Since rebranding the Hartford Wolf Pack into the Connecticut Whale a week ago Saturday the team has won two games and lost another in a shootout. While the name has changed, some of the problems the coaching staff has been facing with it’s players have not.
Friday night the Whale entered the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island looking for a consistent, 60-minute game where they put pucks on net and score some goals while playing strong defense in their own end.
The Whale accomplished all four tasks including scoring twice in the third period and knocked off the hosting Providence Bruins 3-1 in front of 7,004.Connecticut got goals from second year pro, Evgeny Grachev, the newly acquired Oren Eizenman and veteran Jeremy Williams. They also received another solid goaltending performance between the pipes from Cam Talbot (27 saves, 3-2-1) who just seems to love playing in Providence.
At “The Dunk,” Talbot’s played in two games this season. On Oct. 27 he shut out the P-Bruins 3-0 in his first professional start and on Friday night the rookie from Caledonia, Ontario has played all 120 minutes and faced 69 shots and surrendered only a single goal.
“The boys are playing really well, and we’re starting to bury some pucks,” Talbot spoke of in his post game presser. “At the same time, we’re playing really well in our own end and killing penalties pretty well (5-for-5 for 18-for-18 in the last five games).
“Playing with the lead is a little easier, and we’ve done that both times here, so I’m fortunate to be behind them. I think our improvement has been a whole team, starting with guys back-checking a little harder. We’ve been doing a lot of video stuff, so we saw that the goals that we were getting scored against were mostly our mistakes in our offensive zone and not back-checking hard.
“When (the coaches) point that out and the guys see that, so in the next game, maybe it’s in the back of their mind, and they’re going a little harder. It always helps when the guys are back-checking a little harder and helping out the defense and maybe pushing their guys wide and making it for the goalies to stop shots. The communication has been great and the chemistry good.”
Meanwhile, Grachev, who was invisible for the better part of the second half of last season and a good portion of this one seems to have found his game. After scoring just a single goal in the first seventeen games this season, Grachev has now scored twice in the last three and has looked a world more involved in the action on the ice.
Eizenman, who joined the Whale November 24th for future considerations in a trade with Syracuse, has been a very pleasant surprise. The centerman, a dual citizen of Israel and Canada and only the second Israeli to ever play in the AHL, scored what proved to be the game winner at 6:07 of the final frame. The goal was Eizenman’s second in four games. He has also chipped in with an assist in the Adirondack game giving him a total of three points in four games (2g, 1a).
Williams, who was quiet through most of the contest, finished off a 2-on-1 odd man rush with Kris Newbury, who had another strong performance and seems to have also found his game after being a non-factor for quite a while.
“Tonight was a classic example of a little bit of everything,” Eizenman told reporters after the game. “Our defense was really strong in our own zone, we had guys step up and fight really tough, we had guys creating nice plays like the last goal by Newbury and Williams that was pretty to watch. The guys really showed up to play, and Talbot was amazing when he needed to be. There were a lot of times when the puck was at the other end and he had to be wondering when the action was going to come, and then when it did, he really showed up and played great.”
The first period had no flow whatsoever as the most influential person on the ice wasn’t on either roster; it was referee Jean Hebert. The veteran referee could not keep the whistle out of his mouth calling six penalties, three on each team. Of the 20 minutes of play in the period, only 9:04 of it was played with both teams at full-strength. As a result, neither team could find any traction or rhythm.
The bevy of calls in the first frustrated the two teams as they entered the second raising the hitting and intensity.
Just 51 seconds into the period, Andrew Bodnarchuk had the puck at the right point in the Whale zone and went to feed Joe Colborne, but Grachev took the puck away and poked it ahead to Kris Newbury who rushed it up ice and into the Bruins zone. Newbury saw Grachev streaking up the slot and put he puck right on his tape. The Khabarovsk, Russia who went what seemed like a life time without a goal one timed it and ripped the puck from the low slot and past P-Bruins starter Michael Hutchinson (31 saves, 6-4-0).
After a first period that had so many penalties, the chippy-ness raised and when that happens, fights are bound to happen. In fact, this one took on the feel more of “Fight Night Friday” than “Hockey Night in Providence.”
The fight card started just 3:08 into the second, when Justin Soryal, in his first of two bouts in the period, tangled with Lane MacDermid. Score it a draw.
Ten minutes later, (13:15) after Nathan McIver took a questionable hard hit on Kelsey Tessier, Stu Bickel came right over and challenged the Bruins defenseman in a real quick bout as the two went right to the ice. The two went to the ice before either really landed any serious knuckles. Score – Draw.
29 seconds later Soryal dropped the mitts for the second time for a battle with Kirk MacDonald after Soryal had retaliated for the Tessier hit with an elbow to Yury Alexandrov. In another quick fight, Decision Soryal as MacDonald quickly realized that this was a mistake on his part.
Last but not least, with 3:59 left in the period, DiDIomete mixed it up for the second time. This scrap was fellow left winger, Antoine Roussel. When the fight began, DiDiomete threw off his helmet and it flew into the stands. Hebert awarded DiDiomete a game misconduct and sent him to the showers for it.
The Whale held their 1-0 lead and were putting shots on net and playing sound defensively…until…with 2:26 left in the second period, the Whale were unable to clear the puck out of their own zone despite two players have clean chances to do so. Wyatt Smith used his stick effectively and stripped Grachev in the Whale zone and found veteran David Ling who eluded Pavel Valentenko. The 14-year pro took the pass in the slot and spun back around and fired the puck. It hit Talbot’s pads but made it by him for the 35-year-old’s third goal of the season.
The two netminders were both sharp throughout.
In the second, Talbot denied a great chance for Smith midway through the period and then at 10:55 stopped Jordan Knackstedt. The right winger took advantage of a bad change by the Whale and split the “D” and came in on Talbot right up the gut. Talbot held his ground and denied the Bruins second leading scorer a chance to get on the score sheet.
Hutchinson was also strong setting himself in a position to make Mats Zuccarello change his shot and miss wide at 11:33.
The third period had more flow as the fighting stopped and Hebert swallowed his whistle and let the boys play.
Just 2:45 into the period, Grachev stole a puck in the zone fed it to Newbury, but the Whale center shot the puck wide.
Then it went back the other way with Talbot standing tall against another solid scoring chance for Ling.
Newbury then failed to convert a Williams feed off yet another odd man rush.
But with the Whale buzzing, (that just doesn’t sound right for a Whale does it?) Tessier advanced the puck behind the Bruins net and Chad Kolarik took the puck away from a Bruins defender and skated out to the left side of the net. Kolarik looked up to see someone had abandoned Eizenman in the slot and put the puck right on his stick. Eizenman wristed it right past the glove of Hutchinson.
“It was just one of those plays that happened so fast,” Eizenman said to reporters. “Chad and (Kelsey) Tessier were battling for the puck, and I knew if they came out with it that I would be open in front for a pass. Quick as anyone, (Kolarik) just swung around and found me, and the goalie didn’t have time to come out. So the rest was just getting the puck on net. Chad has great vision and made a great play. He passed the puck right into my wheelhouse.”
“Oren called for the puck,” Kolarik said of the play. “I looked up and he was wide open. It was a good play by him to get open.”
But the Whale were certainly not done attacking.
At 6:23 Hutchinson made his best stop of the night off a 2-0 odd man rush as Grachev and Newbury came up ice completely alone. Hutchinson held his ground and was right there to make the save when Grachev made the pass to the hard shooting but currently snake-bitten Newbury who has but two goals on the year after scoring 15 last year between the Grand Rapids Griffins and the then Wolf Pack.
With 10:03 remaining in the game, Ling had another chance to tie it up, but as he told Whale Announcer Bob Crawford between periods, his skills have eroded a bit and he’s not quite the player he was. Ling had a WIDE open chance to shoot from the slot, however, it was Talbot’s glove that got the better of the match with Ling’s shot.
Williams iced the game when at 11:08.
In yet another off man rush, this on started by Valentenko in the Whale end, Newbury rushed up ice and then put the puck right where the Williams, a 26 year-old, 8-year pro, wanted it. Williams then one timed it and put his considerably hard shot right on the money getting the puck past Hutchinson high to the short side from the left dot in the circle.
While they were not exactly an offensive juggernaut, The Connecticut Whale continue to improve.
What will befall Ken Gernander is to now beat Worcester and get on a winning streak, but things are looking up.
“It’s going to take a lot of good play to make up some of the ground that we lost at the start of the season, but it’s obviously moving in the right direction,” he said after the game. “Now we have to maintain and get sharper because as the season wears on, everybody is going to improve. It’s all a matter of doing simple things like finishing hits and going wide. Plus, we’ve got some personnel back from injury like Kennedy and Dupont, and Kolarik has been good since the trade.
“We talked earlier about how many one-goal games that we’ve lost (11), and now things are coming together a little bit. Little things here and there, like (Jared) Nightingale and Valentenko blocking shots on the penalty kill, and (the Bruins) hitting a few posts so some things are starting to swing in our favor. But a lot of times you make your own luck, too, and Talbot played really well with a little help from the iron.”
Bruce Berlet shares his eye witness account of the action at CTWhale.com. As much as we complain about coverage of The Whale, the Bruins get even less. The only recounting of their tale is on their own website at ProvidenceBruins.com.
Howard Baldwin appeared on “Real Story with Laurie Perez” and our good buddy Rich Coppola:
* Given the strength of DiDiomete’s arm in getting the helmet off the rink, he might consider playing with the New Britain Rock Cats?
* Shots were 34-28 for the game in favor of the Connecticut Whale.
* Wade Redden tweaked his groin and did not play from late in the first period through the end of the contest.
* After they beat the Bruins 3-0 on Oct. 27th, the team went on a 1-9-2-1 slide. The team is currently on a 3-0-0-2 run and 5-1-0-2 since the losing streak ended.
Grachev – Newbury – Kolarik
DiDiomete – Eizenman – J. Williams
Dupont – Kennedy – Zuccarello
Soryal – Garlock – Tessier
Redden – Nightingale
Valentenko – Bickel
McDonagh – Kundratek
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Dale Weise – Hand, Day-to-Day
Jyri Niemi – Healthy Scratch
Lee Baldwin – Healthy Scratch
Chris McKelvie – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – O. Eizenman
2. CT – C. Talbot
3. CT – K. Newbury
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Jean Hebert (43)
Bob Paquette (18)
Brian MacDonald (72)
It’s back home for the Worcester Sharks for an Atlantic Ocean Division battle Saturday night at the XL Center. The only voice the Wolf Pack and the Whale ever knew, Bob Crawford, is on the air with the pregame show at 6:30 for the game that starts at 7pm.
To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.
For Ticket information call (860) 548-2000.
Connecticut Whale 3 at Providence Bruins 1 – Status: Final
Friday, December 3, 2010 – Dunkin’ Donuts Center
Connecticut 0 1 2 – 3
Providence 0 1 0 – 1
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Ling Pro (elbowing), 5:12; DiDiomete Ct (fighting), 8:08; McIver Pro (fighting), 8:08; Dupont Ct (holding), 10:53; Smith Pro (interference), 11:26; Garlock Ct (goaltender interference), 13:25; LoVecchio Pro (interference), 16:22; Kolarik Ct (slashing), 17:49.
2nd Period-1, Connecticut, Grachev 3 (Newbury), 0:51. 2, Providence, Ling 3 (Smith), 17:34. Penalties-Soryal Ct (fighting), 3:08; MacDermid Pro (fighting), 3:08; MacDonald Pro (tripping), 5:34; Bickel Ct (fighting), 13:15; McIver Pro (fighting), 13:15; Soryal Ct (elbowing, fighting), 13:44; MacDonald Pro (fighting), 13:44; DiDiomete Ct (fighting, misconduct), 16:01; Roussel Pro (fighting), 16:01.
3rd Period-3, Connecticut, Eizenman 2 (Kolarik, Tessier), 6:07. 4, Connecticut, Williams 13 (Newbury, Valentenko), 11:08. Penalties-Williams Ct (tripping), 16:12.
Shots on Goal-Connecticut 11-11-12-34. Providence 8-9-11-28.
Power Play Opportunities-Connecticut 0 / 4; Providence 0 / 5.
Goalies-Connecticut, Talbot 3-2-1 (28 shots-27 saves). Providence, Hutchinson 6-4-0 (34 shots-31 saves).
Referees-Jean Hebert (43).
Linesmen-Bob Paquette (18), Brian MacDonald (72).