WORST TO FIRST

Connecticut Whale       VERSUS     Wilkes Barre 

(Editor’s note: Our apologies for this being posted late…busy day at work)

The Connecticut Whale rebounded from Saturday’s poor performance against the Atlantic Division’s worst team, the Providence Bruins, with one of their best performances of the season against the AHL’s best overall team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, to a 6-3 win in front of 5,382 at the XL Center Sunday afternoon.

The Whale (21-16-2-5) rode tremendous performances from Cam Talbot (27 saves, 8-3-2), Chad Kolarik (2g, 2a) and Evgeny Grachev (2g) and solid contributions from Ryan Garlock (2a) and Tim Kennedy and Jeremy Williams (1g, 1a each) to victory. Michael Del Zotto had a helper and was a plus-4 for the game.

Kolarik, the game’s overwhelming First Star, came out of the locker room with more jump than an illegal alien at the Texas border.  The Abington, PA native scored not one, but two short-handed goals in the first period, a team record, and helped out on two others tying a team record with four points in a period.

John Hynes, the Penguins’ head coach, had Kolarik for a year as coach on the 2004 Team U.S.A. Under-18 developmental team, was certainly familiar with his former protégé’s skills. “I know what (Kolarik) can do, and he did,” Hynes said. “He was an excellent player for me, and he was on today.”

After the game, Kolarik skated over to his former coach to shake his hand and exchange some pleasantries. 

“He’s a good friend of mine.” Kolarik said of his one-time coach “We’ve kept in touch, and he’s a really nice guy. I’m really happy for him because he climbed the ladder real quick. He got a couple breaks and has done well, so good for him.

“It’s funny because I’d never killed penalties before I got with him. He helped me a lot with that just trying to block shots and use my speed on the (penalty kill). I have two shorties (Sunday), which is kind of ironic. But he was instrumental on me for my defensive game. It’s been hard for me to get the defensive side of my game, but he helped me with that when I was young.”

The Whale players were told by head coach Ken Gernander in their pre-game meeting that, “The only thing we addressed is that we played in a lot of stretches on Saturday night (the 3-2 loss to Providence), but good isn’t good enough when you’re desperate or have to have that sense of urgency to make sure the puck gets to the back of net instead of it just being a good scoring chance.”

It didn’t look like that message got through when just 34 seconds into the game, Grachev took a Delay of Game penalty for putting the puck into the stands from the defensive zone.

Del Zotto, Kolarik, Garlock, and Jared Nightingale were out defending on the penalty kill. Nightingale got hold of a lose puck behind the net and sent it around the right wing boards. The puck took a fortuitous bounce for the home team and hit something and popped out to the left side to Garlock. As Garlock rushed up the left wing side, Kolarik joined to his right and the play developed into a 2-on-1 odd man rush with just Dustin Jeffrey back defending. Garlock put the puck in perfect position and Kolarik blasted it past Brad Thiessen (6 saves, 18-4-0) at 1:49.

Grachev joked afterwards saying, “I got my penalty on purpose so CK could score a goal just like (Gernander) drew it up.”

“When you get that first goal early, it kind of sparks you,” Kolarik said. “After that goal, I felt really good, and it’s all mental. When you get it going, you have it. I had earlier in the season that one game against Springfield; it just happens.

The lead however didn’t last long, in fact it lasted all of 16 seconds.

While still on the power play Jeffrey rushed the puck up the right wing side. Toms Kundratek came way up and challenged him only to get juked out of position. Jeffrey moved to the middle of the ice as Steve Wagner pinched on the play and went to Talbot’s left. Pavel Valentenko trailing on the play left his feet but did not fully commit to going down. Jeffrey seeing space, slid the puck under Valentenko right over to Wagener who had the easily lifted the puck over Talbot who tried in vain to get back to his left. It was 1-1 at 2:05.

Ironically, the tie lasted all of 2:05 as Kolarik would feed Kennedy behind the goal line. Kennedy was patient and surveyed the landscape and saw daylight between himself and Grachev and slid the puck past the stick of ex-Wolf Pack defenseman Corey Potter, playing in his first game in Hartford after signing a tow-way free-agent with the Penguins in the off-season. Grachev had an easy redirection of the puck for his first of two big goals on the game.

After Kelsey Tessier and Chris Collins went off for a slash and high sticking call respectively at 4:11, Brett Sterling joined them in the penalty box on a hooking call at 5:13.

It took all of 27 seconds for the Whale to double the differential.

After a clear back to the Whale zone, Kolarik fed Del Zotto on the right side of the red line in the neutral zone. The Whale defenseman saw Jeremy Williams streaking along the left side and led him perfectly and put the puck right on his stick. Williams blasted right by Ryan Craig and fired the puck over the blocker of Thiessen and into the back of the net.

With 1:10 to go in the second, Wagner broke through the defense and had a golden scoring chance. Newcomer Sam Klassen made a smart play and slashed Wagner’s stick braking up a pure scoring chance for the Penguins.

1:06 later with just 4 seconds left, Kolarik would set a new team record for short handed goals in a period (2) and tie Mike Ouellette for the record of two shorties in a game when he fired a shot off the rush from the left circle and blasted over the far right catching hind for his 17th of the season. He now trails the AHL’s goal scoring leader, and the Whale’s only AHL All-Star selection, Jeremy Williams, who has 21.

The last goal would spell the end of the game for Thiessen who surrendered 4 goals on ten shots. Ironically, the Penguins also had ten shots, but only one was able to get past Talbot.

John Curry (18 saves, 19-14-0) relieved Thiessen to start the second period. Hynes felt that pulling Thiessen was more a matter of sparking his team rather than commentary on his netminder’s performance. “The goals that they scored were excellent goals,” Hynes said. “We gave up some chances, but once a team starts to get momentum, then they’re on the other bench saying, ‘We can get to the goalie,’ so sometimes the switch is dual. To get your team rolling to get a bit of relief and to throw something different at the opponent and I thought for a while there it worked.”

That hunch paid of.

Just 18 seconds into the period, Jeffrey took a shot from the right point that found it’s way to Keven Veilleux in front of the net. The Penguin center used good, quick hands to redirect the shot past Talbot who had no chance. It was 4-2.

But then it was the “Cam Talbot Show.”

Time after time Wilkes-Barre came rushing up ice only to be thwarted by Thiessen.

One particular sequence in particular spelled out the monster of a game that Talbot had.

If there was one problem throughout this game it was the Whale taking far too many penalties. Four times they were shorthanded in the first and four times they were shorthanded in the second including a 46 second 5-on-3 where Talbot was just spectacular.

With Oren Eizenman off for hooking and then Nightingale joining him at 10:45, it looked bleak for the home team.

Talbot would then take over.

At 11:09 Talbot shut Craig down on an open play in front. Six seconds later, Talbot just got a piece of the shot as it hit him then off the post and at 11:20,  Tangradi was WIDE open in the low slot only to have his sure thing stolen away from him by a flash of Talbot’s glove.

Talbot then denied shots to Craig and to Nick Johnson at 13:23 after Valentenko joined the parade to the penalty box. A little over a minute later, Robert Bortuzzo was stoned by Talbot’s work between the pipes.

But with a team as good as the Penguins are, you can’t keep playing with fire in terms of penalties. Eventually you are going to get burned. Their fire started when the team was on a late power play. Jeremy Williams took a silly roughing call with just 11.1 left in the period and the Penguins made the WHale pay for it.

With just 5 seconds remaining in the period, Wagner passed up to Zach Sill who put a shot on Talbot. The puck slid over to the left side of the crease where it found Walker on the spot. Talbot slid over mighty quick and denied the first attempt by Walker. But with his second effort came success as Walker was able to knock a loose puck past Talbot and get the goal.

It was 4-3 as end of two and Pittsburgh had the momentum as well as outshooting the Whale 16-9 in the period and 26-19 overall.

“Talbot really battled in the second period,” Gernander said, “When we gave them way too much momentum with too many penalties. It wasn’t pretty. There a lot of scrambles and sustained pressure and times when he had to fight for vision of the puck in those types of scenarios, and I thought he really battled hard.”

“I’m pretty pleased my performance and pretty pleased with everyone’s performance,” said Talbot, who tweaked his left ankle during a last-minute scrum in front of the net. “We did what we needed to do, get on the board early, got some key goals and actually chased one of the better goalies in the league out of the net in the first period, which is a tough thing to do against a team that’s really defensive, so it’s safe to say the whole team had a good game.

“They’re the No. 1 team in the league for a reason, so we knew they weren’t going to sit back and just let us hand it to them. But we did a good job of kind of weathering the storm in the second period and went into the second intermission still with the lead, which was a big thing for us. Then the guys came out strong in the third, I faced only four shots, so we did a helluva job, didn’t sit back, went right at them and finished the game strong.”

  The back-breaker for the Penguins came just 5:53 into the the final frame.

Valentenko was on the left point and surveyed the landscape and saw Jeremy Williams with room in the slot. Valentenko put some mustard on his pass over to Williams. As he received the puck both defenseman Jason DeSantis and forward Bryan Leng closed in on the Whale Right winger. However they forgot that Grachev was behind them. Williams didn’t.

Instead of stopping the puck Williams redirected it brilliantly right between both DeSantis and Lerg and right to Grachev.

“I was just standing in front of the net waiting for a shot to come or something, “Grachev said of his 8th goal of the season. “I was going to go backhand, but he was going to get there, so I went back again (to the forehand) and fortunately it went in.”

“A nice backhand-forehand that was a really big goal at the time,” Gernander said of what what be the goal to ice it for his team.

“That fifth one is the one that did us in,” Hynes said. “We had some prime-time chances in the second period that easily we could have probably taken a lead, hitting two pipes and having the 5-on-3. But when they had opportunities to score, they scored, and when we had our opportunities, we didn’t put them in the net. Credit to them.”

With 1:45 to go, Hynes pulled Curry form the net. 20 seconds later Kennedy threw a shot at an empty net but hit the post. 36 seconds later he had a second chance.

Walker had the puck at the blueline and went to take a shot. Kennedy blocked it and took a few strides with the puck up the ice. His linemate and friend Kolarik was all lined up to get his first hat trick as a member of the Whale, but Kennedy, “Out of instinct, ” He said, threw it at the net to watch it go in.

Kennedy was really upset when he realized that Kolarik was wide open the way he was and that he hadn’t given him the puck. He shook his head and was apologizing to his teammate who was just happy to get the two points.

“I missed the first time and felt bad about (not getting Kolarik the puck),” Kennedy said.

But as a good friend and a better teammate, Kolarik made no bones about it, it didn’t bother him at all. “(Kennedy) felt really bad about (not passing him the puck), but the guy jumped at him and you want to ice it. I do not care about the hat trick. I just want to get the win and worry about a hat trick later.”

Talbot put the win in perspective. “They’re the No. 1 team in the league for a reason,” He said. “We knew they weren’t going to sit back and just let us hand it to them. But we did a good job of kind of weathering the storm in the second period and went into the second intermission still with the lead, which was a big thing for us. Then the guys came out strong in the third, I faced only four shots, so we did a helluva job, didn’t sit back, went right at them and finished the game strong.”

Potter, who was nominated for the All-Wolf Pack team voted on by the fans in November has a lot of confidence in his team, but tipped his hat, sort of, to his former teammates. “They came out pretty hard and had a little more desperation than us,” the former Rangers 4th round pick said. “They had just dropped two in a row, and we had come off seven (wins) in a row, so I think it just comes down to that first period. If we had come out with a little more grit and a little more desperation, I think it would have been a different story.

“And our power play has been struggling a bit all year, but we win games five-on-five, which is one of the things we try to do, stay five-on-five. Unfortunately they got a couple of shorthanded goals, which doesn’t happen too often and kind of deflated us a little bit. But we’ll just learn from it.”

“Sunday games are tough,” Kolarik said. But, “with three games in three days, it’s always the team that’s up from the start, and we had a good start that helped us a lot and we got 4-1 after the first. After that, they took it to us a little bit. They’re a good team who has guys who can really play, so they’re going to have a good run and hopefully we see them later on (in the playoffs).”

“I thought Connecticut out flying around ready to play,” Hynes said afterwards. “We had a couple breakdowns, and they executed right off the bat. The goals they scored were excellent goals, but we gave up some chances. Credit to them.”

Bruce Berlet pulled double duty last night. He wrote the perspective for both teams. Find Bruce’s unabridged story on Howlings. For his view on the it from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, check it out (with the wrong name on it) at Times-Leader. Michael Cignoli also has the WBS perspective at CitizensVoice.com

GAME SUMMARY and OFFICIAL SCORERS SHEET

VIDEO:

REMEMBER, WHALES EAT PENGUINS…AND NOT JUST IN HARTFORD!

 

SOUNDS OF THE GAME:

Ken Gernander: (1) 

                                        (2) 

John Hynes:

Corey Potter:

Chad Kolarik:

Evgeny Grachev:

Cam Talbot:

NOTES:

*  If you were wondering when Kris Newbury was coming back to Connecticut to rejoin the Whale, you might have to wait a little while longer than you hoped. Kris Newbury tied for the Rangers team-high with seven faceoff wins in nine attempts (78%) while skating in his second straight game for the Rangers.  Newbury made his Rangers debut at Montreal last night.

* Dale Weise was scratched for his second straight game. With Newbury seemingly having more of coach John Tortorella’s trust over the past couple of games and given the TOI, it’s possible that Weise could be sent back to Connecticut as early as Monday.

* Del Zotto’s plus-4 Sunday helped negate his –6 over the previous two contest and brought him back to an overall minus-1. He has 4 assists (2 on game-winners) since joining the Whale.

* The Whale’s four goals in the first period were the most allowed in a period all season by the Penguins.

* Jesse Boulerice did not play as this game was the midway point of a ten-game suspension for violating AHL Rule 39.4, Abuse of officials. Apparently hitting referee, Francis Charron in Charlotte on January 5th. According to the Hockey News, Boulerice was, “upset over a non-call after the stick was slashed out of his hands, Boulerice argued vehemently with Charron and later collided with him during play. The AHL, announcing the decision (Jan. 7th), said ‘Boulerice was determined to have deliberately applied physical force to an official without intent to injure.’ That carries a 10-game suspension.”

Being suspended is nothing new for Boulerice. In December he sat for one game after being called for an instigator penalty during the last five minutes of a game against Norfolk on December 11th. Who can forget how in 2007, while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Boulerice striking the Vancouver Canuck’s Ryan Kesler across the face with his stick. Boulerice was suspended for 25 games, the longest single season suspension in league history. In 1998 Boulerice was suspended for one year by the Ontario Hockey League when he swung his stick and hit Andrew Long in the face with it while a member of the Plymouth Whalers.

* Talbot may have tweaked his left ankle during a last-minute scrum in front of the net. he denied any injury but we’ll need to see.

* Wilkes Barre / Scranton had only allowed three shorthanded goals in their first 40 games and surrendered two to the Whale in just the first period.

* During his four year tenure with the Rangers, Potter had 21 goals and 81 assists in 246 games with the Wolf Pack. however, the Lansing, Michigan native only played in eight games with the Rangers and was the reason he did not consider remaining with the organization.

LINES:

Dupont Kennedy – Kolarik

Grachev – Jason Williams – Jeremy Williams
DiDiomete – Garlock – Tessier
Chappell – Eizenman – Soryal

Valentenko – Kundratek
Del Zotto – Bickel
Klassen– Nightingale

Talbot
Johnson 

(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized) 

SCRATCHES:

Wade Redden – Lower Body, Day-to-Day
Jyri Niemi – Lower Body, Day-to-Day
Todd White – Undisclosed Injury, Day-to-Day

THREE STARS:

1. CT – C. Kolarik
2. CT – E. Grachev
3. CT – C. Talbot

ON ICE OFFICIALS:

Referee:
Jamie Koharski (84)
David Banfield (44)

Linesmen:
Kevin Redding (16)
Brent Colby (7)

NEXT GAME:

The Whale get Monday off then a good three days of practice as they await the arrival of the Hamilton Bulldogs for a tilt on Friday night. 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.

Too far away or can’t make it? Listen live at WTIC.com or from your cell phone or computer visit www.twitter.com/howlingstoday for complete live in-game coverage of all games both home and away.  

SCORE-SHEET:

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3 at Connecticut Whale 6 – Status: Final
Sunday, January 16, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum

W-B/Scranton 1 2 0 – 3
Connecticut 4 0 2 – 6

1st Period-1, Connecticut, Kolarik 16 (Garlock, Nightingale), 1:49 (SH). 2, W-B/Scranton, Wagner 4 (Jeffrey), 2:05. 3, Connecticut, Grachev 7 (Kennedy, Kolarik), 4:08. 4, Connecticut, Williams 21 (Del Zotto, Kolarik), 5:40 (PP). 5, Connecticut, Kolarik 17 (Garlock), 19:56 (SH). Penalties-Grachev Ct (delay of game), 0:34; Bortuzzo Wbs (charging), 1:49; Collins Wbs (high-sticking), 4:10; Tessier Ct (slashing), 4:10; Sterling Wbs (hooking), 5:13; Bickel Ct (hooking), 13:10; Williams Ct (tripping), 15:44; Klassen Ct (slashing), 18:50.

2nd Period-6, W-B/Scranton, Veilleux 4 (Jeffrey, Sterling), 0:18 (PP). 7, W-B/Scranton, Walker 3 (Sill, Wagner), 19:55. Penalties-Walker Wbs (interference, roughing), 7:47; DiDiomete Ct (roughing), 7:47; Eizenman Ct (hooking), 9:30; Nightingale Ct (slashing), 10:45; Valentenko Ct (tripping), 13:23; Sterling Wbs (roughing), 18:06; Williams Ct (roughing), 19:48.

3rd Period-8, Connecticut, Grachev 8 (Williams, Valentenko), 5:53. 9, Connecticut, Kennedy 9   19:11 (EN). Penalties-Potter Wbs (interference), 11:32; Garlock Ct (tripping), 19:48; Strait Wbs (slashing), 20:00.

Shots on Goal-W-B/Scranton 10-16-4-30. Connecticut 10-9-11-30.
Power Play Opportunities-W-B/Scranton 1 / 9; Connecticut 1 / 5.
Goalies-W-B/Scranton, Thiessen 18-4-0 (10 shots-6 saves); Curry 14-5-0 (19 shots-18 saves). Connecticut, Talbot 8-3-2 (30 shots-27 saves).
A-5,382
Referees-Jamie Koharski (84), David Banfield (44).
Linesmen-Kevin Redding (16), Brent Colby (7).

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