Ct (interference), 18:22.
Shots on Goal-Portland 7-5-12-24. Connecticut 12-13-13-38.
Power Play Opportunities-Portland 2 / 3; Connecticut 1 / 3.
Goalies-Portland, Leggio 13-4-0 (38 shots-36 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 14-17-3 (24 shots-21 saves).
Referees-Chris Brown (86).
Linesmen-Kevin Redding (16), Brent Colby (7).