Both I-91 rivals are a mix of veteran and young talent, but after scoring four unanswered goals over the last two periods, the Connecticut Whale showed how they have managed to hold onto first palace in the Northeast Division while the Springfield Falcons struggle to remain out of the division basement with a chemistry-led and convincing 5-2 win over in front of 5,448 at the XL Center on the last game of 2011.
Despite having strong talent like goaltender Manny Legace, AHL All-Star Martin St. Pierre, veteran Adam Mair, left winger Matt Calvert, ex-Wolf Pack captain Dane Byers and future AHL Hall-of-Famer Alexandre Giroux and young talent like Cam Atkinson and Tomas Kubalik the Falcons just seem adrift on the ice as they have lost all five games against the Whale this season.
For the Whale, Francois Bouchard, the game’s First Star, had a break-out game pacing the Whale with three assists. Kris Newbury extended his points scoring streak to seven games with two goals and Pavel Valentenko, quickly moving up the depth chart, had a goal and a helper, including what proved to be the game-winner for the Whale.
After a disappointing performance Friday night against Manchester, the Whale regrouped and played a much better overall game. But that has been the character of this team all season long; they haven’t strung many bad performances together.
“You try and win every game, every one-on-one battle, every shift, every period,” Gernander said. “You don’t obviously ever want to lose back-to-back anything and I think given the character we have they’ve done a good job. If you’re competing and you’re battling every night that seems to take care of a lot of things right there.”
Take care of things they did.
After giving nearly scoring on a Tommy Grant breakaway at 7:16 of the first, twelve seconds later they slipped one past 38-year old netminder Legace (7-11-1, 29 saves) who was playing in his tenth straight game for the Falcons.
Newbury cleanly won the faceoff from St. Pierre in the left circle back to Tim Erixon. The son of one-time Ranger Jan Erixon, fired a hard shot from the left point that Newbury, who’d fought his way to get position in front of the net, redirected. Legace apparently felt Newbury had deflected the shot with a his stick above the crossbar and he rushed out of the net to complain vehemently to referee Dan Dreger. Legace lost that argument, and frankly who ever wins one, and the Whale had a 1-0 lead.
But to their credit, the Falcons came right back 1:20 later. Bouchard turned the puck over to ex-Ranger draft pick Ryan Russell (7th round –211th overall, 2005 NHL Entry Draft) who made an outlet pass to Andrew Joudry on the left side of center-ice. Joudry got by Bouchard and passed to his right to Kubalik. The Falcon right winger got behind center Kelsey Tessier and fired the puck between starter Cam Talbot’s legs for his seventh of the season to tie the score.
At 14:08, the Whale took the first of what would be seven penalties that resulted in power plays for the Falcons as ECHL call-up defenseman Sam Klassen was forced to take hooking call in front of Talbot (9-6-0, 23 saves) to prevent a scoring chance. But all that did was prevent the inevitable as Byers worked a perfect exchange passing back and forth with Maxim Mayorov and was able to smack it into the empty side of the net to the right of Talbot for the 2-1 lead with just eight seconds left on the man-advantage.
It would be the last serious threat to the Whale the entire contest.
Just 1:06 into the second period, the Whale tied the score as Tessier’s shot from the left circle rebounds off Legace to Andreas Thuresson in perfect position to deposit the puck into the empty side of the net. Bouchard would get his first assist and first point in seven games and only his fourth point (1g, 2a) since being acquired from Hershey for defenseman Tomas Kundratek on November 8th.
Valentenko would give the Whale the lead for good on the power play with 7:18 remaining in the period. After Russell found the inside of the sin bin for a Holding call, Bouchard picked up his second helper when he moved the puck to Brendan Bell who fed Valentenko at the top of the slot. The young Russian, in his second year with the Whale one-timed a hard shot from that knuckled a bit and went past the stick side of Legace and into the net for his fourth of the season.
“He can shoot the puck,” Gernander said with a wry smile. “It’s a big, heavy shot. If it doesn’t get through, it’s going to soften some toe caps because I think there a few guys who don’t want to get in the way of that. It’s an effective tool.”
Newbury added his second of the game on his way to Second Star status when Valenetenko’s dump in ricocheted oddly off the end boards and wound up on the left skate of Legace in the crease. Newbury who was circling around the back of the net alertly saw that before Legace noticed it and reached out with one hand on the stick and knocked it into the net at 4:33 and his team leading twelfth of the season.
Bell added an insurance goal for the Whale at 6:11 of the final frame taking a pass from Bouchard in the right circle and blasted it past Legace for his sixth of the season on a power play for what would prove to be the game’s final tally.
The three assists for Bouchard had deep meaning for the latest trade acquisition for the Whale. “It means a lot to me that it was a good game, and I hope it’s going to get my confidence back where I can help the team every night like this,” the 23-year old from Sherbrooke, Quebec said. “It’s hard when you’re a goal scorer or a points guy and you don’t contribute like you should. It was hard a little bit, but it’s my fourth (pro) year, so I just tried to stay hard mentally and stay positive.
“I was talking with Ken and (assistant coach) J.J. (Daigneault) about settling a little bit and not thinking too much, just play my game like I used to the past few years. I know I can do it and used to put a lot of points on the board, so it’s just a matter of playing my two-way game and play good defensively and the chances are going to come. So that’s what I did tonight and it worked, so hopefully I can keep doing it in 2012.”
His head coach agrees. “(Bouchard) is someone that I’m sure was looking for more offensive output, and we expected a little bit more. But sometimes scorers get a little bit streaky, and hopefully this gets him over the hump with maybe adjustments to being traded and a new club. Hopefully he can make a strong push and have a real strong second half and be a contributor. We’ll take that.”
Overall though, Gernander was pleased with the efforts of his team. “I thought we did a lot of good things. There’s always areas we can clean up, like a few too many penalties, but fortunately we killed most of them (Connecticut was 6-for-7) and were two-for-four on the power play.”
“We’ve been talking about that we can’t rely on the power play or one line to do the scoring, that it has to be a little more spread out. And we got some good penalty killing minutes from some guys who maybe didn’t show up on the score sheet, so I thought the work load was distributed pretty good tonight. Now we have to continue to try to get better and move on.”
The Whale “move-on” to Portland for a 1:00pm meeting with the Pirates on Monday afternoon.
(Listen to all the post game reaction below)
Nate Owen is a good guy and he has the story from inside the Falcons locker-room at MassLive.com
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)
* Ken Gernander reports that Mats Zuccarello has begun light skating on his own and is, “less than a month away.” Likely time frame is two to three more weeks.
* The addition of Sean Avery puts the CTWhale at the veteran limit with Wade Redden injured. When Reds returns, Gernander will need to rotate a veteran player in and out.
* In a classy move at the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers Alumni Game, the preview for the Winter Classic, the Flyers wore #10 in honor of their one-time player, Brad McKrimmon who died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. McKrimmon also played for three seasons at the end of his career for the Hartford Whalers.
Audy-Marchessault – Newbury – Deveaux
Bouchard – Tessier – Thuresson
Voros – Owens – Bourque
Grant – McKelvie – Tanski
Bell – Klassen
Erixon – Nightingale
Valentenko – Parlett
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Wade Redden – Lower Body – Indefinite
Mats Zuccarello – Lower Body – 2-3 Weeks
Lee Baldwin – Healthy Scratch
Scott Tanski – Healthy Scratch
Chad Johnson – Excused Absence
1. CT – F. Bouchard
2. CT – K. Newbury
3. CT – P. Valentenko
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Dan Dreger (51)
Luke Galvin (2)
Marty Demers (79)
Ending their run of five games in eight days and holding at 2-2-0-0 during this stretch, the Whale travel to Portland with Sean Avery in tow to take on the Pirates. Bob Crawford will be on the air with the pre-game show at 12:50pm on WCCC.com.
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.
Springfield Falcons 2 at Connecticut Whale 5 – Status: Final
Saturday, December 31, 2011 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Springfield 2 0 0 – 2
Connecticut 1 2 2 – 5
1st Period-1, Connecticut, Newbury 11 (Erixon), 7:28. 2, Springfield, Kubalik 7 (Joudrey, Russell), 8:48. 3, Springfield, Byers 8 (Mayorov, Calvert), 16:00 (PP). Penalties-Klassen Ct (hooking), 14:08; Newbury Ct (hooking), 16:46.
2nd Period-4, Connecticut, Thuresson 9 (Tessier, Bouchard), 1:06. 5, Connecticut, Valentenko 4 (Bell, Bouchard), 12:42 (PP). Penalties-Audy-Marchessault Ct (tripping), 5:15; Bell Ct (holding), 7:09; Russell Spr (holding), 11:43; Prough Ct (hooking), 15:13.
3rd Period-6, Connecticut, Newbury 12 (Valentenko, Parlett), 4:33. 7, Connecticut, Bell 6 (Bouchard, Erixon), 6:11 (PP). Penalties-Nightingale Ct (tripping), 1:19; Cullity Spr (roughing), 4:23; Thuresson Ct (roughing), 4:23; Giroux Spr (hooking), 5:14; Byers Spr (roughing, roughing), 8:39; Tessier Ct (roughing), 8:39; Newbury Ct (holding), 13:35; Calvert Spr (tripping), 15:14.
Shots on Goal-Springfield 9-8-8-25. Connecticut 10-13-11-34.
Power Play Opportunities-Springfield 1 / 7; Connecticut 2 / 4.
Goalies-Springfield, Legace 7-11-1 (34 shots-29 saves). Connecticut, Talbot 9-6-0 (25 shots-23 saves).
Referees-Dan Dreger (51).
Linesmen-Luke Galvin (2), Marty Demers (79).