BY: Bruce Berlet
Talk about a game of inches.
For a second straight game, the Connecticut Whale had to go overtime plus in a shootout, but this time they came out on the short end after blowing a two-goal lead.
Matt Taormina scored the only goal of the shootout, his shot hitting off Whale goalie Chad Johnson and trickling over the goal line to give the Albany Devils a 3-2 victory before 2,318 at the Times Union Center.
“It was kind of a tough one,” said Johnson, who won a 1-0 shootout at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday. “I don’t really think he was shooting for that area. I think he was trying to go higher and just got it a little bit lower and just kind of hit my arm and snuck underneath me. I kind of knew it hit on a funny spot on my arm or down my leg, and when I looked back, it was across the line.
“It’s a tough one, but we just have to regroup and look to get two points out of the Bridgeport game (Saturday night at XL Center in Hartford). The games between them and us are usually pretty good. It’ll be our home opener and they know it, so they’re going to come in there and obviously try to stir things up at the start. We’re obviously going to be pretty excited for the home opener, so it should be a good game.”
Friday night’s game was a good one for the Whale for about 30 minutes, as they built a 2-0 lead on the strength of strong skating and forechecking and a power play that had quality chances on three of four attempts, including Andre Deveaux’s first goal as a Whale, before rookie Carl Hagelin scored his first of the season.
But as in a 6-3 loss at Adirondack in their opener last Saturday, the Whale became too passive in the second half of the game with a giveaway and a penalty helping the Devils (1-2-0-0) notch their first win.
“I didn’t like the way we started the period,” Whale coach Ken Gernander said. “We had a one-goal lead and a shot advantage and said we wanted the guys to play smart, sound hockey and manage the game but by no means sit back and protect the lead. We stopped forcing the issue and attacking them and made some plays that were a little bit lax or not the crisp, hard-driving plays that we want.”
With rookie Tommy Grant in the penalty box for hooking, Matt Anderson tied the game with a one-timer from the left circle off Mike Sislo’s pass, beating Johnson low to the glove side at 5:40 of the third period.
With his teammates failing to generate much offense, Johnson kept the Whale even with 6:25 left in regulation, after the Devils got a fortuitous bounce when the puck jumped over the stick of Whale defenseman Jared Nightingale in the neutral zone. Darcy Zajac broke down left wing on a 2-on-1, but Johnson came out to deny that bid and then made a glove stab of Stephane Veilleux’s rebound while sprawled in the crease.
The Whale again started well and had an 8-6 shot edge in a first period highlighted by two fights and Deveaux’s first goal in green and white. Nightingale came to the defense of Carl Hagelin and fought Veilleux at 8:32 after the Devils rugged wing tried to take liberties with the Whale rookie. Devils captain Stephen Gionta, the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, then had two good scoring bids stopped by Johnson before Keith Kinkaid (30 saves) came out to deny a strong left point shot by Brendan Bell, making his Whale debut after being assigned by the Rangers after they returned from Europe on Sunday.
Bell then initiated the first goal with the Whale on a power play, as he passed to the right circle to Kris Newbury, whose slap shot was deflected in by Deveaux with 1:14 left in the period.
“Bell is a real poised quarterback out there, a good offensive tool at the blueline,” Gernander said. “There were a couple of instances where the puck came to him rolling, and he had to outwait the opponent, settle the puck down and keep possession. He did a lot of good, subtle things as well as good passing.”
Deveaux scored 14 of his career-high 23 goals on the power play last season with the Chicago Wolves, and many came while camped in front of the net.
“That’s my favorite spot, especially on the power play,” Deveaux said. “Newbury and (Jonathan) Audy-Marchessault hit me with a couple of passes right in the slot.
After the Whale killed off the minor to Bickel, they took a 2-0 lead as Newbury dangled the puck in the left circle, got away from Devils defenseman Peter Harrold and passed through the slot to Hagelin for a one-time finish into an open net at 7:23.
Then, with the Devils on their second power play, Johnson made his best save to that point as he came out to stop a wide-open Eric Gelinas’ blast from the left circle with 8:20 left in the period.
With the Whale on their second power play, Kinkaid robbed a wide-open Deveaux from 20 feet in the slot off a perfect setup by Newbury with 4:58 left in the period.
“I got all of the puck and placed it right where I wanted to, but the puck just didn’t go in,” Deveaux said. “Another day, the puck goes in and it’s a different game, but you have to tip your hat to the goalie a little bit. I thought we could have buried them on the power play in the second period, but we let them hang around and it kind of bit us in the end. But it’s early in the season and a learning experience for us. But we have to have an identity as a team where if we’re going into the third with a lead, we definitely have to keep it.”
But as often happens, the Devils capitalized on Kinkaid’s save of the game as Joe Whitney stole the puck from Whale defenseman Tomas Kundratek in the left circle and beat Johnson high to the far corner with 4:04 to go. That came eight seconds after the Whale power play ended and snapped a 105:56 shutout streak to start the season for Johnson, who made 41 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopped three of five shots in a shootout in a 1-0 victory at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday.
“That (goal) upset me the most,” Johnson said. “It was a good shot, but I always think I can make the save.”
The Devils tied it early in the third period, missed the golden opportunity on Johnson’s robbery of Veilleux and then earned the extra point in the skills competition.
“We got the one point, but when you go into the third period with the lead, you kind of want to seal it down,” Johnson said. “It was a winnable game for us, but we just couldn’t get it done. But we can’t worry about. It’s over, and we just have to get on the bus and start thinking about tomorrow’s game.”
BELL REPLACES REDDEN, WEARS AN A
Bell made his Whale debut in place of Wade Redden, who was sick and is questionable for the home opener. Bell also wore an A as an alternate captain in place of Redden.
The other Whale scratches were defenseman Lee Baldwin and injured defenseman Pavel Valentenko and left wing Sean Avery, who continues to rehabilitate an injury but has not skated with his new team.… Former Wolf Pack wing Chad Wiseman’s assist in the Devils’ 4-2 loss to Bridgeport on Sunday was his 400th career AHL point.
WHALE HOME OPENER SATURDAY NIGHT
After their first workout on XL Center ice Friday morning, the Whale plays their 15th home opener Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Sound Tigers in the first of 10 GEICO Connecticut Cup games and first opening night under the Whale banner. The Hartford Wolf Pack/Whale was 6-3-0-1 against the Sound Tigers last season, winning 3-2 in a shootout in their first game as the Whale on Nov. 27.
The Sound Tigers, who have joined the Whale in the Northeast Division, are 1-2-0-0 after a 6-3 loss at Adirondack on Friday night, as they allowed three power-play goals, one to rookie sensation Brayden Schenn, who had the hat trick. The Sound Tigers beat Albany 4-2 last Saturday night, as feisty wing Justin DiBenedetto notched a hat trick and Anders Nilsson made 28 saves in his North American debut Sunday. New captain Jeremy Colliton scored in his return to the lineup after sustaining a groin injury in the Sound Tigers’ first preseason game Sept. 23.
Before the game, there will be a “Whale Blue and Green” Fan Fest in the XL Center atrium starting at 4 p.m. in which fans can hear live music, test shooting skills in the CT Whale Slap Shot Cage sponsored by Xfinity, frolic in a bounce house and enjoy a Wii station. Five thousand fans will receive a free Whale magnetic schedule, sponsored by Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over. Tickets for all games are on sale at the Public Power Ticket Office at the XL Center, on-line at www.ctwhale.com and through Ticketmaster Charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000 or 1-800-745-3000.
After Saturday’s game, the Whale hosts the Manchester Monarchs on Friday night and then plays a home-and-home series with the Springfield Falcons. They visit the MassMutual Center in Springfield next Saturday at 7 p.m. and then host the Falcons on Sunday at 3 p.m. Before the second game, Whale and Falcons fans will face off at noon in the first game of their inaugural seven-game series. For information on how to join the teams and tickets to the seven games, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORE GOOD THINGS FOR MONTOYA
You have to feel good for former Wolf Pack goalie Al Montoya. The Rangers’ first-round pick (sixth overall) in 2004 bounced around for several injury-plagued seasons before getting a much-needed break on Feb. 9, when the New York Islanders acquired him from the Phoenix Coyotes for a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft because of injuries to several goalies, including fragile Rick DiPietro, the first overall pick in 2000.
Montoya was 9-5-5 with a 2.39 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and one shutout in 21 games (18 starts) with the Islanders last season. And after being a surprise starter in the Islanders’ opener with DiPietro ready to try to earn his $4.5 million salary, Montoya improved to 2-1-0 on Thursday night in a 5-1 romp over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
John Tavares, the first overall pick in 2009, had two goals and two assists and former Wolf Pack right wing P.A. Parenteau a goal and an assist, all in the first period, to back Montoya’s 34-save effort. Montoya won his second in a row after losing 2-0 last Saturday to the Florida Panthers and new coach Kevin Dineen, the former Hartford Whalers standout right wing and captain.
“I had no idea I’d get the start,” Montoya said making 27 saves in the opener. “I saw the lineup just like everybody else did. I finished the year off strong last year and wanted to just keep that rolling. I came in to camp with the right mindset and I got the nod from the coaches.”
The nod has kept coming Montoya’s way and he had plenty of early help Thursday night, as Tavares scored only 36 seconds into the game. After Steven Stamkos tied it, Matt Moulson put the Islanders ahead to stay at 9:34 off Tavares’ rebound. Parenteau then set up Tavares’ second goal and made it 4-1 with his first of the season off Tavares’ assist with 1:21 left in the first period. The top line of Tavares, Moulson and Parenteau were each plus-4 in the period.
Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo, two more of the Islanders’ top young players, combined to cap the scoring on a 2-on-1 as Grabner got his first of the season at 6:47 of the second period. Montoya took it from there, lowering his GAA to 1.35 and improving his save percentage to .953.
You also have to feel good for Islanders coach Jack Capuano, who had the interim tag removed from his title April 12 after being elevated from the Sound Tigers last Nov. 15 when Scott Gordon was fired in the midst of a 10-game losing streak but remained as an adviser to general manager Garth Snow. Capuano has earned plaudits for taking a chance and starting Montoya, who earns $601,000, ahead of DiPietro, who signed a 15-year, $67.5-million contract with the Islanders on Sept. 12, 2006. Veteran Evgeni Nabokov, who has 293 wins in 562 NHL games, was waiting in the wings, though he dressed for a game Thursday for the first time since the Isles suspended him last spring for refusing to report after being claimed on waivers after DiPietro sustained a concussion when hit in the mask by Brian Rolston’s shot in practice on Wednesday. DiPietro, who has a history of concussions in his injury-plagued career in which he has played in only 39 games the past three seasons, underwent baseline testing before the game and was further evaluated Friday.
But Capuano rewarded loyalty and effort, as Montoya outplayed DiPietro in the preseason. Montoya’s ascension epitomizes what Capuano wants out of his young team.
The Islanders end a four-game homestand Saturday night against the Rangers, who will be without two of their top defensemen, All-Star Marc Staal (headaches from post-concussion syndrome) and Michael Sauer (right shoulder), who did not practice all week after playing in the first two games of the season last weekend in Stockholm, Sweden. He originally injured his shoulder in a preseason game against the Flyers immediately before the trip to Europe. With Sauer and Staal sidelined, Jeff Woywitka, claimed off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 6, will make his Rangers’ debut, likely alongside Steve Eminger, his partner in practice Friday and for Team Canada nearly 10 years ago in the World Junior Championships. The other two pairings were Dan Girardi-Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto-rookie Tim Erixon.
Wing Wojtek Wolski, who started the season on the No. 1 line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, returned to practice from a groin injury but is doubtful for Saturday’s game so Derek Stepan again skated on the left side.
MORE GOOD FOR QUICK, TOO
It’s not often a losing goalie is the game’s No. 1 star, but that was the case Thursday night when Hamden native Jonathan Quick got the nod despite the visiting Los Angeles Kings dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to the New Jersey Devils.
Quick made 36 saves in regulation and overtime, but Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise scored in the shootout and Johan Hedberg stopped all 16 shots he faced in relief of Martin Brodeur. The 39-year-old future Hall of Famer left after the first period with “upper body soreness” from a shot from the right point by defenseman Alec Martinez 12:03 into the game. Brodeur, who appeared to be hurt when he sprawled to his right to deny Martinez, had 10 saves in the first 20 minutes. He missed 76 games in the previous two seasons with a torn biceps tendon (50 games in 2008-09) and a bruised elbow and MCL sprain (26 games last season). In Brodeur’s absence, Hedberg is 15-12-2 with a 2.38 GAA and .912 save percentage.
Simon Gagne scored for the Kings only 1:47 into the game, and former Rangers wing Petr Sykora, who re-signed with the Devils last week, got the equalizer with 6:57 left in the first period. Quick stopped David Clarkson’s breakaway with 2:31 left in the second period with the Devils on their first power play.
LABARBERA GETS FIRST WIN HONORING TILLMAN
Former Wolf Pack and Rangers goalie Jason LaBarbera, sporting a new mask honoring Pat Tillman for the first time in a regular-season game, made 25 saves to lead the Coyotes to a 5-2 victory over Nashville Thursday night, spoiling the Predators’ home opener.
LaBarbera, named the AHL’s MVP and top goalie with the Wolf Pack in 2003-04 when he was 34-9-9 with a 1.59 GAA, .936 save percentage and 13 shutouts in 59 games, is wearing a mask with images of Tillman, the former Arizona State and Arizona Cardinals standout who enlisted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and died in Afghanistan from friendly fire. LaBarbera donates $420 for every victory to the Pat Tillman Foundation because Tillman wore No. 42 when he was with the Cardinals.
Former Wolf Pack and Rangers wing Lauri Korpikoski scored the Coyotes’ third goal – and the winner – in the first period as Phoenix finished 1-1-1 on its season-opening three-game trip. They play their home opener Saturday night against the new Winnipeg Jets.
During pregame ceremonies, the scoreboard played a video in tribute to players and coaches who died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash on Sept. 7, including several former Predators and one of their draft picks. It was followed by a longer video of former Predators wing/enforcer Wade Belak, who had been hired to work on the team’s broadcasts but died during the summer, evoking an emotional response.
CROSBY CLEARED TO PRACTICE
Pittsburgh Penguins center/captain Sidney Crosby has been cleared for “full contact” participation in practice as he continues to recover from a concussion sustained nine month ago. But there is no timetable for the 24-year-old’s return to the lineup. Crosby has not played since Jan. 5, when he was hit in the head by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman. That was four days after he was hit by the Washington Capitals’ David Steckel in the NHL Winter Classic. … Former Wolf Pack defenseman Terry Virtue finally got a head coaching job but not the way he wanted. Greg Ireland, coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack, was suspended indefinitely after having been deemed by the league to have sent Daniel Zweep onto the ice for the sole purpose of fighting Derek Mathers of the Peterborough Petes. Zweep was suspended two games, so he wasn’t available for games against Kitchener this weekend. Virtue, the Attack’s associate coach, replaced Ireland, the first-year head coach who will participate in a conference call on Monday to determine if the suspension will be increased. Virtue was assisted by Attack general manager Dale DeGray, a former member of the New Haven Nighthawks.