Well there that wasn’t so hard now was it?
The newly remodeled Connecticut Whale fell behind early but stuck to their game plan and scored two power play goal en route to a 3-2 win over the Albany Devils Friday night in front of 4,028 at the XL Center.
With Aaron Voros released from his PTO and Randy McNaught having been sent to Greenville to join the Road Warriors in the ECHL and the input of Rangers vets Wojtek Wolski and Jeff Woywitka added for a two-week conditioning stint, the Whale had an entirely different feel both in terms of the level of talent on the ice and the way they played the game.
“Obviously the two points were big,” a noticeably relieved Head Coach Ken Gernander said afterwards. “(It) probably could have been a little tighter down the stretch there; it got a little bit hairy, but we got our two points tonight, (s0) we can put January (where the team went winless with a 0-6-3-2 record) behind us.”
Gernander was able to construct an NHL caliber line of NHL veterans Kris Newbury centering Wolski on the left and AHL All-Star Mats Zuccarello on the right. With that much skill and grit up front, it was no surprise to anyone that they were dominant every shift they were on the ice. On the defense, Gernander paired Woywitka with Blake Parlett. The forwards were on the ice for two goals for the Whale.
“(Wolski and Woywitka) are pretty good caliber players to have injected into your lineup. Wolski gave us a boost there with a big goal (the game winner) and had another chance there in the second. You can see he’s a skilled offensive guy and Jeff shores up the defense there and he’s a big body that can log a lot of minutes for us so, like I said they’re a good addition for our lineup tonight.”
Newbury agreed with his coach’s assessment. “Wolski is great with the puck. He’s got great vision and great hands,” Newbury said. “So when you get it into his hand’s or Zuccarello’s hands, they both make good plays. “I think as time goes by here and he gets into a little bit better game shape, he’ll be even more of him.”
Chad Johnson (11-9-5, 20 saves) had an overall solid performance between the pipes, but gave up an early goal just 1:39 into the game.
Eric Gelinas took a shot from the right point that beat Johnson to the glove side. “(Tim) Erixon was passing in front of me just as (Gelinas) was shooting and I couldn’t see him for just a split second and it went by me,” Johnson said.
1:18 later, the Whale responded decisively as Brendan Bell’s shot swept around the end boards into the right circle where Zuccarello was waiting. “The Norwegian Hobbit” made a great pass/shot to the front of the net where Newbury got in front of defenseman Mike Banwell and redirected the pass by starter Keith Kinkaid (11-12-1, 21 saves) for his sixteenth of the season.
Rather than letting up, which has been a problem for this team for the last month, instead, the Whale elevated their attack and took it to the Devils.
At 8:59, Andreas Thuresson broke in past defenseman Dan Kelly and had a great scoring chance that was stopped by Kinkaid. The Albany netminder left some loose change in front of the net, but a streaking Ryan Bourque, who had perhaps his strongest overall game for the Whale, just missed the rebound as he was streaking up the middle. before Kinkaid was able to cover it up.
At 15:05 Erixon was called for hooking, but it almost seemed like the shorthanded Whale were on the power play as they held the puck for about 2/3 of the penalty in the Albany zone. At 16:57 after a Devils clear, Newbury had a breakaway opportunity off a Zuccarello feed by Kinkaid rose up and denied the Whale center of his second of the period.
But the Whale continued to apply pressure as all four lines just took control of the game.
At 17:24 Nick Palmieri was whistled for an Interference call giving the Whale their second Power Play of the period and with Gernander able to send out Wolski, Newbury, Zuccarello up front and Erixon and Brendan Bell on the points, it wasn’t a matter of if they were going to score but when.
This particular power play they didn’t, but after a partial line change, Andre Deveaux sent a pass to the left point to Bell. The Whale defenseman rifled the pass down to the left goal line to the Whale’s other entrant in the AHL All-Star game, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault. The rookie forward whipped a shot that hit Kinkaid’s pad and ricocheted into the net for his sixteenth of the season to tie him with Newbury for the team lead at 18:30 and a 2-1 lead.
The Whale entered the second period unlike other games they had during this dry spell where they’d fall back more than attack. And brother did they attack. Kinkaid was forced to make a sliding save coming from the left to right post to stop a Newbury try just 31 seconds into the second and then at 57 seconds Wolski came in all alone on a breakaway and while putting a fake on Kinkaid lost the puck in front and the Albany goalie was able to cover up the puck. While killing a Bell holding call at 1:24, Jordan Owens got a great scoring chance but his shot hit the left post at 2:29. The hustle had made the point that this team was not going to sit back and give up.
It seemed that the entire period, which included very few stoppages, was played in the Albany zone and while the Devils bent, they didn’t break.
With Steve Zalewski in the box for a high-sticking call to Zuccarello at 14:29, the Whale were relentless in their attack on their man-advantage. The Whale struggled at first to set up, but once they got set, they moved the puck almost effortlessly with the top team on the ice. With just 16 seconds left, off a Newbury faceoff win, the puck got moved about until it went around the boards to the left side where a pinching Woywitka sent back around to Zuccarello low on the right side. Zuccarello then sent the puck along the half-boards to Wolski just outside the right circle. Wolski moved in to the dot with the Kelly backed in. Wolski sent it back down to the corner to Zuccarello and went to the net. Zuccarello then fed Wolski who snapped the shot over Kinkaid’s blocker for what proved to be the game-winner at 16:13.
“Playing with Newbs and Zucc is great,” Wolski said. “They’re both very smart players and makes (playing) a lot easier.” Speaking of his first goal in his first game with the Whale, the 25 year old Zabrze, Poland native said, “Zucc has always got his head up and he knows where the puck needs to be and I just got it off as quickly as possible.”
In the third, the Whale weren’t quite as sharp as they were in the first two periods and the game got a bit closer than it needed to be. Darcy Zajac, brother of the New Jersey Devils Travis Zajac, shot the puck at Johnson from the right side. “I didn’t know where the puck was,” Johnson said. “I thought I had it between the pads but I wasn’t sure. (Joe Whitney) took a whack at it and I tried to cover it, but I guess my leg must have hit into the net behind me.”
Whitney was credited with his first goal of the season to make what would prove to be the final score of the contest. Although The Devils didn’t make it easy on their hosts, especially in the last ninety seconds where they got a number of good scoring chances all were turned aside by Johnson for his first win in his last eight starts (1-4-1-2).
“It was closer to a complete gam,” Gernander said. “We didn’t get the start we wanted. We got behind the eight-ball early and then I thought had to kind of hang to win. We probably could have managed our game a little bit better, the last couple of minutes in the game but we did get our win and that’s pretty important right now.”
Newbury, “thought we had a good start, even though they scored first on a lucky bounce off a shin pad, but the guys didn’t panic,” The Toronto native said. “We came right back, put the pressure on and held on the last minute-and-a-half. It’s a good feeling, guys are happy, and the good news is we get right back at it in Hershey (Saturday night) and try to have a good weekend.”
“During that (losing streak) there were times where we showed good progression, back slid a little, sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back. But I think things are going in the right direction right now,” Gernander said. “We’re trending up. Now we just have to continue to push and get better, clean up certain areas, but tonight obviously was a step in the right direction.”
Pete Dougherty of the Timesunion.com has the game story from the Albany perspective.
SOUNDS OF THE GAME:
(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)
* The Whale are still two points behind the Atlantic Division-leading Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who are red hot in 2012. They were winners again this time knocking off Portland on the road 6-2 and are now 11-0-0-1 in 2012.
* Dov Grumet-Morris, the Whale’s MVP last season finally lost a game after winning seven straight. Former NHL’er Yann Danis of the Oklahoma City Barons knocked off Grumet-Morris and the San Antonio Rampage 3-0. Grumet-Morris, perhaps the most underrated goaltender in the AHL, set a franchise record for consecutive wins and is 13-6-2 with a 2.05 GAA after starting the season playing in Norway.
Wolski – Newbury – Zuccarello
Bouchard – Audy-Marchessault – Deveaux
Bourque – Tessier – Thuresson
Grant – Owens – Tanski
Woywitka – Parlett
Bell – Klassen
Erixon – Nightingale
(Assistant Captains Bold and Italicized)
Wade Redden – Lower Body – Three to Four Weeks
Chad Kolarik – Knee – Six to Eight Weeks
Aaron Voros – Healthy Scratch
Casey Wellman – (Not really a scratch…wasn’t there yet)
Chris McKelvie – Healthy Scratch
Sean Avery – Healthy Scratch
1. CT – K. Newbury
2. CT – M. Zuccarello
3. CT – W. Wolski
ON ICE OFFICIALS:
Ryan Hersey (46)
Luke Galvin (2)
Jim Briggs (83)
After breaking the losing streak, the Whale got into the bus for a 4+ hour drive to Hershey, PA for a game tomorrow night with the Bears. Bob Crawford will be on the air live with the pre-game show at 6:50. The game can be heard 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.
Albany Devils 2 at Connecticut Whale 3 – Status: Final
Friday, February 3, 2012 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Albany 1 0 1 – 2
Connecticut 2 1 0 – 3
1st Period-1, Albany, Gelinas 8 (Veilleux, Zajac), 1:39. 2, Connecticut, Newbury 16 (Zuccarello, Bell), 2:57. 3, Connecticut, Audy-Marchessault 16 (Bell, Deveaux), 18:30 (PP). Penalties-Tedenby Alb (interference), 9:46; Erixon Ct (hooking), 15:03; Palmieri Alb (interference), 17:24.
2nd Period-4, Connecticut, Wolski 1 (Zuccarello, Woywitka), 16:13 (PP). Penalties-Bell Ct (holding), 1:24; Zalewski Alb (high-sticking), 14:29; Parlett Ct (cross-checking), 16:37.
3rd Period-5, Albany, Whitney 12 (Zajac, Veilleux), 5:21. Penalties-Bouchard Ct (high-sticking), 17:40.
Shots on Goal-Albany 5-6-11-22. Connecticut 9-11-4-24.
Power Play Opportunities-Albany 0 / 4; Connecticut 2 / 3.
Goalies-Albany, Kinkaid 11-12-1 (24 shots-21 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 11-9-5 (22 shots-20 saves).
Referees-Ryan Hersey (46).
Linesmen-Luke Galvin (2), Jim Briggs (83).