The Connecticut Whale travelled down to The Scope in Norfolk, Virginia to start a pair of games with the Admirals. Head Coach Ken Gernander started the trip on an up-note as he was able to pencil in All-Star forward Mats Zuccarello for the first time in thirteen games. But, by the time the game was over, it wasn’t a lackluster Whale performance in a 3-1 loss for the Whale that was their biggest concern, it was the condition of Zuccarello’s health.
Zuccarello returned to the Whale lineup after suffering a high-ankle sprain against the Hershey Bears at the XL Center on December 9th. In this contest Friday, during the last minute of regulation, the versatile Whale forward, who has played all three upfront positions this season, found himself in a scrum of players fighting for control of the puck along the left wing half-boards in the offensive zone. While reaching for the puck Zuccarello fell backwards awkwardly. “The Norwegian Hobbit” struggled to get to his feet and back to the Whale bench. Once he got there, he immediately went right to the locker room with trainer Damien Hess. Zuccarello was in pain and noticeably limping.
The Oslo, Norway native entered the game with eight goals and eighteen assists through eighteen games and was chosen to represent the Whale in the upcoming AHL All-Star game. Zuccarello had the secondary assist in Connecticut’s only goal of the game feeding Pavel Valentenko from the left point over to the right. The Whale defenseman then launched one of his Russian ICBM like shots that hit starting netminder Dustin Tokarski (15-9-0, 25 saves) and dropped into the crease. Aaron Voros out-muscled the Norfolk defender who was trying to keep him away from the puck. However, the 6’4″ 215-pounder from Vancouver, BC, reached out with his stick and while falling knocked the puck past Tokarski’s right leg and into the back of the net.
The secondary assist on Voro’s third goal of the season extended Zuccarello’s current point streak to seven consecutive games (5g, 6a, 11pts).
Norfolk’s rookie sensation and the league’s leading scorer among rookies, Cory Conacher scored what proved to be the game winner in controversial style just 1:58 into the second frame. With play down in the Whale end, Valentenko attempted to clear Carter Ashton away from the left side of the net and instead pushed him into the crease into Chad Johnson (10-7-4, 31 saves). Conacher was Johnny-On-The-Spot and picked up the loose change and flipped it into the opening that Johnson had no chance to cover. After the goal, Johnson protested to no avail to referees Mark Lemelin and Graham Skilliter, but to no avail. Ashton and the game’s First Star, Mark Barberio had the assists.
A turnover in the defensive zone by Lee Baldwin led to the insurance goal in the third period when his clearing attempt up the right wing wall was picked off in the corner by Philip-Michael Devos. The Admiral’s centerman threw the puck at the net from the corner Matt Fornataro got a stick on it redirecting it into the net past Johnson for his fourth of the year.
Mike Kostka, the game’s Second Star, scored the Admirals’ first goal on the power play at 11:51 of the first period off a rebounds of shots from Michel Ouellet and Barberio.
Also surrounding the game was why the seemingly always controversial fan-favorite Sean Avery was not in the lineup. Last week Avery missed the two games in Springfield with an illness. Not seeing him in the lineup was curious. The answer came at the start of the second period when ESPN’s Katie Strang reported on her Twitter account and later at the ESPN New York site that according to the New York Rangers, Avery was scratched “for disciplinary reasons.”
Avery IS on the trip with the Whale. If this “disciplinary” action is just for this game won’t be known for sure until tomorrow. Neither the Rangers or the Whale have disclosed the reason for the suspension.
Erik Christensen also was among the storylines played out Friday night as the Rangers’ centerman, himself a healthy scratch in ten straight games and 20 of the Rangers’ 40 games, played in his first game of a two-week conditioning stint with the team. The 28-year old center was basically a non-factor taking one shot on goal despite being paired with Zuccarello and Francois Bouchard.
“Early we had some penalties, we didn’t forecheck the way we did in the third period,” Gernander told the Whale’s Brian Ring after the game. “We were a little better on the forecheck (in the third), a little more aggressive on the walls and as far as putting pucks to the net.”
“It’s an opportunity for us to get right back at it. We have to make a few corrections for (Saturday’s game) and get better in a couple areas, but it will be good to get right back at it,”
The big question though for Saturday’s 7:15pm rematch at the Scope will be the status of the Whale’s best offensive player as well as their most controversial.
Jim Hodges is the beat writer for the Admirals for the Virginian-Pilot.
(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)
* This match has the top two scoring rookies facing off against one-another. Cory Conacher is first in the AHL with 42 pts (22g, 20a) and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault is second with 35 (14g, 21a)
* Whale are one of two teams to have two players (Bell #10 and Erixon #15) in the top 18 in scoring among defensemen. Worcester is the other (Sean Sullivan #9 and Matt Irwin #11)
* Whale PP entered the game third in the AHL and Norfolk 4th. Whale were 0-4, Norfolk 1-5.
Audy-Marchessault – Newbury – Thuresson
Bouchard – Christensen – Zuccarello
Voros – Tessier – Bourque
Grant – Owens – McKelvie
Valentenko – Bell
Parlett – Baldwin
Erixon – Nightingale
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Wade Redden – Lower Body – Indefinite
Andre Deveaux – Suspension – First of Three Games
Sean Avery – Disciplinary Suspension
Sam Klassen – Healthy Scratch
Scott Tanski – Healthy Scratch
1. NOR – M. Barberio
2. NOR – M. Kostka
3. NOR – D. Tokarski
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Mark Lemelin (41)
Graham Skilliter (48)
Brian Oliver (80)
Scott Pomento (25)
Having now lost five games in a row, the Whale will look to get back into the win column when they face Norfolk for the second of their back-to-back battle. Bob Crawford goes on the air with the pre-game show on at 7:05. The game can be heard on “Beethoven Radio” AM 1290 or at 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.
Connecticut Whale 1 at Norfolk Admirals 3 – Status: Final
Friday, January 13, 2012 – Norfolk Scope
Connecticut 0 0 1 – 1
Norfolk 1 1 1 – 3
1st Period-1, Norfolk, Kostka 6 (Ouellet, Barberio), 11:51 (PP). Penalties-Angelidis Nor (interference), 0:40; Bell Ct (interference), 10:40; Nightingale Ct (fighting), 13:05; Jackson Nor (fighting), 13:05; Grant Ct (boarding), 14:48; Valentenko Ct (holding), 19:13.
2nd Period-2, Norfolk, Conacher 22 (Ashton, Barberio), 1:58. Penalties-Newbury Ct (fighting), 2:38; Angelidis Nor (fighting), 2:38; Gudas Nor (hooking), 5:14; McKelvie Ct (roughing, fighting), 8:21; Gudas Nor (fighting), 8:21; Thuresson Ct (tripping), 12:36.
3rd Period-3, Norfolk, Fornataro 4 (Devos), 6:58. 4, Connecticut, Voros 3 (Valentenko, Zuccarello), 11:10. Penalties-Fornataro Nor (tripping), 9:05; Nightingale Ct (roughing), 12:14; Thuresson Ct (roughing), 12:14; Angelidis Nor (boarding), 12:14; Cote Nor (roughing), 12:14; Picard Nor (roughing), 12:14.
Shots on Goal-Connecticut 13-6-7-26. Norfolk 17-11-6-34.
Power Play Opportunities-Connecticut 0 / 4; Norfolk 1 / 5.
Goalies-Connecticut, Johnson 10-7-4 (34 shots-31 saves). Norfolk, Tokarski 15-9-0 (26 shots-25 saves).
Referees-Mark Lemelin (41), Graham Skilliter (48).
Linesmen-Brian Oliver (80), Scott Pomento (25).